Oh, be a man! Our national security needs that?

I think that people who put themselves up for public office deserve to be put under public scrutiny a lot. Jamaicans are not necessarily of the same mind, and with our often too-visible sense of deference, we give politicians a bligh/bly far too often. Apart from cartoonists, and newspaper editorials, it tends tobe that elected officials and nominated officials get the kid gloves treatment. Now, I have never desired being a politician and I rarely put myself up to be voted upon for positions, but I have done the latter–often warning people to beware what they wish for.

Now, of the many ministerial positions in Jamaica that seem to come with hardly any sympathy, Minister of National Security (MNS) is up there, maybe neck-and-neck with Finance Minister. But, with that in mind, you’d think that the post holder would do as much as possible to garner public support and sympathy, not create reasons to doubt and even to ridicule. However, in recent times, the MNS has done little of the former. So, the latest incarnation, Robert (‘Bobby’) Montague is in good company.

We should have been warned, when last October made the following somewhat astonishing remarks:

“I have been truly blessed and I cannot deny that I have been blessed. Many of us will prefer, and can, like experts, tell us what is wrong and we can complain and we can find fault; but I am blessed. I am specially chosen by my God to be here to confront what confronts Jamaica and I am confident that with the prayer of everyone, we will overcome…Many persons will tell you that we face serious times. But I don’t tell God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how great my God is.”

While Manchester United thought they had the ‘Chosen One’ (snagged after being discarded by Chelsea), Jamaica learned abruptly that the CO was on their soil.

Now, Mr. Montague could be excused his bit of hyperbole, speaking to Jamaica Christian Diaspora Conference, in St James. First, pols often lay it on thick for the diaspora. They lay it on thicker for relgious contexts. They also (need to) lay it on thick when in the so-called new murder capital parish of Jamaica.

But, Harold Wilson (former British PM, and a decent economist :)) once said “A week is a long time in politics.” Well, poor Mr. Montague has had to endure a few weeks in his post. So, fast forward to the start of this year. Far from being happy to fly under the cape ‘given’ to him by his Maker, he has turned to the dark side, to deal with what he had called the ‘murder index’. This time, he was addressing attendees at an interactive session with heads of security held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

“Oonu goin run weh because we goin to pursue oonu. This minister no fraid a oonu, my uncle is a Obeah man.

So, no longer is the greatness of his God going to carry him along, but evoking the demonic spirits. He noted how many criminals carry New Testament Bibles in their back pockets and wear guard rings, which allegedly make them disappear from the police. OKAY! 

Now, a few people were not keen on this revelation–as practising Obeah is still illegal in Jamaica, and a few called for the arrest of the Minister’s uncle.

If people didn’t have doubts about the Minister’s capability in the post, they were beginning to wonder…just a bit, now. He was put on the spot by one of Jamaica’s ace radio current affairs host, Dionne Jackson-Miller (on January 25): “Are you out of your depth in this post?” Now, this was the moment to be statesman-like and moderate in the reply. Unless you are Mr. Montague: “Absolutely not! A St. Mary mi cum from!”

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Coming to a barm yard near you?

What that really means may be the subject of at least a few research studies.

This kind of utterance may be part of the new political vogue.

I wont mention the name of the new President of the USA, but our Bobby can trump anyone when it comes to comments he wishes he hadn’t said.

It’s perhaps fitting that today’s Jamaica Gleaner Editorial is titled What’s Next, Minister Montague? The following extracts summarize the newspaper’s concerns (my emphases):

The deployment of soldiers to boost crime-fighting efforts in western Jamaica has apparently flopped. Killings have continued in several communities. It is clear that traditional, predictive methods being followed by the security forces are not working to stem murders and other criminal activity.

So what’s next, National Security Minister Robert Montague? There has to be some smart, innovative moves to beat back this scourge.

Citizens across Jamaica are anxious to hear about the Government’s law-and-order initiatives. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has been in office for nearly a year, enough time to formulate a plan that will give comfort to those who are living in fear of becoming the next victim.

People are losing hope. Mothers are cowering behind their grilled doors not sure whether their daughters or sons will be returning home from school or church or whether they will find them dead in bushes somewhere. Entire communities are living under unofficial curfews as the culture of fear spreads.

It’s not a laughing matter, so why would the Minister set himself up to be a laughing-stock?

 

Crime in Jamaica: On the verge of what?

It’s hard to know what people really feel about many topics because we have no true way of gauging all the opinions at any time. We tend to get outcries from people, both close to, and far from, issues and incidents. We get opinions thrust at us by ‘opinion shapers’–media, politicians, pressure groups, interested parties, etc. We can take from all of that what we wish. 

Right now, we are going through a lot of introspection over the high rate of violent crimes in Jamaica. Many people have no interest in solving or reducing those crimes themselves, by direct action: that’s dangerous and not sure to have success in individual or collective cases. They take that position in part from the fact that society has created bodies to deal with law and order, and they should do that task. Many people will try to do their part by being law-abiding citizens, but that does not mean that they will try to uphold the law if they see it being broken, or suspect that to be the case. Let’s agree that is a reasonable reaction if one is concerned with self-preservation. I’m not going to impose some moral duty on anyone without having a good idea how their life is shaped, with its responsibilities and past, current and future problems.

But, having left the task to the powers of law and order, people reasonably get disappointed, even angry, when it appears that these bodies are not making crime go away, and, even worse, crime seems to be increasing and getting far too close. So, some people start to clamour for change.  

That change demanded can be in several forms, but I think is distilled into (a) change of bodies (living or organizations), and (b) change of actions. So, people will seek personnel changes at the head of organizations, and maybe lower down if they feel that such wholesale change is needed. That’s what the Republic of Georgia did a few years ago by sacking its whole police force (known to be corrupt) and starting over. Or, people will seek or get different organizations, such as different forms of legal processes to speed up the the wheels of justice, eg with say ‘gun courts’. We may also get more radical changes, such as the creation of some mixed police-military force to deal with what seems like more than a simple crime problem and has implications of national security. We may also get different actions. For instance, forms of policing may change; it could become more ‘collaborative’ or ‘community based’ (they tend to be mutual), or it could be more ‘abrasive’ (in the belief that force meeting force will yield tangible results). Proponents of each will tend to be poles apart in thinking which will work better. But, that’s for the people to resolve, if given a chance. 

Anyway, people will ‘see’ that ‘something’ has been done. Then, we get to see what, if anything, changes.

So, in Jamaica, we are going through these processes. Some of the change seems voluntary or spontaneous. 

The Commissioner of Police just announced his resignation, after just over two years in the post. I would say he had some successes but visibly several failures, if one judges the rate of murders as a key statistic. The JCF spun the line that crime was declining and only murder was rising. They seemed to miss the point that telling people they were more likely to be killed wasn’t comforting. Dr. Williams seemed to want to root out corruption, in his words, and judging by the reports one still sees, he had some success, but it’s a work-in-progress. We read too many ‘crooked cop’ stories.

An interim Commissioner has been appointed, from within the ranks, and she was highly considered when the post last came vacant. Like the outgoing Commisoner, she has high academic qualifications in law enforcement. However, we can say safely that such qualifications are no guarantee of success in dealing with crime in Jamaica. But, let Ms. Novelette Grant have a chance to impress. 

So far, no one has publicly called for other changes in the police force, and that’s not a surprise. I think the JCF needs a root and branch approach to its culture and practices, which we have seen in recent times, but know from a long way back are outdated, inefficient, insensitive, self-protective, dangerous to the process of justice, and encouraging of wrong doing rather than the opposite. I have said repeatedly that until the JCF can show itself capable of fulfilling its tasks in a coherent and consistent manner for a period of time, the last thing to do is give it more powers. As with a child, show us that you can manage those little walking steps well first, then we will think about letting you run around. Now, I imagine the JCF feels under siege, but it’s a situation much of its own making.

Some are clamouring for a change of style that shows ‘no holds barred’ in dealing with crime and criminals. (I am in danger of doing what I see being done, which is to talk in platitudes or cliches, but I will try to be specific.) One suggestion from a politician, yesterday, was to dispense with INDECOM (the body that oversees and investigates conduct of the security forces), label killers as ‘terrorists’ and ‘shoot’. Not surprisingly, that suggestion set off a few reactions, including from me. What’s unknown is how many feel the same way.
Now, from what I have seen over the past, this politician has a tendency to provoke, so one needs to be careful about being drawn in too much by the words, but to have some notion of what thinking may be going on behind them, because he’s also a mathematician. In my mind, that means that he is not a fool but capable of intricate calculations about possible and probable outcomes (including reactions), including to what he says and does. So, to paraphrase him, it’s important to not get ‘played’ or caught in a ‘joke’. However, think hard about this line of argument:

But let’s try to wrestle with the superficial statements and whether they really see a place for due process as we now know it. 

My main reservation about these ideas is that many killers have shown clearly by how, where and when they’ve acted that the prospect of being killed seems to hold little or no fear. But, let me deal with crime from another perspective. 

I asked a few weeks ago whether Jamaica was at civil war. Wesbsters defines it as ‘a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country‘. (We may argue about what ‘war’ means, but it’s armed conflict between groups.) You can see from the context that I did not pose the question assuming that ‘civil war’ was striking us nationwide. It was notable that West Kingston was once again at the centre of police-citizen disorder. The events in Tivoli in 2010 had all the hallmarks of a civil war episode, in my mind, with the security forces of the State pitted against a community, and armed resistance taking place. Now, I did not hear of any political cause that was being put forward, but I’m not sure that would negate the idea that civil war existed. 

Anyway, my point is that if we are in a state of civil war, in some or several areas, against common or disparate groups, then that changes the nature of the attempt to keep law and order, and brings it clearly into the realm of national security. In other words, the sometimes uncertain role of the army in dealing with what appears to be crime can and must change. 

I’m not well enough versed in constitutional and legal matters to know what that may imply, but I am willing to listen to those who are. 

The police tell us repeatedly about how many murders are the outcome of gang disputes. We can ask what the gangs are doing and who they are doing it for. If part of their existence is to make inaccessible parts of the country–which seemed to be the case in Tivoli in the past and in recent months, and seemed so in parts of St. James, recently, we have to ask ourselves whether we are dealing with simple criminal activity or something quite different

The terrorist/shoot suggestion is problematic on many levels, not least whether we want to give such power to the police force that has shown itself to be less-than-capable in just carrying out its simple policing duties. 

It also leaves open how we treat killing that somehow does not fit this ‘terrorist’ labelling. I wont go into the various forms of manslaughter or murder, but just worry that very diffent forms of violent crimes like domestic abuse and gang-related killings would seem to defy a one-size-fits-all solution. Unless, one says if you kill you will be killed. Jamaica has a religious basis for taking that view and I will watch the discussions to see what if any justification comes forth.

I do not see Jamaica’s crime problem (and it’s not just murder that we need to deal with) as amenable to any quick solution (short of eradicating large swathes of the population–AND I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT!) The social basis for the existence of much criminal activity was built over decades and supported by people in power and made legitimate by a principle of tolerance so that much wrong doing was normalized. Committing crimes is part of our culture; it has its tentacles in almost every aspect of our lives. We would be dishonest to deny it, though it is not a comfortable admission. You cannot flip a switch and just turn off those processes. 

I also do not see a lasting solution to crime in Jamaica (in its many and disturbing forms) that can come from the organizations set up to uphold law and order ‘dong something’ without the full engagement on a sustained basis of the majority of citizens. 

I would be very worried if the ‘terrorist/shoot’ idea got much support, but I would not be surprised to see that happen. It has appeal in terms of its seeming to correct a wrong. But, it holds so many dangers for all of us. 

Can we be heroes? Jamaicans are told to summon courage

After the savage stabbing of a schoolboy last week, some Jamaicans have been quick to second-guess the actions of those who were present at the incident, and offer advice on how things could be different next time around. I prefer to be a little less sanguine about whether people can do IN A CRISIS what they are not trained for, or prepared to do, normally. Practice makes perfect, they say, so without practice the chances are that when you try to do something, it will not go as expected. Think about that simple jump over an obstacle. Ooops!

When we are told about armed attacks, many people immediately rush to think about robbers and villains out to take your possessions. My own experience is not universal, but illustrates how the attack may just be one part of a different set of incidents. I’ve trawled my memories to help.

  • A motorcyclist and passenger were cut off by a driver on a busy road in central London. The rider, complained to the driver when the traffic stopped for some red lights. The driver exited his car, went to the trunk, pulled out a crowbar and started to hit the rider over his head with it. Fortunately, the rider had on his helmet. My friends and I, jumped out of our car, as did a few other motorists, and went to confront the driver. He put away the ‘weapon’. The police were called. Traffic was at a standstill. The driver was arrested. BUT. My friends and I were in our late teens, headed to a cricket match, and full of excitement. We were all athletes, mainly sprinters. We had been in fights before (though I was not known as a fighter :)–it’s complicated) and frequented places where ‘a rumble’ was not uncommon. I cannot vouch for the other people. We all agreed quickly on what we thought was the right thing to do. I remember being shocked but not fearful, probably because I thought my group of friends was solid.
  • A west Indian woman tenant in my parents’ house in west London drew a kitchen knife on my mother, whom she accused of ‘working Obeah’ on her. My father was out at work. My mother tried to reason with the woman, but she just became more aggressive. I was about 14. I tried to reason with her, and got little joy. We were in a stand-off in the kitchen. I called the police and they came quickly, with medical staff, subdued the woman, who was taken away in a straitjacket. (FYI, my father had worked as a mental nurse at Bellevue Hospital in east Kingston. He told me, and I had seen it, that mental patients/mad people can have extraordinary power, and that to tackle them when they are deranged can be shocking because of what they can do in the moment, like withstand pain,  execute amazing physical acts, etc. So, tackling a mad person can be a dive into a dark and dangerous pool.) I remember being scared that my mother would be stabbed, and trying to see how I could grab the flailing knife.
  • A friend told me how his girlfriend attacked him in a rage over something (let’s say it was another woman, just to keep the story simple). He protested his innocence, but she proceeded to pummel him with punches and kicks, and implements that lay around their apartment, including breakables. Eventually, she was exhausted and collapsed on the floor, sobbing. Bloody, my friend hugged her, and they talked and calm prevailed. They later married 🙂
  • I was playing football in a men’s league in Washington DC. A foul occurred. The referee ejected the player, who left the field, and went to his car. He came back brandishing a knife and headed for the referee cursing at him in Italian (the team was all Italians). The referee stood his ground, and was quickly surrounded by players from my team; the Italians seemed conflicted, but tried to reason with their irate teammate. He wouldn’t be calmed, but in a lull, he was grabbed, and disarmed. Police were called. Charges were laid by the referee. Case went to court. I remember being filled with outrage that this player had so little self-control that he’d comprise all of his team just to get some piece of revenge for his perceived wrong. But, rage often flows irrationally, as he showed. Tackling irate and irrational people is not simple.
  • I was refereeing a men’s league match in Washington DC/Maryland. An incident occurred on an adjacent field. Players were seen trading blows and kicks (two teams of Latin Americans were playing, one from Honduras, the other Nicaraguan). It seemed that the dispute was about more than football–hope you know you central American political history. One player ran to the car park and came back brandishing a firearm. People ducked for cover. Someone called the police, and squad cars came quickly. No one from our game went over to see what was going on. We heard from the referee of the match, later, in private, what seemed to have gone on, and how he was literally s******g in his pants!

All of that is just to say that there’s no one incident that can ask us to draw on our courage in a flash. How each person reacts will be different. Without quick coordination and agreement, a group can be as helpless as a single person.

My young daughter started karate when she was about 8 years old, and progressed well, to be a purple belt. She learned how to make some devastating kicks and punches. I still managed to surprise her and knock her down, at will. Why? She didn’t expect her Daddy to attack her. The element of surprise, and shock that comes from being attacked by ‘a friend’ can be disarming. Dealing with strangers needed quick and decisive actions. I can’t say who has that ability. I also went to karate classes, after my daughter, and remember just two or three moves that I think I can still execute.

I have a friend who is a black belt in Taekwando; he keeps a Samurai sword under his bed and one under the bed in the guest room (I know). When there is a noise at night in my house, I’m usually the only one who hears. I’m happy to reach for the cutlass under my bed, when the alarm goes off at 2am, and I rehearse the one strike that I may get to make–a sweeping upward blow–as I proceed downstairs. Hoping. Praying. As a Pacifist, I’m entitled to self-defence 🙂

I have lady friends who carry pepper spray, but were paralysed by fear when attacked and never managed to get the spray out. Running and screaming took over, and worked in their cases.

Being in crowded spaces with strangers is not necessarily the right environment to get quick group action. Being the one, brave soul at the back of a crowded bus, when the driver is being attacked can be more than frustrating, when others are just looking on, or worse looking away.

In a world where people can take umbrage for what seems trifling, knowing when one is in danger can be difficult. Who would have thought that a knife would be pulled on a plane because a passenger was upset at another trying to pass to go to the bathroom or blows traded over a reclining seat?

In a world where we are taught more about non-violent ways of resolving conflict, might some of our instincts to fight be dulled? I don’t know, I’m just thinking.

The mayhem matrix: violent crime comes calling on ordinary Jamaicans 

For a long time, I was uncomfortable how the official statistics pushed a line that was pushed hard by the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Minister of National Security: the narrative was that crime was trending down, while murders were apparently increasing. See this report in August in the Jamaica Observer. I said before that this seemed to misunderstand the psychological impact that murders had on people’s perception of their safety. All crimes are personal violations, but the taking of lives has an series of negative impacts, individually and collectively, that are hard to measure, and probably of greatest concern.

How people react to murders is well summarized by the anger when a recent murder case ends with the acquittal of the accused, before much evidence had been brought forward and examined. The general dissatisfaction that a seemingly innocent schoolboy, Khajeel Mais, had been shot in a taxi headed to a fete, is easy to understand, even if people understand that the accused might not have been guilty. The course of justice was derailed in many ways, including by the ‘main witness’ who claims to have seen nothing significant. 

The horrible stabbing death of a schoolboy on a bus, again on his way home, for a watch and cell phone, a few days ago brought out the clear vulnerability that we are all exposed to, from villains who care about some material gains at the expense of any life that blocks access to that. 

Few murders seem to have involved stages short of killing. 

I’ve written before about how the risk/reward balance of crimes in Jamaica is so tilted that it’s quite rational for criminals to not fear the law, and thus commit horrific crimes. 

So, we are not more comfortable knowing that violations like burglary may be lower, when killing is seemingly rampant. 

Why the authorities haven’t understood this baffles me. 

However, what is becoming clear is that this misunderstanding means that the security forces haven’t been focusing on what makes people feel they are in a safer country. 

I’m not keen on the state of emergency talk, mainly because it doesn’t tackle any underlying reasons that make the horrific crimes occur. Had it been in place in St. James would Nicholas Francis have been safer going home on a bus from Jamaica College? Would the Reggae Boys team doctor have been safer at his home in Barbican, instead of being a victim of a murder by a group of killers? These deaths didn’t come from any apparent provocation. 

Those who were quick to suggest that not taking phones to school would somehow create conditions for safer streets would suggest what to keep the murdered doctor safer? Become homeless? 

Gang disputes and murders in areas where turf wars go on aren’t what worries ordinary Jamaicans, and that is a wide set of special cases. People are worried that they seem unable to do ordinary things without the high risk of being victims of attacks.

Whether the apparent greed or striving to have what someone else has are things that can be changed quickly is open to question. We have a set of people whose psychological make up has made them lose respect for the sanctity of life. Simply, we have real mad people wandering in our midst, and they are armed and dangerous. 

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