Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | Did all murder victims have it coming?

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Gleaner is using its tremendous reach to signal that enough is enough on the lackadaisical approach to Jamaica's crime problem. The editorials under the rubric 'In a State of Anarchy' are throwing some blockbuster punches, and none have really been spared.

Nor should they be. The country has been on a pretty steady downward spiral in this respect for many decades, and apart from the brief retreat afforded by the destruction of the Tivoli crime HQ in 2010, there's been precious little cause for optimism over that whole time.

It's reasonable to conclude that the crime problem is one that the political Establishment is unable to handle. Exhibit A: the latest, the zones of special operations, an initiative that was announced with great fanfare and trumpets blazing but hasn't made the slightest dent. It will join the long list of failures, or, at best, measures that treat some symptom, but doesn't quite get to the disease.

As a general matter, I completely agree with the determination to take crime off the table as a political matter. Except, of course, that we are reliant on politicians to gin up solutions to the mess they've helped, through action and inaction, to create.

So where are we? Nowhere good. Here comes the American travel advisory, to which The Gleaner responded in its recent editorial with the barb:

"Jamaicans are also too painfully aware of the fact that 'local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents', to which we would add that those deficiencies include high-quality institutional and political leadership."

Sadly, because it was an editorial and, therefore, constrained to abide by the protocols of proper decorum, it was unable to delve further into the multiple crises of leadership. I'm here to help.

These range from shocking reports that there are policemen still operating rubberless despite the dire warnings of the minister, to fancy schemes to fund second-hand motor vehicles, all the way to wild parties hosted by policemen that block off the Palisadoes, causing much emergency commuting by foot and robot motorbike. Desso wi deh, enuh!

Ladies! With the embarrassing used-car shortage, you may be tempted if you see a policeman walking along the road to stop and offer the constable a ride. Be warned! The minister in his wisdom knows why he wants them armed with rubber. It's all very confusing. Should you help?




Anyhow, where I think the editorial erred was in the part about Jamaicans being "painfully aware". Actually, though it's uncomfortable to admit, an observer from outside might conclude that we Jamaicans seem amazingly tolerant of murder.

Hold on to your outrage. Let me explain.

Permit me to relate a little conversation I had with an acquaintance from Westmoreland recently. We began by sharing New Year pleasantries, after which I enquired after the health and safety of his family with the observation that Westmoreland was becoming increasingly dangerous nowadays.

"Well, really is dangerous fi de man dem weh INVOLVE," he said, stressing the "involve".

"Hasn't it gone a bit beyond that? I mean, I see women and children getting merkked!" I replied.

"Wwweeeellllll, when yuh si dat happen, de people dem will come out an' protest. But more time is de man dem weh INVOLVE."

That's as far as I was willing to push the conversation, although it wasn't the first time I was hearing that being murdered was a sign you probably deserved it.

There's a kind of backward reasoning involved, where if one is murdered, that is the proof that one was "involve". Which, if you think about it, is one of those circular statements that sort of proves itself; if murdered, you certainly were "involve", at least to that extent.

But it's a cruel logic, this quick evaporation of innocence by the fact of being victimised, and one we would do well to abandon.

But back to The Gleaner: A previous editorial called 'Crime and lessons from New York' highlighted the phenomenal strides the city has been making since the 1990s, to the point that this year, the 8.5 million population recorded only 286 killings. And that number includes the terrorism-related incidents.

It's truly one of those memorable statistics that cause you to hold your jaw corner like yuh have rotten teet when you consider that St James parish, with a grand population of about 185,000 people, recorded 335 murders. Essentially, that's a-murder-a-day-will-keep-the-police-away.

But before I expand on the New York angle, it's worth noting that this year is shaping up to be even worse. Again, The Gleaner notes:

"According to police statistics, close to 50 persons have been murdered nine days into 2018. A total of 1,616 persons were reported killed last year, an increase of just over 20 per cent when compared with the 1,350 recorded in 2016."




We're not slowing down this thing. Not at all. We're still in growth mode.

So, to return to the New York City model, I believe careful study of it might yet reveal fresh truths to instruct us. The exact reasons for the dramatic reductions in crime are the subject of debate, but the general view is that there were a number of contributing factors.

There was an economic boom at the time, and because of demographic changes, there were fewer youths in the '90s than in the previous decades.

Add to those factors an aggressively anti-crime political leadership and police leadership that invested resources in the New York Police Department: The force grew by 35% in the 1990s. The famous 'broken windows' policy saw the policing of misdemeanours that were previously ignored - arrests for misdemeanours jumped 70 per cent over the 1990s.

But this is about where you start to run up into the limits of the narrative that crime prevention can be had without attending to the politics. For when you boil down all the various influences in NY's massive crime reduction, you can't ignore that the prison population jumped by 24 per cent.

That's right. The cops hounded and harassed the crime perpetrators, flooded their areas with additional police personnel (in new cars), and locked up

the hardened and hardcore criminals.

In the National Bureau of Economic Research, Hope Corman and Naci Mocan looked at the 'carrot' of an improving economy, and at the 'stick' of deterrence through police measures. The conclusion was the police measures were more important, and that's because they put away the perps who were likely to go on and commit more crimes.

Now when you think about doing that in Jamaica a number of things should spring to mind. The abysmal arrest rate! Check. The abysmal conviction rate! Check. And have you heard about why we don't have a prison capable of holding the criminal perps, even if they were arrested and convicted?

Oh! Right! The politics. Those pesky British people wanted us to accept our own citizens and take some money to build a proper prison. Curse them!

As I was saying, The Gleaner notwithstanding, we're pretty comfy with our murder rate, and if yuh look pon it, dem 1,600 people did prabbly involve. How many will be involve in 2018?

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.