When it comes to crime, it appears as if we are ‘fully dunce’

Gun and bullets
Gun and bullets (Photo credit: Enrico Hanel)

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On Monday 10 May  2021, Jamaicans everywhere were presented with a taste of law and order maintenance in operation when members of a special police team engaged gunmen in a mid-day gunfight in the vicinity of one of City Kingston’s busiest intersections, Hope and Trafalgar Roads close to Devon House and the  Abbey Court apartments. After some 96 seconds and the discharge of more than 74 rounds among them, two gunmen lay dead on the Hope Road asphalt while a third individual was cornered and arrested after he briefly eluded the cops, scaled the walls and entered the Abbey Court property.  Within minutes of the incident, I received a copy of a video captured by a motorist caught in the bedlam on Hope Road as bullets whizzed around like flies. I was struck by the apparent nonchalance of motorists who seemed transfixed by the unfolding events with only one motorized patrol cop appearing to take evasive action during the short but deadly firefight. 

I received a second video the following morning of a graphic execution of a young man by someone with whom he appeared to have been having some kind of verbal exchange. The individual seemed to casually pull a semi-automatic pistol from his waistband and shot the other in his head at close range. As the victim fell heavily to the ground, the shooter casually replaced the firearm in his waistband, bent over the body, and picked up what appeared to be the spent shell. 

It would take the passage of another 13 minutes for the men involved in this shooting to be challenged by the police unit just above the Trafalgar and Hope roads intersection, at the height of the mid-day traffic. As I replayed the video a few times, I was absolutely surprised that multiple other persons, motorists, passengers in hired vehicles, and pedestrians had not been killed or hurt.

Yes, we have a serious crime problem in Jamaica, and, yes, we desperately need to eliminate this scourge from our midst. Let me acknowledge, also, that from the published intelligence reports, these seemed to have been the same men who were involved in a deadly shooting less than half-an-hour earlier in the Old Hope Road area. Surely, the same intelligence mechanism that tracked them to Hope and Trafalgar roads could have tracked them further, pushing the inevitable engagement in an area with far less risk to innocent lives.

In following the commentary that has evolved on social media about the shooting, the vast majority tossed out kudos to the cops for their swift and deadly action. In fact, a suggestion, apparently emanating from the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ,) that the cops may not have made any effort to apprehend the gunmen had understandingly been met with complete derision overlaid with some of the most unflattering remarks. After all, this represented one more overdue victory for the police versus criminal gunmen and the permanent removal of two alleged murderers from our midst. 

As one who has lived through such scenarios in the past, I completely understand the emotional reactions. However, I must caution that the police experience on the day of the incident was a pyrrhic victory. According to a couple of friends of mine, who are both involved in law enforcement, one here in the USA and the other in the United Kingdom, such an operation would never have unfolded on such thoroughfares in the USA or the United Kingdom.  As they put it, the police team involved were lucky as in their efforts to catch a couple of criminals they endangered the lives of scores of unsuspecting Jamaican commuters.  

I am well aware that this is an argument that will not have too many supporters because Jamaica’s reality is that with 1.350 murders per year, any measure will be deemed acceptable even if it only appears to claw back some territory. In the circumstances, these people believe that Jamaica’s massive crime mountain gives the police the right to be judge, jury, and executioner.  It is staggering that we have unofficially been employing that strategy for more than 40 years with the same deleterious results, not realizing that we have been on a fool’s errand. The fact is that our criminal problem is not new. It has been developing over more than 50 years. It was wrought by the failure of the state to provide sustainable economic and social policies benefiting the majority of at-risk Jamaicans and it was forged by a policing apparatus that could not deliver its promises for providing national security. Worse, it was built on the back of a police force in which the majority of Jamaicans can never repose trust and confidence, after having painted the landscape with the blood of so many of its voiceless citizens. 

These are the factors that birthed organizations like the JFJ whose critics believe (without evidence) deliberately curries-favour with criminals. This is not just unfortunate but totally irresponsible. You have to be “fully dunce” to buy into that kind of thinking. Had we not been burdened with a generally poorly run and managed police force and a decrepit Justice system, there would be no need for oversight bodies such as the JFJ.

We need to embrace the fact that the decades-long failure of successive political administrations have created the crime scourge that is, today, our constant shame. Our thirst over the years for immediate “justice” created the police force that we now have, burdened with the senseless slaughter and brutalization of hundreds of Jamaicans. It is these conditions that have created the various human rights groups like the JFJ. Their approaches may sometimes defy logic, but we have them because our justice system has been an abysmal failure. As long as we continue to avoid making the investment necessary to bring about the systemic changes, we will only continue to realize growing criminality.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a Jamaican creative artist residing in the United States.

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