Editorial | A mass mobilisation against crime
If you line up the corpses, head to toe, of the more than 1,500 people who have been murdered in Jamaica in 2017, they would stretch for nearly two miles. Heading south from Half-Way Tree, the bustling square in the heart of Kingston, they would line the road to that other busy town centre, Cross Roads. From Jamaica House, the prime minister's office, they would reach Vale Royal, his official residence, and back.
These are images, of the bodies of murdered Jamaicans lined along the roadway between iconic landmarks, that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his national security minister, Robert Montague; the police chief, George Quallo; as well as the head of the army, Major General Rocky Meade, should constantly carry in their minds' eye. As, too, should Peter Phillips, the leader of the Opposition, and his shadow security minister, Fitz Jackson. Hopefully, it would alert them to the country's most urgent priority and its need of their concentrated attention.
Several seemingly disparate, but really interconnected matters, insist upon this laser focus on Jamaica's crisis of violence. These include not only the rising rate of homicides but the impunity with which murderers operate. This year, homicides will increase by perhaps a fifth, marking the first time murders will be in, or pass, the 1,600 range in nine years and confirming the reversal of the decline in homicides - murders, for instance, dropped 35 per cent between 2009 and 2012 - that accompanied the 2010 security operation in Tivoli Gardens that dislodged the crime boss and community don Christopher Coke.
FEARFUL FOR DECADES
So, it is not that Jamaicans are unaccustomed to criminal violence. They have been fearful of crime and agonised over killings for decades. But there seems to be a qualitative difference of criminals in recent times, evidenced by the brazen daylight gun attacks on victims in busy traffic, such as those in Montego Bay that we highlighted this week.
Criminals usually behave this way when there is a low probability they will be caught. In Jamaica, only half the murders are ever 'cleared up', which usually means a suspect - often a gang, not an individual - has been identified, but not necessarily brought to justice. And court proceedings are usually slow and drawn-out.
These, in part, are the results of an understaffed, inefficient and substantially corrupt police force, as well as an overburdened and, therefore, creaky justice system. Put differently, these failings are indices of the country's poverty, which is an outcome of an average annual growth of less than one per cent over four decades.
This is why last week's appointment of Aubyn Hill, the government senator, as executive director of Prime Minister Holness' Economic Growth Council (EGC), evoked a connection between that job and the issue of crime. The EGC's job is to propose and monitor the implementation of policies aimed at having the Jamaican economy, by 2020, grow at five per cent a year.
Several studies have concluded that crime deprives Jamaica of between five and seven per cent of its potential annual output. "Improving citizens' security is, therefore, the single most important growth-inducing reform Jamaica can undertake," the EGC said in a document published more than a year ago.
Addressing these issues requires, in the short term, investment in the security and justice systems, which means prioritising how, and where, the country's limited resources are allocated. It also demands implementing effective policing strategies, even as the constabulary is radically overhauled.
This can be achieved most effectively with the support of a mobilised citizenry, which will require extraordinary leadership from Messrs Holness and Montague. Such an approach will also require building a political consensus, which, perforce, means engaging the political Opposition. Dr Phillips and Mr Jackson and, by extension, the People's National Party, can't, in the circumstances, be aloof, hoping to gain advantage from the Government's failure. Any failure will belong to all of us.