Thursday, 2 March 2017

Crime: A Hindrance to National Development

"Peace cannot be kept be force; it can only be achieved by understanding".- Albert Einstein 
According to police statistics, 1350 Jamaicans were murdered in 2016. Despite the downward trend of other crimes, such as rape, aggravated assault and robbery, the murder rate for the island has been rather troubling to say the least. Sadly, successive governments over the years have been unable to address the island’s spiraling crime rate. According to police data the murder rate in 2016 was an 11 per cent increase over 2015. Yet, despite the doom and gloom there was a bright spot for the community of August Town which recorded zero murders in 2016. The environs of August Town at one time had a reputation of crime and violence so much so that people were afraid to venture into the area. A number of stakeholders at the time sought it appropriate to invest their time and money in order to transform what was once considered a high crime ridden area. In 2008 a peace agreement was signed and the fruits of that agreement were realized eight years later in 2016 which saw zero murders. There are many lessons from this blueprint. This transformation has showed us that there is no community in Jamaica which cannot be saved and changed into a peaceful and law-abiding settlement. The August Town model must be replicated across all those areas which are constantly being plagued by murders in which people live in fear and in which public play areas are empty from the voices of children having fun. Clearly the success in August Town was not achieved by the wave of a magic wand. The collaborative efforts of the citizenry, government through social intervention programmes, the University of the West Indies, as well as the Peace Management Initiative all played a part in achieving this accomplishment. We cannot underestimate the power of citizen participation and involvement in the fight against crime.  Our security forces need to invest more time and resources in building trust and engaging in collaborative efforts if as a society we are going to win the war against crime and violence.
In spite of the praises to the peace builders of the community of August Town we now must ask the question, where did all those barking guns go? A significant part of this model is missing. Disturbingly, since the “Get the Guns” campaign was launched in September of 2015 more than 887 illegal firearms and 12,000 rounds of ammunition have been removed from the streets, this according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force. According to the Igarape Institute, a Brazilian based think tank, 14, 968 Jamaicans were murdered from 2005-2014. Sadly, we seem helpless in preventing illegal guns from entering the country. We need to have a “Secure Our Borders” campaign in order to have sustainable peace and development. There is an apparent link between crime, unemployment and youthfulness. It can be argued that crime to a great extent is a social construct existing in situations of abject poverty and diminished opportunities. Too many of our youths, especially young men are not engaged adequately, regrettably this lack of meaningful engagement affects even those males in the education system. Gender is often referenced to the notions of socially constructed ideas of masculinity and femininity. The issue of masculinity and its link to criminal behavior is well researched in the arena of criminological thought. The society continues to send mixed signals regarding the importance of acquiring an education, when the reality for a significant number of young men runs counter to that of society. Regrettably, many schools have become recruitment centers for boys to join gangs as well as girls.  As a society we have nurtured and facilitated a culture in which the informal economy often through illicit means rewards handsomely. The quasi-economy is not concerned about academic qualification and book smarts and the waiting list to enter keeps growing each year.  The society has ignored the interest of boys in crafting educational policies to a large extent and now we are reaping the fruits thereof.  We have not learned our lessons and as a result we continue to implement similar policies with the hope of getting a different outcome. The time has come for us to re-visit how we examine crime plans with the view to decrease the island murder rate considerably. A society which is unable to control crime and violence puts its very own democracy at risk especially since social upheaval is always present as its citizenry search for justice.  Let us be reminded that a model for economic growth and development cannot thrive and or be sustained in a crime laden environment. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), estimates that the direct annual cost of crime and violence in Latin America and the Caribbean is at $US261 billion or 3.55 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Just imagine the infrastructural development that could result if we could reduce crime and violence.
Towards A Solution                                                                                                          
We need to revisit how we implement crime fighting measures. Each Member of Parliament should have a crime plan for his or her constituency. The crime plans at the community level should have set goals and objectives in which a zero murder rate is the ultimate target. The salary of each Member of Parliament should be tied to this crime plan. If the targets are met the MP should receive an increase in his/her salary at the end of the year, conversely, if the targets are not met the MP’s salary should remain as it, in order words we should performance pay for Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament must be held accountable for the peace and security in the areas in which they represent.  It cannot be business as per usual for 2017 regarding fighting crime. In 2013, the World Bank ranked Jamaica as among the worst homicide rates with 45 murders per 100,000. A high crime rate in any society runs counter to sustainable development and good governance. All stakeholders must come together and redouble their efforts to change this reality and create a new model regarding the safety and security of our people. In the words of Bobby Scott, we can play politics, or we can reduce crime.  
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.