22 June 2008

The role of the Gimmick in governance

John Maxwell

If we are really seeking effective solutions to the problem of violent crime in Jamaica I can think of a few really compelling gimmicks which would, at least, satisfy the middle class demand for “Action” while being dangerously unsustainable environmentally. It would be satisfying at one blow, the two most important constituencies – those who read newspapers and those who read spreadsheets and comics..

A very long time ago, in a past century, a university scholar named Peter Philips led a symposium and edited a report on the causes of crime in society. The absence of antique booksellers in Jamaica makes it difficult for me to lay my hands on this ancient screed but oral tradition has it that the venerable author considered criminal violence to be one outgrowth of unjust societies.

Now, aeons later, another luminary, also named Peter Philips and perhaps a distant descendant, appears to believe that sequestering people for long periods of time will solve the “Crime Problem”.

In fact, long periods of sequestration would solve no end of problems. They could solve the population problem, if we simply locked up children in sex segregated institutions from the time they are ready to go to basic school and kept them there for say twenty years while they are subjected to ‘improving’ doctrines explaining to them how to be able to Just Say No to a variety of dangerous temptations. Such institutions would also solve the unemployment problem, requiring many more guards per inmate than a Spanish hotel requires per room. When the hotels become vacant we can indeed find appropriate uses for them, uses which will continue the noble tradition of destroying the environment and making life miserable for Jamaicans.

Cleared Up!

The Jamaica Constabulary ever so often, publishes reports of its accomplishments. In the old days the Commissioner presented a report to Parliament. For some reason during the sixties the government improved the crime statistics by not requiring the police to publish an annual report any more.

What we do know however, is that as time goes on and the vehicular and technological competence of the force is sharpened, its capacity to solve crimes drops. No longer can you discover how many crimes resulted in successful prosecutions; These days you are forced to make do with a statistic about how many crimes were ‘cleared up’.

This is a strange concept because it allows the police attribution of crimes to offenders who have never been charged with them. So-called ‘wanted men” who have been outshot in shoot-outs, are credited post mortem with all sorts of exploits; which of course means an improvement in the ‘cleared up’ rate.

But since even this crude solution yields a ‘success’ rate of less than one in three murders we can understand the reason for ‘crime waves’: people will commit crimes if they have a reasonable chance of avoiding detection and prosecution. In Jamaica they are twice as likely to get away with murder as they are to be detected, let alone prosecuted and found guilty. Just compare the number of murders with the number of murder trials

The inefficiency of the Jamaican police is a major factor in crime statistics.

In the late seventies for instance, the Gleaner carried an encouraging number of police claims to have cleared up a certain murder.

A taxi driver had been murdered in Gordon Town by a lone gunman, it was reported. Over the next six months or so, the police cleared up this crime no less than three and perhaps as many as four or five times. Shooting to death the lone gunman involved each time. No one was ever tried for the murder but several ‘“most wanted criminals” bit the dust no doubt significantly reducing the crime rate for the next two hours or so.

The press has for years demonstrated contempt for those people who put themselves in harm’s way trying to protect the interest of the oppressed. Jamaicans For Justice are an easy target for several reasons, among them the presence of so many light-skinned people in its leadership. The police and some fundamentalist parsons, ‘journalists’ and politicians have exploited this perceived loophole and try to label JFJ and people like me as contemptible accomplices or at least, enablers of criminals. In the early seventies, one policeman even suggested that I needed to be hanged from a gallows because of my objection to capital punishment.

The media continues its ignorant dismissal of human rights campaigners. My colleague and friend Morris Cargill thought for most of his life that police brutality was greatly exaggerated by people like me. That was until the headman on his banana estate was humiliated, brutalised and arrested by the police simply because the man was seeking information about his son’s death in a traffic accident.

Centuries of slavery have inured us to slavish behaviour as well as to the sadistic.

In Friday’s Gleaner the editorial makes the ridiculous presumption that the PNPs leader would have ‘vetted’ her deputy’s speech in Parliament and then goes on to suggest that the PNP is unclear on its position regarding civil liberties..

The Gleaner clearly expects that the Leader of the Opposition should ride herd on her members, whipping them into line like cattle. This is precisely the bahaviour that destroyed the JLP under Seaga and makes that party dysfunctional today.

The editorial then continues to snidely conflate the views of the PNPYO and “re-emergent” Jamaicans for Justice – as if they had been in hiding for some shameful reason.

The Gleaner and Dr Phillips seem to be of the same kidney as the US Republican party and the craven media after 9/11 when the White House and its agents managed to frighten many Americans into yielding up their liberties, their rights and parts of the Constitution for the illusion of safety from Bin Laden, guaranteed by George Bush.

In the Jamaican context the Gleaner and others make the mistake of confusing ‘preventive detention’ with extended detention before trial. This confusion is part of the panic now driving the society, in which words are much more important than actions and gimmicks are the currency of development and of policy. If we don’t understand what we propose to do we are crazier even than I thought.

Footnote: At the risk of further enraging the elite diaspora I say:

“No Representation without Taxation!”

Copyright© 2008 John Maxwell


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