Make Jamaica Safe Again?
Do you remember when you could go to bed and not worry about locking your doors at night? Yeah, me neither. That is, however, a fading memory of elderly Jamaicans who reminisce about the good ol’ days, when you could “walk street at any time of night”, or have whatever number of gold chains around your neck, without so much as a thought of getting robbed. Fast-forward to 2017, where parliament recently passed a legislative reform that is expected to significantly curb the spiralling crime rates of our country.
This piece of legislation, known as the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) Act, is the newest security measure to be implemented by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to tackle Jamaica’s biggest monster. With 639 recorded murders as of June, rising murder rates not only threaten family life, school and businesses locally, but also Jamaica’s image on an international stage. The tropical paradise that we’ve successfully marketed ourselves as, which has resulted in millions of tourists entering our shores annually, is slowly fading away.
The distinction should be made, however, that the entire county is not up in arms. The violence that is of concern is typically concentrated in pocket communities, called garrisons, that have historic ties with the two major political parties. The leaders of these communities, acknowledged as dons, guarantee votes from its members on election day in exchange for 'contracts' or other benefits. This arrangement paved the way for the rigid partisan political system we witness today, but that’s for another article.
The first zone declared under this new act is Mount Salem, which is located in St James, a parish that has seen steep increases in crime in recent years. Accompanied by Westmoreland and Hanover, these areas, which also happen to be popular tourist destinations, attribute their rising crime rates to conflicts within the lotto scamming business, as rival gangs fight over money, as well as names and numbers of individuals abroad who could be potential targets.
This article isn’t dedicated to criticising the government’s decisions to curb crime, or argue why that specific community was selected over others. Law enforcement is a necessary part of any crime plan. But you know that I’d love to see more of? More long term interventions, such as social development programs. Just the thought alone gives me goosebumps. If the powers at be decide that the way to fight crime is to increase police presence in a particular community, how about building a local community centre? And if one already exists, let’s try allocating funds to efficiently running it? If cordoned areas and curfews are your go-to crime ideas, try having personal development activities for residents during active hours.
It’s time to try doing something different if we expect different and lasting results. Our leaders, in their efforts to show a no-nonsense approach to crime, have created a habit of resorting to military force in times of social unrest. You won’t have to jog your memory too far back to remember the human rights violations of the Tivoli Incursion in 2010. And with the Attorney-General, Marlene Malahoo-Forte, alluding to the fact that radical changes may result in the freedoms of some Jamaicans may be infringed or abrogated, I can only hope that as a nation we demand the rights of all our citizens be upheld, whether or not there is a state of emergency or special security zones.
With more zones to be declared in the upcoming months, I encourage all readers to adequately inform yourselves of your rights, by reading a summary of important provisions of the ZOSO law.