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Wow! Murder number 34!


Have we really set out to be the murder capital of the Eastern Caribbean? It appears so. When we face problems at home, our immediate response is to say that it is happening elsewhere and then we leave it at that. Grenada, I am told, has recorded 6 for the year. What is our neighbour doing that we have not been doing or what has it not been doing that we are doing?{{more}}

An article from The Jamaica Observer of November 5 caught my attention. It was captioned “Attack Crime like Ebola.” The author, Dr Henley Morgan, argues, “Imagine waking up to news that Ebola had finally reached our shores. The same lethargic Government of ours, which has not been able to put a dent in the crime problem over five decades would spring into action…Every necessary asset would be placed at the disposal of those leading the effort to contain and then eradicate the contagion.” His focus was not only on the Government, but with others in the society, “People living in inner-city communities would be jumping up and down in front of television cameras, clamouring for the authorities to come and remove the carriers of the contagion that make their communities unsafe.” But crime, which is real, gets no such treatment.

But I also have to point to another article that I find most relevant to our situation. Dr Denis Chung, vice-president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica visited Cuba as part of the Jamaican delegation to the recent Ebola meeting. The article he wrote about his visit speaks to the point. It is entitled ‘Caribbean Lessons from Cuba.” He was impressed with how organized Cuban society was and felt that we had important lessons to learn from it. Lest we begin to attribute it to the kind of system that currently exists, he was quick to point out that that type of order existed in other societies, like the US.

I will pull out only a few of the lessons he highlighted. Cuba, he declared, was well ordered and disciplined “and the people seemed to take a lot of pride in what they do and strive for perfection.” He argued that the type of order and discipline in both Cuban and American societies are the result of the authorities ensuring that they enforce the laws. Although he was part of an official delegation, he was impressed with the fact that all the delegates were subjected to a system of screening. He recognized that health care was a national priority, each region having a hospital and each hospital around 20 doctors who lived in their community. 8:30 a.m. did not mean 8:31 a.m. The Cubans did not allow their infrastructure to deteriorate; being out-front in this area with many parks for the communities and roads set up for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.

But what does all of this have to do with the point I want to make? We need to chew on the lessons identified. Although his article is pointed at Jamaica, it has just as much relevance to us. Here is Dr Chung: “It is this lack of discipline and order in Jamaica that, in my view, has been the prime reason for our economic and social decay. For example, we love to speak about major crimes like murder, but we never seem to realise the link between murder and general lack of discipline and law and order. In other words how can we solve crime if everyone is allowed to do what they want when driving, throw garbage anywhere they want or play music at whatever level they want or whenever they want.”

He goes on to say that it is important that the problem of a dysfunctional society in terms of law, order and values be addressed. Unless this is done the society will continue to be subjected to economic and social decay. Dr Chung has highlighted what I consider to be the major problem that we face in our society, lack of discipline and order. It appears that the three murders on the weekend have stirred some of those in authority, since a high-level meeting was supposed to have taken place on Monday afternoon. The Prime Minister is quoted as revealing what appears to be the most closely guarded secret. He said “We have a good framework, but we have to decide on some other tactical things as to what more we can do in that area.” What would have happened if we did not have a ‘good framework’? I wonder!

The truth, as I have stated before, is that crime has to be tackled on all fronts, including preventive measures and ensuring a society where order and discipline are given top priority. In the reference made earlier to Dr Henley Morgan, he did highlight two other things that needed to be done. Crime has to be treated as if it is a disease. He wanted to see the war against crime linked with the war against poverty, dealing in particular with youth unemployment.

Greater police presence and better developed crime fighting strategies, although important and essential, are not enough. We have to deal with the underlying problems in our society. We have to govern a country that is arguably ungovernable. Having said this I should also make reference to the NDP’s ‘Social and Redemption Charter,’ which appears to touch on matters of discipline, values, order and the channelling of the energies of our young people to more rewarding and uplifting areas. The fight against crime has to be given top priority and all of our citizens have to be involved at some level. 34 murders are too much. Remember we still have six weeks left in the year! God help us!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.