Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, December 14, 2007

Domestic violence

If you have no notion of what violent crime does to a society you need to visit Jamaica. A rate of murders that leads the world and many acts of brutal violence has scarred this country and changed dramatically how people live their lives. Much of the violence is gang-related. An astonishing number of brutal killings are of women and children. That is a bizarre inter-relationship. Drive-by shootings seem to be increasing. A lot of policemen are killed, but the police also do a lot of killing.

One aspect of the escalating crime is how the police have been targeted. The police have a tough task but the force has not helped itself with its reputation for also being undisciplined and also home to many criminals (see recent report in The Gleaner of comments by Montego Bay's Police Superintendent). Police crimes involve corruption (including the traffic cops asking for "a little help"), lottery scams, missing drugs and firearms, and more. Citizens are being asked to help the police but there are many reasons why there is much reluctance. Just this week I saw how non-community minded the police are. A vehicle was broken down on a major road near Devon House. Police officers were in the area doing vehicle checks and towing. One motorist became frustrated because when it was possible to pass the broken down vehicle a policeman proceeded to saunter in the road way deaying the traffic, which was again caught by a red light. The driver honked. The policeman waved his arm angrily at the motorist and pointed for him to pull over. The driver started to drive on, but the policeman grabbed the car door, yanked it open, and made a grab for the driver. He yelled at the motorist and acted like an ordinary angry citizen with no sense that he needed to maintain order if not the law. I have seen this kind of policing often in Jamaica. (I also saw this type of loutish action many times in Guinea, even with policemen jumping into cars and trying to pry the controls for drivers!) Simple situations can escalate into major altercations with this type of behaviour; and this was over a traffic non-event.
Almost everywhere you go in Kingston you see police in bullet proof vests and battle helmets, heavily armed with sub machine guns; you often see defence force squads rolling around in armoured trucks; or neighbourhoods sport signs that they are protected by some private security force. This gives the city an eerie sense of being constanly under a state of emergency or martial law. Curfews are common in problem neighbourhoods.

Crime has also changed life at any middle and upper class homes. Most Jamaicans have lived within grilled and barricaded homes for decades now, since the upsurge in violence in the mid-1970s. But the possible random nature of crimes and their brutality is sending fear through neighbourhoods that normally would be wary but generally felt to be safe. It's rare nowadays for people to just sit outside their homes, but you could leave a door open to let breeze through. Increasingly doors are shut and locked; if opened then the grill gate is locked. Who are the prisoners now? Politicians, their families and also some prominent business people have recently become targets . The increasing sense of threat that the privileged and middle and upper classes feel is likely to be a platform for action.

The Gleaner reported on a march for peace by children in midweek and gave a vivid description of what violence is all about: "The dehumanising conditions in large pockets of these inner-city communities, the high rates of unemployment and the cynical manipulation by political hacks over many years have contributed significantly to the antagonistic and anti-social behaviour that breeds a vicious cycle of criminality. That cycle must be broken by strong, coordinated and sustained social intervention." It also comments about how informers are reluctant to come forward for fear that corrupt policemen will reveal their names. The country seems at a loss how to deal with crime. Whatever has been tried has had no effect on the rate of murders. Whatever will be tried next is likely to fail if there is no willingness on the part of the public to real support action against crime. That means that the incentives for helping remove criminals has to greatly outweigh the risk of criminal reprisal. If this is not present that all bets are off.

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