Jamaica: “The greatest threat posed by Jamaica’s high murder rate”

Jamaica’s Vision 2030 reads thus: “Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.” Goal #2 of Vision 2030 states the following: “The Jamaican society is safe, cohesive and just.”

Jamaica is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the successor Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal #16 0f the SDGs commits the country to targets for promoting a peaceful and inclusive society for sustainable development and, specifically, to reduce all forms of violence.

The reality falls well below the expectation of Goal #2 of Vision 2030 and Goal #16 of the SDGs. Jamaica is invariably described as the world’s “murder capital”. Opinion surveys consistently place crime and violence at the top of the list of concerns for Jamaicans.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its 2013 Global Study on Homicide, revealed a global average of 6.2 per 100,000 people in the populace. In 2014, when Jamaica recorded its lowest murder toll in over a decade to reach 39/100,000, the UNODC ranked the country as the sixth most murderous in the world. In just the last five years, crime and violence have claimed more than 6,000 lives.

The resulting trauma from this level of homicide in a small society is inestimable. It is also costly to the economy. The Inter-American Development Bank conducted a 2014 study, which estimated that crime-related costs for Jamaica amounted to four per cent of gross domestic product. According to former Minister of National Security Robert Montague, the $68 billion per annum crime costs Jamaica could build 16 new schools.

The implications of continued high rates of crime and violence for governance, justice and civil liberties are worrying. The Latin America Public Opinion Project, based on a survey it conducted last January, reported that 27.9 per cent of respondents agreed that the authorities could “cross the lines” to catch criminal suspects. Some public officials and commentators, including Public Defender Arlene Harrison-Henry, have observed that already there has been crossing of the lines in the implementation of zones of special operations and limited states of emergency. It’s easy for even well-intentioned policymakers to cross the lines when getting tough on crime.

Take the war against gangs, for instance. The November 13, 2015 Jamaica Observer quoted then Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams that from police intelligence estimates there are 266 criminal gangs operating islandwide, with half of them committing murders. The Criminal Justice Act 2010, popularly called the anti-gang legislation, provides the following definition in part: Criminal organisations means any gang, group, alliance, network among three or more people that has as one of its purposes the commission of one or more serious offences.

 In a January 27, 2017 The Gleaner article, entitled ‘Here’s why boys join gangs’, anthropologist Herbert Gayle wrote the following: “I wish to distinguish between gangs and corner crews. Inner-city boys join crews as a rite of passage and because they need food and protection. I shall, therefore, define a corner crew as a protective brotherhood. Corner crews are not formed for the purpose of them committing violent crimes or fighting another such group.”

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