It is National Heroes Day in Jamaica. The city is quiet, most people have gone to the country. As I wrote the other day, I was supposed to be working on Saturday to meet a deadline for a writing project, but I was convinced to go to the beach instead. A wonderful decision! Yesterday I also took some time out to do a training run (3 hours!) for the Reggae Marathon, which is quickly approaching, and go to a friend’s BBQ. I tried curried goat for the first time, and given that I don’t really eat meat, it was surprisingly enjoyable.
On this National Heroes Day, I will also point you to this article by Associated Press writer David McFadden. I have not met him, but have been in contact with him and know he lives in Kingston. The story is good, as is all the work he produces. But more and more, I have been contemplating the value and impact of these stories, how they are packaged and how often they run. The Associated Press produces one story every few months about Jamaica, and I am assuming they run in most major newspapers. The result is a very specific and narrow portrait of this very complex nation (this issue is not exclusive to Jamaica, of course.)
This story is about the police campaign to eradicate gang activity through the removal of murals dedicated to community dons. (While this picture is not of a mural, it is a picture of some graffiti on a wall entering the community of Mountain View, declaring allegiance to one of the main political parties.)
It is a good story (Thanks John Wilson!) with different sources, some background and context. However, as with all stories like this, it portrays just a fraction of the complexity of the issue. I am concerned about what someone reading the story in Nebraska or Jakarta or Sydney might think. What do they take away from the story? Will they go and do more research on Jamaica’s criminal activity? I doubt it, and does that even matter? What is the alternative, you ask? Perhaps a story about how gang activity has ceased, how a community intervention project has worked miracles.
I’m not sure those positive stories that would provide balance exist, unfortunately. Even in Mountain View, the community where YOU has worked since 2003, a young man was shot and killed by police a couple of weeks ago, breaking a streak of several years of no shootings. (Word from both police and community members indicate that the young man who was killed was “terrorizing” the community and that they are relieved. A policeman was also shot, but he will recover). Gang activity has also flared up again in West Kingston and is spilling over into neighbouring communities.
One person who might have some answers and understands the complexity of the issues is Horace Levy of Peace Management Initiative (Thanks Emma for pointing to this letter). It would be great if the Associated Press would talk to him for an article. Read in full below his response to police tactics towards gang activity:
THE EDITOR, Sir:It is helpful that Police Commissioner Ellington has responded to my challenge. His reply, in the Observer of August 27, 2013, makes it clear that he does not get the two main points of my letter: (1) that present policing strategy is repressive, and (2) is failing to reduce murder rates.
What remains is for Security Minister Peter Bunting, the person responsible for policy, to discuss policing strategy and its failure with the public. Other ministers – in agriculture, education, communication, etc. – discuss their policies and criticisms of them with the business sector and civil society. Why not national security? Why not discuss a PREVENTIVE strategy – its methods, advantages, costs?
Ellington’s reply, to come back to it briefly, does not deal with the repressive nature of current policing. The facts are unassailable and, therefore, mostly undenied:
Police turning the community space (of poorer communities) into detention zones as though the majority of their people are criminals.
Police death threats to community leaders.
Police wearing masks without justification.
Police’s unjustified killings of large numbers of civilians: the correct INDECOM statement is that 51 per cent of all claims investigated, including very minor ones, were found unsubstantiated, not Ellington’s 80 per cent (of fatalities this year).
Police promoted who have supervised many such fatalities: an approval by the Police Commission, which is being appealed in the courts, does not alter the fact.
Police seeking to reverse civilian supervision of their (mis)conduct and, to escape that supervision, even refusing now to engage criminal elements.
Ellington’s reply tries to cover up the failure of the strategy by manipulating the number of homicides. The plain fact is that the number of days from January 1 to August 3 is 215, and the number of murders for that same period, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force crime report, is 662. The number 662, when divided by 215, yields the number three with 17 left over. In other words, the average daily number of murders for the past seven months is a fraction more than three; and the rate is worse if the 742 murders up to August 24 are taken into account – 3.1.
And if Mr Ellington will count the days from June 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012, and divide it into the number of murders for that period, he will find the exact same average daily rate of three. He cannot get around it. Murder, with all the violence associated with it, is the crime that measures the success or failure of his policing.
Mr Ellington’s claim of success in ‘clearing and holding’ is just ludicrous when one considers the level of homicides and robberies not only overall but, for example, in west Kingston (and worse in St James and Clarendon). And the fact is that until ‘clearing’ seriously occurs, no substantial ‘building’ by other agencies can go on.