The other day I was running up Norbrook Drive, which for those who don’t know, is in the “uptown” area of Kingston, ie there is a perception that it is safer than downtown and the corporate area. I run this hill regularly (without my phone, jewelry left behind), and there is usually a plethora of female domestic workers walking up to their jobs, as well as men going to construction or similar jobs.
This week, I saw not one female walking. I can only attribute it to the fear that seems to have overtaken Kingston. Every year around this time, Kingston turns into a parking lot of traffic as people try to get ready for the holidays. It also becomes a place of opportunity for criminals. Thus, the warnings circulate. Here is an excerpt from a blog one of my female students wrote for my class several weeks ago:
In addition to robbing persons, criminals will at times kidnap and rape their victims, sometimes taking those without cash or valuables to ATM’s in order to ensure their plunders yield good reward.
So although for many the season means getting into a good mood, for others it means taking note of the change in season- which sees the time getting darker earlier, spending more on transportation to avoid walking any distance on the streets, some females opt to take around smaller handbags, going home earlier where possible, wearing little or no jewelry in public spaces, wearing comfortable shoes and clothing, travelling in groups and a whole host of other precautions all geared toward bolstering their personal security.
While the season brings with it many challenges, it can be daunting to have to keep the paranoia at bay. In some situations the brazen attempts by criminals have made victims, passersby and onlookers unwillingly complicit in their acts.
While it is a regular occurrence to be more vigilant this time of year (the Security Minister announced there will be additional forces on the road), something seems different this year.
I’m hearing gunshots more often during the night. There are hysterical reports of shootouts and robberies and murders regularly circulating on WhatsApp groups. Crime seems worse than usual, although if you want to measure just by the number of murders (which I am always reluctant to do, because what about all the other violent acts, as well as the fundamental problem with reducing crime and lives lost to a statistical game), murders are higher than last year, but not at the all-time high.
But the wealth doesn’t seem to be trickling down. People are frustrated:
People are scared- return back to the lack of women on my run. Domestic helpers are scared to walk on the street, especially if they work in a wealthier area, as they fear thieves will target them. Which brings me to this study, which says that Jamaica loses billions of dollars every year to crime.
I always wondered how this is calculated and how the fear manifests to the bottom line. Now I can see a tangible example: the domestic workers are scared to walk on the street, so they pay for a taxi. That must be a few hundred dollars every day, and while it circulates to the taxi drivers, that is less money in the worker’s pockets.
To be sure, the government is attempting to tame the crime monster (please read this latest analysis from fellow blogger and economist Dennis Jones), but it doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact.
People are scared. People are frustrated. Something feels different this year, and not in a good way.