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.
It is confounding. The economy is doing well, at least according to the Jamaica Stock Exchange and credit bureaus, although growth is anemic.
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.
It’s hard to know if more incidents are occurring or if more incidents are being reported and details of them circulating wider and faster: many reports I see in informal groups are ‘forwarded’, often from sources not stated and not verified. Even reports that are verified are often widely variant in terms on real facts (eg recent ‘shoot out’ near Immaculate HS. In cases like that, where JCF are involved, we can get an ‘official’ account, but even that can be fuzzy. I think what’s putting more people on edge are the seeming rise in incidents against innocent people, eg while walking, jogging, doing daily activities, which has raised the spectre of random attacks outside the rings of criminals. That makes everyone a target. I think more people reconsider when and where they go out and with whom (groups seem better, but we’ve heard of groups being attacked). Images of crimes occurring in crowed public places are truly a concern, though, as they suggest a brazenness that is terrifying, and real risks to anyone ‘in the wrong place’ at the wrong time. It’s hard to deal with. Home invasions used to be a more-reported crime but it seems that ‘in public’ crimes are increasing. CCTV presence doesn’t seem to deter, but that’s not uncommon in other countries. Physical security presence also seems to be as much a target as people. The reports of more crimes in ‘upscale’ areas seems to be a change, but it was never clear if similar crimes are ‘daylight’ robberies of individuals (eg muggings) as opposed to businesses are occurring in so-called ‘poorer’ areas.
Yes, it’s opportunistic street crimes that are the issue. Homes are better protected by alarms, guards (and dogs!!) these days. The JCF is by no means transparent in reporting on such incidents, which doesn’t help. Hence the plethora of stories on social media.
In general, there are many more crimes than people report to the authorities, and they report more incidents to friends and relatives than they do to the authorities, so it’s always hard to fathom what comes into the public domain. All of that is made worse in Jamaica because JCF are distrusted by many for a variety of reasons, including possible collusion with criminals. Toxic mixture that’ll take long to change.
I think people have given up on reporting a lot of crime…
Bunting points to a concern I am having about ‘balloon’ effect https://twitter.com/loopjamaica/status/1206369874282500096?s=21
Yes, I wonder if they are measuring this…
Yes I’ve always wondered about measuring this, because if you examine the statistics some crimes in other parishes have risen by double digits. The problem is just migrating around. Full disclosure too- I should say that perhaps my attitude this year is different as a close member of my husband’s family was murdered several weeks ago.
I agree that the crimes seem more random and less relegated to “criminals” being targeted, which does raise the levels of fear and paranoia. No one is safe anywhere, is the feeling. Everyone is a target. I think social media also contributes, as more incidents are receiving more publication…
Fear is contagious. I am sure you are aware, also, that people fabricate stories on social media, just to get a “like” or an “OMG”! I have yet to fathom why they do this, but sensational stories abound – mostly fiction. I am not downplaying that people ARE afraid, but I don’t think the actual conditions out there are any “worse” than usual. As for the economic implications, I think the “feeling unsafe” would affect us socially and economically – because we change our habits, maybe go to the supermarket less often, etc.
Yes, I agree, it is contagious, and also agree some of these stories are made up or exaggerated. And agree, the fear, whether merited or not, changes our behavior. Thanks for reading:)
It’s difficult to cope with psychologically, that’s for sure…
Yes, more so when it hits too close to home…
We can comfortably ignore it when it’s happening in an inner city area – but then, that’s part of the whole problem isn’t it?
Exactly. When it happens to “them” downtown or elsewhere, it is not our problem. That’s what they do, isn’t it? shoot each other up. But when it happens to people we know…then it’s a problem I guess.
Well, things may feel different for you, but for some of us, it’s the same every year. This will be my second Christmas in Kingston and although I stay on campus, I think it is safe. For many people in Western Jamaica, ’tis the season of crime. Ever Christmas you’re on edge, not knowing when something might spring out at you. Jamaica has lost its spirit and not even Christmas time, the time of festivities and giving can tame the crime demon that is terrorizing the nation
Thanks for reading Fitsroy. I appreciate you sharing your experience. I hope you are safe this year and have a good holiday. Keep in touch.
Nice piece with some economic implications I want to explore.