State Of Emergency — We Don’t Want No More At All!

Another motion has gone to Parliament to extend the states of public emergency (SOEs) in Jamaica. It seems this is becoming the primary strategy used by the Government to fight crime and protect the country’s populace.

The fact is states of emergency ought to be a policy employed by governments during a disaster, civil unrest, armed conflict, or terrorist activity. However, in Jamaica, the state of emergency is becoming the norm as the Government continues to use it as an initiative to fight regular crime.

This move not only undermines the rights and freedoms of citizens guaranteed under the country’s constitution but also makes a mockery of the legislation.

Since 1966 Jamaica has had more than six states of emergency, with the longest being in 1976, lasting for a year. Crime and violence accounted for most of these states of emergency and, to date, there is no end in sight to the problem.

The latest introduction of such a measure was again pushed by the high murder rate, thus prompting the prime minister to act.

“After careful consideration and review of the crime statistics, in particular, violent crimes which have been committed in south-western parishes, the security forces have advised that the situation which now currently exists would warrant the Government advising the Governor General to proclaim a state of public emergency,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness said recently.

However, this type of pronouncement may soon become his mantra given the situation that obtains.

Meanwhile, on the floor of Parliament recently, senior Opposition Senator K D Knight argued that, while the Government was reporting progress in the fight against crime under the states of emergency, the number of murders committed in 2019 exceeded that of the previous year.

“If we luxuriate in failure and then comfortably define it as a success, then we are going to have a problem. You are thinking that you are doing well when your own analysis is showing you that you are not,” declared Knight, adding that the Government should do more to fight crime or else the society would languish in despair.

At the same time, Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith noted, “We ended the year with an overall murder rate of 3.5 percent higher than the previous years.”

So, even though there is an ongoing state of emergency the crime rate continues to show an upward trend.

The question, therefore, is: Do we need more states of emergency or better police-fighting strategies and tactics?

Former Police Superintendent of Police Reneto Decordova Adams has long argued that effective and efficient police action trumps the states of emergency currently being used by the Government.

The truth is, to hold a community at ransom for the criminal actions of a few gang members that intelligence on the part of the police force could easily root out is anathema.

Moreover, strong leadership within the police force, and having an effective justice system in place, along with the will to root out corruption in the police force, should be the order of the day.

Senator Knight has rightly argued that “If [the Government] believes in the state of emergency, be bold and place it over the entire island.” He further reasoned that if the Government’s analysis was that crime had escalated to “so extensive a scale as to endanger the public safety”, then this should apply to all Jamaicans across the entire island.

The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of talk and posturing, but no long-term strategy is in place to fight crime, and it is telling in the crime statistics. At December 28, Jamaica’s murder total stood at 1,326, a three percent increase over 2018. The country recorded 34 murders in the first 11 days of 2020, and recent reports surpass the 100 mark in just one month of the new year.

The country cannot continue with the same type of approach to crime-fighting and expect a different result. A revolutionary approach is needed.

Now, will the Government listen to the people and give the commissioner of police job to Reneto Decordova Valentino Adams? Don’t hold your breath!

Yvad Billings, Readers Bureau, Fellow

Edited by Jesus Chan

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