Taking Back Our Country

Taking Back Our CountryI first paid attention to the phrase when Howard Dean said it in reference to George W. Bush’s 1st term as president. It has been prominent on the lips of Tea Party folks during Obama`s term. Recently, the Jamaican Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, and the Governor General signed a joint appeal to their countrymen to take back their country. This is intriguing. In the case of the American mainland, what was being advocated by candidate for political office and lobbyists was for policy changes, while in Jamaica the highest policy makers and shakers were appealing for divine and civic intervention.

Let`s look at the Jamaican picture, here we see, eroding standard of living, high crime rate, low conviction and horrendous backlog of cases clogging the courts. The police force is provoked into shooting more than two hundred persons a year, witnesses to crime often decide to be hazy in their recollections of events – if they are not eliminated and crime scene evidence and exhibits routinely go missing from the police. Perhaps the trust between police and citizens is understandably low. What`s to be done for a country living in fear of police who cannot afford to be slow when challenging a citizen and citizens who need the police but can’t presume to trust them with confidential information? Enter the Jamaican leaders and their call to their countrymen to take back their country.

Of course they are serious! Of greater importance, though, is what does it mean? If men of goodwill, or not so much, decide to inform the police about a person or an event, what guarantee is there that the police will design the contact experience to be peaceful? What if the information was not credible but the police only know this in hindsight? Can an apology, if we can be so naïve to think the police would admit to being misled, negate a heart rending statistic?

With cases taking years to be tried what beyond civic duty will encourage witnesses to brave the corridors of justice when files disappear and assurance of protection are empty words? Or is it a case of citizens being told to organize themselves into neighborhood watch group? We have the George Zimmerman`s debacle to remind us of what happens when fear and prejudice meet in the dark.

Presently, the risk of being apprehended for a crime is low. This grand announcement changes nothing nor signal an effective strategy. This is encouragement to drink deeply from a hot tin cup. Absent a coherent strategy to reduce the mobility of illegal and improvised weapons and a guaranteed predictable defined experience between police and citizens, the leaders are grasping at straws.

Are they out of ideas or stuck in a mode of thinking that hasn’t delivered on security for the nation since independence? The kindest explanation, I suppose, is that the government is trying to contain the situation without radically upending people’s lives and hoping that civic responsibility will cause citizens to look out for each other and hope that work. More significantly, there are money and manpower challenges.

It is going to be a long slog to failure with depressing consequences to the Jamaican psyche, the economy and a justice system that cannot inspire confidence to help unleash the entrepreneurial talents and ideas of its diaspora and residents. The solution is not so hard. What is going to be hard is for the government to declare an extended amnesty, for the police to change its use of force and presumption of guilt policy to favor arrest over violent extraction of suspects.

The government has an opportunity to channel the large unskilled labor pool of disillusioned unconnected youths into soldiers and create agro and industrial districts with twenty four hours a day, seven days a week checkpoints. How to fund this commitment? A security bond managed for the government by the diaspora.

Taking back our country when large marginalized sections don’t feel as if the country cares or respect them or will make commitments to them and honor those commitments is the crux of the island`s heartbreak. This has to be acknowledged, perhaps more so than castigating the politicians for their folly at garrisons that secured victory at the polls but stymied governance. The future of a peaceful Jamaica will not be secured at the barrel of a gun or the empty rhetoric of well-meaning leaders. Instead, a calculated well flighted delivery, a curve ball if you will, is guaranteed to get even the most recalcitrant batsman to move his feet and declare his intent. The diaspora can help rescue people who had abandoned hope.

Peter Peterkin, Readers Bureau, Fellow