Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures

December 14, 2018
Members of the security forces round up persons earlier this year during the state of public emergency in St James.
Jamaica Defence Force soldiers have been deployed under the State of Emergency.

The debate has been raging these past few days about the potential end to the states of emergency (SOEs) now in place in several crime hotspots across the island, come January 2019.

The Opposition People's National Party has said that it is withdrawing its support for the SOEs, citing the detention of hundreds of individuals, saying that many of them are guilty of nothing more than being poor and powerless.

"We can't build a sense of healthy citizenship this way," Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips said in a statement released to the media.

He may have a point, but is that a reason to end the measures that have resulted in significant reductions in the number of murders being committed in those communities? In St James, for example, I believe the statistics show murders to be down by something like 72 per cent.

Considering those numbers, do we throw the baby out with the bath water?

From where I sit, whether it's 1,600 murders or 1,200 murders a year, Jamaica has been in a perpetual state of emergency for almost 30 years now.

When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest in the world. In 2005, Jamaica had 1,674 murders, for a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people. That year, it was the highest murder rate in the world. There were 1,682 reported murders in 2009 and 1,428 in 2010.

Murders began to trend down in 2011 but then began to trend upwards when lotto scamming took root in western Jamaica. There was not a day when six or seven people were not being gunned down left, right and centre. Whether we like it or not, we are a nation in crisis.

We are overwhelmed by organised crime, which has caused increased levels of violence, and the state, with its limited resources, has to take extreme measures to contain the mayhem until social programmes can take hold. That takes time. You do not change overnight the mindset of people who use violence as a solution to even the pettiest grievances.

Yes, we cannot keep people locked up for extended periods, so that has to change. Perhaps a few more things need to be changed as well. However, under the current SOE, people who once were against it now feel safe with it.

We have become delusional in this country. A thousand murders a year is not normal, not in a country this size. The USA, with all its mass killings, has a murder rate of about five per 100,000. There are 300 million people living there.

That is 100 times more than the numbers living here. These are extraordinary times, and they require extraordinary measures.

This is not Wonderland, and we are not Alice.

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