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JM | Jan 6, 2022

Cut the ‘tears’, Mr Holness! SOEs can’t possibly be Jamaica’s only answer to crime

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

administrator
Prime Minister Andrew Holness reacting to the deaths of Westmoreland brothers Dervin and Sheldon Jones as well as Jezariah Tyrell during his keynote address at the National Day of Prayer, at Power of Faith Ministries in Portmore, St Catherine on Wednesday (January 5). (Photo taken from video | Facebook @AndrewHolnessJM)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is again pandering for the return of States of Emergency (SOEs), arguing that the measure, which grants extra powers to Jamaican law enforcement, was working to keep murders down.

An ’emotional’ Holness, speaking at the National Day of Prayer, at Power of Faith Ministries in Portmore, St Catherine on Wednesday (January 5), said the recent deaths of Jezariah Tyrell, brothers Dervin and Sheldon Jones deeply affected him.

“I read in the newspaper today of the two brothers that were murdered in Westmoreland, I am so sorry about it. And the sister saying ‘Prime Minister, I just want to talk to you about it’—it’s an appeal to hear what are our leaders doing about this?” he said.

“She didn’t even sound angry, obviously she was distraught, but she says ‘Prime Minister jus come talk to mi bout it. Help me to make sense of it. Why dem kill my brother?’. Why yuh kill the 10-year-old [Jezariah]? Why?” Holness argued further.

“I go to my bed with these things on my conscience every night,” Holness continued, with a shake of his head, “I know that I have tried.”

“It’s a minefield because every turn you make there is someone who is trying to stop it and I have to wonder, ‘Are they in support of the criminals in the country’?. The 10-year-old didn’t have to die, we had the SOE down there. We put it in Westmoreland—the two brothers didn’t have to die man!” the prime minister exclaimed.

Watch Holness’ speech in full below:

(PS* for those wanting the ‘juicy’ bits, skip to timestamp 30:00)

(PS* for those wanting the juicy bits, skip to timestamp 30:00)

Now pardon me, Mr Holness but I need a moment.

*deep existential sigh*

First, let me just say that your political agenda continues to worry and frustrate me.

How can you stand there and say with such forlorn confidence that neither would have died with the SOEs still in place?

What is this obsession with a law—created to prevent the country from reaching utter collapse—being seemingly the only tool to stymie the wanton bloodlust plaguing the island?

I don’t buy these ‘tears’ for a second. You ought to know better which is why I’m disappointed.

It would seem the Government’s fixation on SOEs lies squarely on the fact that less money is needed for this particular crime ‘band-aid’ than say Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs), which demand social investment as a condition of its imposition.

While your Labourite minions clack away at their smartphones and/or keyboards, let me say I know where this is going.

“This is the Opposition’s fault for not supporting the SOE extension” or “The PNP was so much worse at controlling crime” et al, and I’ll agree with the latter. Well, somewhat.

You see, years ago, when ex-National Security Minister Peter Bunting faced the brunt of a similarly spiralling murder wave; he infamously said that “divine intervention” was needed to save the country.

See video snippet below:

Former National Security Minister Peter Bunting and his infamous “divine intervention” speech in April 2013.

It was a reprehensible thing to say on the record. If by even suggesting God was better prepared to tame the murderous hearts of criminals than the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) could ever hope achieve, why would you say that out loud?

The problem with Bunting’s rhetoric, as the man in charge of the ministry duty-bound to protect the wider public, is as then Opposition Leader, you Mr Holness, are also on record saying the country has a right to demand more from its elected leaders to tackle the seemingly intractable murder problem.

“All well-thinking Jamaicans should raise their voice in concert against the high levels of crime and against the Government in not doing enough in controlling crime,” you said in 2015.

Explain to me, prime minister, why I or any other ‘well-thinking Jamaican’ should be satisfied with you going on a pulpit to tell us ‘you know you tried’?

As the leader of Government who enjoys the biggest majority in Parliament seen in decades?

Is that what you are telling me?

Look pon mi good Anju… a dat yah tell Jamaica?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness. (Photo taken from video | Facebook @AndrewHolnessJM)

At the 10:28 mark, speaking on the issue of a State-imposed vaccine mandate, Holness, in his nearly 45-minute speech, admitted Jamaica is a “democracy” going further to say but even more than that the island he so governs is a “liberal democracy”.

“The rights and freedom of the people take priority, and I respect that. I am the greatest advocate for the liberal democracy. So the Government is always seized with this understanding of how it executes public policy in a democracy,” Holness asserted.

So then how does one pridefully say that but want to turn around to utilise SOEs, which trample so many civil rights that the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional?

It was just last week State Minister of National Security Matthew Samuda tried the same approach with PNP Central Kingston caretaker Imani Duncan-Price, saying she had “some nerve” to tag Holness on Twitter and plead for intervention in the crime-torn constituency.

Oh, and can we do away with the idea that the SOEs stopped murders completely?

A man was killed during an anti-violence seminar in Westmoreland on November 17, 2021. In the middle of the SOE declared there.

Shootings continued in St James, despite the tri-parish SOE, so clearly it isn’t a permanent solution.

*whispers* Let me tell you a secret: It was never intended to be one.

You bemoan the perceived covert and overt efforts to undermine the crime fight and say emphatically that ‘Government did all it can’, but is that true?

Have we really exhausted all possible options?

As the former Opposition, you cannot possibly imagine berating a Government for “sitting on crime” only to be viewed doing the same whilst in power yourselves.

The Jamaica Labour Party-led (JLP) Government would have you believe that is the case, however, Mount Salem and Denham Town stand as imperfect but still shining examples of ZOSOs working.

Commissioner of Police, Major General Antony Anderson giving a presentation as the Government of Jamaica announced public states of emergency in seven police divisions on November 14, 2021. Looking on are Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang. (Photo: Twitter @JamaicaConstab)

ZOSOs were created as a direct response to crime in violence-besieged Jamaican communities, why aren’t we using them more? Additionally, what is the status of the other phases of those projects in the at-risk Kingston and Montego Bay communities?

ZOSOs, unlike SOEs, are more costly because they don’t just tackle the guns—it starts a chain reaction to hopefully breathe new life in marginalised areas such as Denham Town or Mount Salem.

A better way to discourage youth from embracing gangs and criminality is to offer them opportunities to live, grow, raise families and do business (see what I did there?) in the same places they have known all their life.

Notice I said ‘better’ because it won’t be easy.

One such factor affecting the success of ZOSOs is the issue of consecutive governments establishing these garrison communities to shore up more votes—only to neglect them until the next election cycle comes around.

For far too long, the ‘zinc-fence mentality’, which is what I call it, has bred apathy toward demanding change, disdain for the system and distrust of the rule of law.

No one wants to live a life of squalor, even if you’re born into it.

Do you expect that to change in any meaningful way if SOEs are again declared and one’s presumption of innocence is thrown out the door by virtue of where you come from?

Joint police-military presence in Central Kingston in mid-November 2021, after the Government of Jamaica’s announcement of public states of emergency (SOEs) in seven police divisions. (Photo: Twitter @JamaicaConstab)

To be locked up for months without charge and at best lose future employment prospects?

Jamaica also needs stronger gun control laws. Cut the flow of illegal guns coming into the country whether by legal or unofficial ports of entry. It’s all connected.

There is a better way, Mr Holness, we just have to be determined enough to want it. Otherwise, we waste billions in strengthening law enforcement and justice systems that prejudice those who are poor, which in turn leads to greater desperation and ultimately the cycle perpetuating itself ad infinitum.

That, I fear, is the greater crime.

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