Do you remember Jamaica of old? No, I am not referring to that period in our history of cooking on coal fire outside, or using the pit latrine because there was no inside bathroom. I speak of old Jamaica in terms of the positive values and attitudes of our foreparents which have made us who we are as a strong and proud people. Perhaps you are mature enough to recall; on the other hand maybe you don’t recollect a Jamaica of yesteryear due to your youthfulness. The human tendency is for us to reminisce at a bygone period when situations are not going in the direction in which we hope. Jamaica ended 2017 with more than 1600 murders. The population of Jamaica is approximately 2.7 million; the country’s murder rate makes us rank among the highest homicide rates in the world. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates the direct cost of crime and violence in Latin America and the Caribbean at $261 billion or 3.55 per cent of Gross Development Product (GDP). Over the years there have been various estimates of the cost of crime to Jamaica, which range from 3.7 per cent of GDP taking only direct costs into account to 7.1 per cent of GDP once indirect costs are included.
Those of us, who were born in the pre- Independence era, undoubtedly will recall with fondness and glee a Jamaica of peace, order and discipline. Yes times were economically challenging but this deficient regarding the economics were made up for in strong family and community engagement. Jamaica then had a strong sense of community, and each child could be reprimanded by the elders of the community. The Jamaica of old had a set of community leaders which I referred to as the ‘pillars’ or guardians.
Pillars of Community Development
Among the ‘pillars’ of the community was the school teacher, the policeman, the postmistress, the pastor, all of whom were revered and well-respected. These individuals were role models and although they were not rich by any definition they had something which money could not buy. Yes, character! It begs the question, what has happened to our ‘pillars’ of our communities? What has happened to Jamaica? It can be argued that there are still ‘pillars’ of communities; disturbingly, we now have the drug don, the political activist, the deportee and those who are actively engaged in criminal activities as the new wave of guardians of the community. We have replaced respect with fear of. We now live in a state of panic, characterized by many law-abiding citizens turning a blind eye to wrong doings out of a genuine fear of being killed or having their family member/s be killed should they report. In addition, we have a police force which many Jamaicans view as corrupt; this has further fuel the crime wave and allowed the “informer fi dead” culture to grow and flourish. Regrettably, many of our older communities are dying or have died. This death in and among communities did not occur suddenly, but instead has been facilitated by the State’s inability to police, protect, reassure, enforce laws and regulations regarding governance. The State silence and indecisiveness on matters such as, zoning of residential areas, as well as entertainment zones have allowed “a money for all” sub-culture to emerge. This “money for all” sub-culture has taken away from the average Jamaican the choice to choose given their lack of disposable incomes and forced many to remain in dying communities. There are many examples of same; one only has to look at lower Maxfield Avenue, as well as the garrison communities and downtown Kingston. I am reminded that Hagley Park Road was once a prime residential area, now due to commercialization the area has turned into an auto parts hub. The state of lawlessness is at the root at the New Year’s Day held #sandz party which blocked vehicular access to and from the Norman Manley International Airport resulting in scores of passengers missing their flights and creating a traffic nightmare for hours along the #PalisadoesRoad.
The dons spread across many communities have benefitted tremendously and continue to do due to extortion money and now have more control over people’s lives in many inner-city areas.
The rich and well connected who live above Half Way Tree in suburban areas and gated communities do not have to encounter such social ills and stresses. Sadly, this vacuum of leadership in this regard has been evident across the political divide. In too many instances the State has stood by and has allowed the total destruction of communities. The housing crisis has been further acerbated by business people of ill-gotten wealth buying houses in older communities and using this medium as a means of money laundering. In many cases the criminals are known, however, corruption is rife and people can be paid off to look in the opposite direction.
The Way Forward
The crime monster for most if not all Jamaicans has become the number one priority. There is a sense of hopelessness as no one knows who next will fall victim to crime and violence. One does not have to be ‘mixed up’ to fall prey to the gunman’s bullet. We need to return to an era of civility and law and order. We need to replace the pillars of our communities with people of integrity and character. We need to redouble and galvanize our collective efforts to fight crime, lawlessness and indiscipline. We need a zero tolerance against crudeness and vulgarity. We need a government- citizenry partnership involving all segments of the society to fight crime. As a society we need to recapture the bond of social cohesiveness which served us well in the past. Our social relations skills need to be sharpened as we relate to each in our families and in the wider community. We need to become our brother’s keeper once again. We need to rescue Jamaica.
In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “this world of ours, ….must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect”.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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