Recent events have only served to underline the insidious manner in which crime has worked its way through the length and breadth of our beautiful Island. We have sat still for so long ignoring the obvious or saying “It’s just the criminals killing each other, nothing to do with us.” When it gets unbearable we pack our bags and go.
So is it too late? How can we possibly solve a problem that seems about to topple our very Government? The answer, though far from simple, is straightforward and involves three related problems.
Thousands of boys sit on hundreds of street corners in cities, towns and villages across the Island. What are their prospects? They can get a job for minimum wage and be poor or they can run drugs for the local “Don” and be rich. In the inner cities they don’t care if they die at twenty-five; life is cheap and in the meantime they will have a big house, a Lexus and a dozen women.
Various groups and foundations have set up training institutes and mentoring programmes: using a teaspoon to move a mountain. Sometimes they unearth a talented doctor or a shrewd business man, a mechanic who can build a car from scratch or a computer genius. But there remain thousands of intelligent children who instead turn their brains to crime.
Our inner city schools are woefully inadequate, forty or more children in a class room. The girls sit in front and try to learn; the boys sit in back and waste time. The teacher, sometimes ill-trained herself, worries about her rent money and knows that if she brings the children to order a parent with a gun or knife will visit her. When the child graduates at Grade 12 they will likely be illiterate and will join thousands of others in pursuit of a handful of jobs.
The “community leaders,” the area “dons,” nothing more than crime bosses, send the children to school, buy uniforms and books. They pay grandmothers’ hospital bills. They give jobs to the men, sometimes in legitimate companies they own. This is why our poor support them. They are doing what Government and big corporations are not.
Our schools must come back to the standards of a few short decades ago. Our big corporations need to do more community work. Our Government must put in place the tools needed for the economy to grow thereby creating new jobs. Our young boys need to know that they have the opportunity to be a success without selling their souls to the drug dealers.
Many years ago our children wanted to grow up to be like teacher or preacher. Times changed and, like all normal children, they had dreams of being doctors or lawyers or pilots. Now, these street corner boys, born into a life of hardship, learn to be realists at an early age. They know that there is little or no likelihood of this happening. They look around from their vantage point, sitting on a broken wall of an abandoned building, and what do they see? They see men driving Lexuses, BMWs and Hummers, dressed in bespoke tailored clothes and Italian shoes. But these are not businessmen, bankers and professionals for those men do not venture into these God-forsaken places. What these boys see are creatures of a different stripe. These are the people who earn their fortunes in the “import export business,” transporting cocaine from South America to North America and Europe. There is even one with the reputation of being one of the richest men in the world and who is on a list of the World’s Ten Dangerous Drug Lords. These men hand out money, not just for little luxuries, but for life’s necessities. They build community centres, they organise feeding programmes. They look good and they look rich. The boys want to be just like them. When the day comes that a job offer is extended, the boy jumps off his street corner and accepts willingly, for one day he might be the boss. The few boys who might not be willing to accept the offer do so anyway, for they know the alternative. Many may also dream of one day being the next Usain Bolt or Shaggy, but even in their youth they realise that this requires an inborn talent, not something you can learn or work towards. A mere handful might possess this talent and if they do who will sponsor them? The very same men who offer them jobs?
What are the women like in these communities? They are poor, harassed creatures, living day to day, hand to mouth, working their fingers to the bone and old before their time. Or they are perfectly turned out artificial creatures, made up, bewigged, in skin tight $10,000 outfits, parading like cattle, selling themselves to the highest bidder. There are very few “ordinary” women in these communities.
The boys hear and see a lot from their street corners. They hear of fraud in business, they hear of corrupt politicians, they see drivers speeding through red lights and policemen gun-butting, or worse, their friends for merely answering back. What they do not see is these people being held accountable. They grow up with absentee fathers or no fathers at all, they grow up with mothers who knock them to the ground for little reason. They grow up seeing and hearing everyone around them doing as they please and not having to answer for it. They are not taught nor shown the difference between right and wrong so how could they learn it?
Each and every one of us must start with our self to set the right example. We must stop “letting off a smalls” to various authorities to help our businesses run smoother. We must stop racing through street lights on amber and throwing water bottles from our car windows. We must stop asking our doctors for sick notes when we are called to jury duty. We must question our children when they get in trouble at school instead of descending on their teacher with threats. We must make that phone call when we see our neighbours’ thirteen year old daughter being regularly visited by her uncle when no one else is home. We must demand that our corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen be held accountable. And every once in a while we must smile and give a tip to the little boy or disabled man who comes to our car window begging. Once we start to do these things ourselves, it will slowly spread like a tonic through those we come in contact with.
My third point is less idealistic than the others. It is a cold hard fact. All of us, at one time or another, has complained about our police force. Some have called them crooked, some have called them violent. There are calls of “police brutality” over every incident. Authorities speak of retraining and rebranding. But we must face the hard truth. There are 8,000 policemen and women to maintain order for almost 3,000,000 people, or one for every 350 civilians. New York, as an example, has 50,000 police personnel, including auxiliary officers, school safety officers, etc. or one per 160 civilians. It is as simple, and as complex, as that.
Why so few? There are several reasons but one bothers me more that the others. The Police Academy at Twickenham Park was seriously damaged during Hurricane Ivan and is not yet repaired. Yes, Hurricane Ivan, six years ago! Several dorms and classrooms are unusable. The Academy therefore can only train half as many people as they should. It is reported that funding for repairs was approved several years ago but this funding has not materialised. When it rains, cadets move their beds and desks around to avoid leaks.
There are police stations across the Island, in inner city communities and small country villages, which are falling apart; stations where you risk falling through the floor, stations where women are not deployed as there are no bathrooms. The list goes on. There are stations in the deep countryside which serve many square miles yet have not even one vehicle. We will not even speak of equipment or pay. Yet we expect these men and women to risk their lives for us? They are treated like animals yet we are shocked when a very few of them act like animals.
We need to support our men and women who have taken on this thankless job. We must demand that the Police Training School be repaired immediately. We must demand that their stations be repaired and that they are properly equipped. We must demand that they be better paid. And by the way, if you want to take it on yourself to repair a police station or buy them a vehicle, you must confront a lot of red tape otherwise it will be construed as bribery and you can be prosecuted. The only recourse is to somehow by sheer determination and a loud collective voice demand that the authorities put all these things in place. And every day we must thank the 95% of our police force who, despite all odds, remain honest and committed to their profession.
For too long we have remained in apathy while our beautiful Island has fallen apart. If we do notice things wrong then we expect “them” to fix it. But who is “them” but us, for we are Jamaica.
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