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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Disorganised crime killing Jamaica


Former Minister of National Security in the PNP administration Dr Peter Phillips was convinced and tried to convince everyone else that organised crime is at the root of Jamaica's crime wave. One can't be sure what the present administration's thinking is, as no overarching policy or informed strategy to fight crime has been communicated to the Jamaican populace. But with the news headlines being dominated by the extradition case against Christopher Coke (Dudus), the feeling is rife that organised crime is the monster.

Globally, a consensus on a definition for organised crime was reached in 2002. The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, Article 2, defines "organised criminal group" as follows: A group having at least three members, taking some action in concert, that is, together or in some coordinated manner for the purpose of committing a serious crime and for the purpose of obtaining a financial or other benefit. The group must have some international organisation or structure and exist for some period of time before or after the actual commission of the offence(s).

Based on that broad and somewhat imprecise definition, there can be no doubt that organised criminal networks exist and operate in Jamaica. Starting as politically controlled and paid hacks to ensure non-contamination and non-dilution of voting patterns in political enclaves or garrisons, these groups have evolved to trading in drugs and guns through international connections, extortion from legitimate businesses, bribery of public officials, ingratiating themselves with politicians, intimidation and corruption of law enforcement and the like. Anyone who thinks this is a definition of the Italian mafia or syndicate that does not extend to Jamaica is either naïve or is the proverbial ostrich with head buried in the sand.

Organised crime exists in Jamaica, but to say it is the chief cause of the daily murders that have pushed Jamaica to the top of the murder capitals of the world beg for further refinement of the definition or explanation within the local context. Proper diagnosis of the cause of the crime disease is important for it influences significantly the steps law enforcement and we as a society take to prevent or control it.

The Kefauver Committee, established in the United States at a time when fear was mounting that organised crime was becoming a dominant part of American popular culture, arrived at the conclusion that organised crime was largely under the control of an alien conspiracy, the Mafia based in Sicily, and that the brand of crime practised by this criminal outfit subverted American social structure rather than emerged from it. That conclusion by the high-level committee affected perceptions toward crime in America and directed crime-fighting strategies away from the real issues and root causes for decades.

We are at a similar point in the war against crime and violence in Jamaica. There is serious misdiagnosis of the major cause of crime, especially murder, taking place inside and outside the security forces. By going on about organised crime and the criminal gangs that are its tentacles, both of which I see as peripheral to or offshoots of the central problem, we run the risk of focusing on the war and losing sight of the bigger battle that must be successfully waged.

Outgoing Commissioner of Police Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin put his finger on the problem and his job on the line in his diagnosis of the fundamental issues underlying crime and violence. In its coverage of a news conference called by the then police commissioner, the Daily Observer of October 15 reported aspects of his address to journalists as follows. "The fact of the matter is that we have practised a kind of politics that has had the most divisive effect on this country and the most corrosive and corrupted influence on individuals and national institutions, including the police force. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the control of organised crime is the tolerance of it, or worse, its social and political facilitation."

It has been known since 1997, the year of the publication of the Report of the National Committee on Political Tribalism, that in the same way that cocaine in Colombia and apartheid in South Africa are the major causative factors driving the unprecedented levels of homicide, the formation and facilitation of political garrisons in Jamaica is the focal problem. Argument done!

If there is something called organised crime, then it follows that there must be a form of crime that is unorganised or disorganised. In my humble opinion it is the latter - unorganised or disorganised crime - that puts the Jamaican citizen at greater risk of being randomly shot in the normal course of going about our business or relaxing in our homes.

Organised crime and criminal gangs play a role, but thanks to Operation Kingfish which has kept the leadership under pressure and because of an emerging one-order between former combatants, the criminals are not killing each other in pitched battles to the degree that they once did. This has left foot-loose, fancy-free gunmen who take orders from no one free to go on a rampage.

Born out of the socio-political milieu of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and nurtured in the fertile soil of the garrison subculture which glorifies badness, rudeness and crudeness, crime in Jamaica has evolved into a national phenomenon that is self-fuelling. Until we understand this, until we face the truth and do something to reverse the trend, there is no chance, not even if we change the police commissioner every day, of us ever addressing the problem of crime and violence.

November 04, 2009