Dr Alfred Dawes | The real state of emergency
While the major political parties debate the constitutionality of extending the states of emergency (SOEs) declared in crime hotspots, the real causes of crime go unchecked.
Yes, the murders are down, but murders are only a symptom of the disease. Unless we cut out the rotting flesh, the murder rate will go back up as it did after the Tivoli incursion. The SOEs prevent belligerents from killing each other at a particular time and place. But that armistice cannot be sustained by the presence of external forces in a multigenerational conflict. When the SOEs go, the guns will bark again.
We say poverty breeds crime. We say stop the guns from coming into the country because more guns lead to more murders. But why is it that Haiti, a demographically and geographically similar country to which history has been far less kind, reported 890 murders in 2017, while Jamaica recorded 1,616?
This statistic becomes more alarming when one notes that the population of Haiti is 10.7 million versus Jamaica’s 2.9 million. Sixty per cent of Haitians live below the poverty line compared to 17 per cent of Jamaicans. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It also has a lot of guns. In fact, they have so many guns that they will trade them for marijuana and even meat supplied by Jamaican boatmen.
With that level of poverty and an abundance of weaponry against the backdrop of decades of political instability, one would expect the crime statistics to be reversed.
There has to be another reason why Jamaica is such a murderous country. And I posit that that reason is the true state of emergency.
INEQUALITIES AND HOPELESSNESS
It is the inequalities and hopelessness that have created a sick society why we are the way we are. We joke that there are two Jamaicas. One for the rich and the other for the rest of us. This is truer than you think. But the “us” is unlikely to be the readers of this piece.
The ones who were left behind in the great development race are the ones faced with the terrible consequences of inequality and hopelessness. They are the ones who were arbitrarily detained because of their address or how they looked and spoke. The ones who subsequently lost their jobs because they were locked up and now are searching for work with the stereotype of a criminal. They’ve had years to ruminate on the injustices they see in what is supposed to be a majority-ruled country.
They have seen foreigners come here and be afforded opportunities they never had. A land with a history of exploitation now catering to the tourists who lounge on the best beaches and in hotels and villas they only see on TV while existing only beyond the high walls they feel.
They see their brothers who have made it by fortune, birth, or skin colour live a life of excess in the spirit of the Colón man. “Links” at the banks, hospitals, government offices, and police checkpoints see them playing by different rules, and the slap in the face is that they see this daily. A constant reminder that they are children of a lesser god.
Theirs was a life designed to fail from birth. Emotional scars are passed from parents to children, epigenetically and socially. Undernourishment in the womb compounded by molding in a violent subculture. An apartheid education system ensures that they are already failing while reciting the mantra ‘education is the key to success’.
With no tools and no mentors, they begin life in the working world. Labourers with laughable salaries slaving away to build the empires of those who follow the doctrine of unconscionable capitalism, squeezing the last drop of profits out of their detriments.
NO JAMAICAN DREAM
There is no Jamaican dream. There is no working your way to the top. Those who are there ensure that it becomes a birthright to stay there.
The poor who made it are athletes, entertainers, beneficiaries of political largesse, or dons. Who else do they look up to when the professionals who escaped the ghettos never looked back when they left? Why would they? The ghetto is a violent place. They are different from the “lazy ones who never tried as hard as they did to leave”. They don’t live there, so they never show the next generation that there is a choice.
Instead, the Left Behinders hear about who “buss” in foreign and start to send home things. They see the politically connected land huge contracts and the dons matching their lifestyles through robbery, extortion, and other illegal activities.
Scamming has made the new dons even younger, wealthier, and flashier. New testaments to the doctrine that you cannot make it in Jamaica by playing by the rules.
Even if they were briefly enticed to engender hard work and low pay, ignoring the role models they see in the flesh, they are bombarded with news of politicians wasting or stealing the taxes they pay. Politicians who never held a tangible job living celebrity lifestyles and flashing their wealth without fear of consequences.
Every scandal worsens the bitterness.
These hypocrites raping the country while I sleep on a bench in the hospital waiting room. While I buy cooking oil in a bag because I can’t afford the whole bottle. While I choose which child to send to school with the money I have. No sir! To hell with your rules! You and your society have given me no hope. No chance. No escape.
And on top of it, throw in my face every day, the life I will never be able to live if I play by your unjust rules? I want what you have. And if I can’t get it by running, singing, or being a crony, I’m going to take it by force.
The system has failed me, so don’t judge me when I try to claw back from it. You call it crime, I call it enterprise. The only enterprise you have afforded me to get an equal opportunity.
Theirs is a world you can only appreciate if you live it. I only learned of its intricacies listening to the tales of the ones I saved from the bullet. They don’t want this life. They inherited it from the society we value so dearly because we were not left behind.
The inequalities, hopelessness, bitterness, and despair are the reasons why we have to contend with such a high crime rate. Our reluctance to address this is the true state of emergency in Jamaica land we love.
- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.