Michael Nattoo – Staff Reporter
“Crime is bigger than politics, and the fact is, the State of Public Emergency is just not working.”
That’s according to Andre Hylton, People’s National Party Caretaker for Central St. James, in an interview with the Western Mirror last Friday.
Despite the ongoing Zones of Special Operations and the supposedly much-improved States of Public Emergency, citizens of western parishes, particularly those in St. James, continue to cower in fear, as the increased security presence appears not to be having its intended impact, with murders still occurring with some regularity.
Just last Thursday, in the upscale community of West Gate Hills, St. James, the body of an unidentified male, suspected to be around 30 years old, was found stuffed in a barrel.
The body was reportedly clad in a green T-shirt, blue shorts and orange underpants, and is around 5 ft. 10 inches long.
Other recently recorded incidents – including the murders of Rodney ‘Al’ Myles, Rosemount Gardens, and 17-year-old Mark Powell, Green Pond, last Sunday and Monday respectively, have bolstered the former Eastern St. Andrew Member of Parliament’s arguments that the State of Public Emergency has so far been underperforming.
“We will never solve crime in Jamaica by increasing police presence, using brute force, or using bigger guns,” Hylton explained. “Until we understand the source of these behaviours, until we get to the root of the problems, we’ll make no progress. So, no matter how many soldiers and police we fill the streets with, if we do not invest in a more intelligence-driven approach, we can’t solve anything.”
Hylton posits that the well-intentioned State of Public Emergency has instead become a means of alienating the common citizen, which unwittingly contributes to and deepens the roots of crime in most inner-city communities, which are characterized by underdevelopment and neglect by political leaders.
“What we need is to sit down with the youths in these communities. We have to invite them around the table and have them become a part of the solution. It can’t just be all about brute force. We need to find ways to bring them back into becoming responsible and fruitful citizens. We need to show them what a civilized lifestyle is, and how they can benefit from being a part of it,” Hylton expressed. He continued: “There has to be a collaborative approach with the citizens of St. James. It’s about engagement. The stakeholders – the church, the various community groups, the police, the soldiers – all have to come together. That’s the only way we will start to make a dent in crime.”
The experienced politician and businessman is not merely making guesswork with his recommendations. His time as a Member of Parliament in Eastern St. Andrew, dealing with the once-violent August Town, serves as a constant reminder to the role an approach that emphasizes inclusivity can play in seriously tackling crime. For instance, unlike the current fixture of sporadic and sometimes random detainment of young people under the State of Public Emergency, Hylton sought to change that dynamic in the violent August Town community by introducing young men in the community to the police outside of violent circumstances.
“With the help of stakeholders, I organized two buses, loaded them, and headed for police station. There, I had the young men meet with the police, talk to them, and have valuable discussions outside of the usually tense environment. That created a true, genuine engagement with the young people, which helped to create a valuable partnership. It was a collective of people just getting to know and understand each other, and that helped in the long run.” In 2016, August Town recorded 0 murders, where previously it had recorded 48.
STOP SUPPRESSING SMALL BUSINESSES
Hylton lamented: “One of the other things I see happening is small businesses really suffering. Right now, what you have is some big established businesses making millions, while the small man is stifled because of the unrealistic closing hours imposed upon them. Those people are suffering, and can’t send their kids to school, and can’t put food on the table. Those people are prone to violence, to acts of suicide, to depression, and all of those things. The government has to do better.”
He further suggested that the government cannot afford to take a one-size-fits-all approach, and should examine the unique conditions that persist, and provide intelligence-driven solutions where possible. “The government’s number one responsibility is its people. Right now, what they are doing isn’t working. People are suffering, and something has to be done. They must consider extending business hours for the small man, and must develop an appreciation for a more intelligent approach to crime fighting. What is happening now simply cannot work. It is not a crime plan, and it really just isn’t working. More has to be done.”