SINCE March of last year, 306 people have died in Jamaica as a result of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Preliminary data suggest that for the 12-month period January to December there were in excess of 1,300 murders.
On Wednesday we heard there had been 14 murders in the first few days of 2021.
So, while Covid-19 has wreaked havoc, crime remains as potent a threat as it has ever been to the nation’s social and economic fabric.
Jamaicans were heartened last August when the leadership of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), as well as business, trade union, Church, among others, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) towards a national consensus on crime.
Given the pandemic, and other developments including the change of leadership in the PNP, it’s perhaps not surprising that not a lot has been heard about that MOU. We feel confident that in short order there will be a much more proactive approach.
All of the above and more probably weighed heavily on Prime Minister Andrew Holness as he focused on crime at the National Day of Prayer held at Power of Faith Ministries in St Catherine on Wednesday.
Mr Holness was reported as saying that, while JA$40 billion has been spent on security software and hardware, he believes more effort is needed in the Church to develop what he called the “heartware”.
Said the Prime Minister: “We have a massive army of heart surgeons. Right here in the church you have the medicine, which is the Bible and the Gospel. I need you to reach beyond the walls of your church and the numbers of your congregation to those men, especially the young boys, who believe that the only solution to conflict is violence...”
None of that is new. National leaders, from time to time, have made similar calls. This newspaper, too, has often said that the Church has a huge role to play in behaviour change. But we have argued for far more.
We have said the changes needed to combat crime must embrace comprehensive, well-planned and implemented organisation of communities, involving all responsible players. These include the Church, political parties, Government, State organisations such as the Social Development Commission (SDC), business, trade union movement, and all of so-called civil society.
In line with the national consensus on crime, there should be a coming together to help people stand together against criminals in solidarity with the security forces.
This has to involve leadership and organisational training within communities; twinned to a coherent policy focused on providing justice, fair play, hope, and opportunity at community level. All of those are prerequisites for people — even those in the ghettos and shanty towns — to gradually recognise that their safest bet is to provide the security forces with relevant information about crime.
Above all else, the security forces need information. Such a culture won’t come about in a hurry. It will take time, because there is deep-seated, long-standing distrust of the security forces and authority. That distrust must be overcome.
This newspaper sees no short cuts to bringing crime to heel. But with proper thought, planning, leadership, and the involvement of all sectors in the implementation it can be done.