Policemen take the fight to armed thugs on South Camp Road during the May 2010 West Kingston incursion. - File
Bernard Headley, Contributor
The data can be at times fuzzy, since back in 1962, we weren't nearly as mindful as we are today about matters dealing with crime. Nonetheless, those of us who crunch the available numbers and do the analyses are at one in concluding: violence became endemic and incidents of both common and organised crime skyrocketed in Jamaica in the years following Independence.
They have remained extraordinarily high since then.
We who were around as high-school youngsters in the immediate pre-Independence years can recall that, back then, a murder, whether in the village, heard about on RJR or read of in The Gleaner, was a tale filled with dread and horror.
Those sometimes gruesome killings were typically of the 'man-goes-berserk-and-shoots-(or-chops-up)-wife/lover-and/or children' variety, and indeed, we still have these!
But it was not until the late 1960s, five or six years into Independence, when we first heard of strings of killings that were random, politically fuelled, gang-led, or from gang feuds, donmanship or shoot-outs.
We'd always thought that the latter happened only on forbidden movie screens in John Wayne westerns and in the 'adventures' of the 1940s' folkloric Rhygin, our first bad man.
Most disquieting as we look back, though, is the manner in which crime's violent ethos - its seductions and signification - has become commonplace.
One of our early, astute crime analysts, Dudley Allen, noted in the 1980s that the country's violent crime rates doubled (and then some) during the first 12 years following Independence.
From 1962 to 1974, manslaughter rates increased by 167 per cent, robbery by 771 per cent, rape by 160 per cent, felonious wounding by 137 per cent, and shooting with intent by 1,350 per cent.
For the more recent years, the Planning Institute of Jamaica has each year consistently reported high numbers for all serious crimes.
But let's stay with homicides, the most reliable index of serious crime.
Homicide rates for the nation climbed from a low of eight or nine murders per 100,000 inhabitants in each of the years leading up to Independence to an astounding 40 and 45 murders per 100,000 in the 1990s.
And from 2005 to the end of 2007, the rate skyrocketed to 60 murders per 100,000, or more than 1,500 persons murdered annually, and those figures do not include victims of police action.
The number of murders jumped to 1,682, or 63 murders per 100,000 in 2009.
We may have experienced, in the last year or so, unexceptional declines from that 2009 high, but reflect for a moment on these figures.
DRASTIC CRIME INCREASE
The raw facts are that we moved from a low of fewer than 80 homicides per year at the time of Independence to a high of more than 1,600 in the years since independent self-governance.
For every 100,000 Jamaicans alive in 1961-62, at most nine of them stood the chance of being killed by a gunman, robber or 'loved one'; 60 and more of them would at the end of the last decade.
Looked at another way, the chance of exiting life in a manner dictated by another human being (other than the State) has increased more than sevenfold since Independence.
Over the last 10 years, Jamaicans living on the 'rock' stood a far greater likelihood of being stabbed, beaten or shot to death than did the people in neighbouring, battered Haiti!
But what would have been responsible 50 or 60 years ago for the murder rate being as low as it was then?
And what would have changed so dramatically to cause the figure to have climbed to the horrendous numbers they are today?
The overriding explanation lies, paradoxically, in the social contradictions, the cross-cutting processes inherent to our transition to Independence, economic self-reliance and modernisation.
Thanks to agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development, we are not in short supply of scholarly research that have documented sets of universal, unintended but seemingly ineluctable, negative side effects that have accompanied independence and national modernisation projects.
A current overview commissioned by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), for instance, points to the links between outcomes of modernisation and growth in crime and violence; the outcomes of concern being rapid urbanisation and persistent poverty, coupled with rising inequality.
Let's examine, briefly, how these particular forces coalesced in Jamaica's post-Independence story to bring upon us our terrible crime trouble.
Illusive industrialisation and drift to hollow cities
In 1955, the Jamaican population numbered just barely over one million people.
We lived then, not always happily, in mostly rural communities.
Close to 80 per cent of us lived in districts and towns that numbered 5,000 people or less.
Several communities across the length and breadth of the island, but particularly in the parishes of Westmoreland, St James, St Elizabeth, Clarendon and (rural) St Catherine, were reasonably well sustained by the growth and harvesting of sugar cane; and by manufacture of sugar and related products in sugar factories.
A major programme of upgrading the sugar industry in the 1950s, coupled with guaranteed markets (at guaranteed 'good' prices), saw the worth of sugar increase by 170 per cent between 1943 and 1953.
Profitability in the industry, and its ability to not only generate jobs but also to sustain whole communities, continued up until 1965.
Sugar was, therefore, integral to our storied early-1960s economic growth, as financial analyst Dennis Chung wrote in a July 27 column inThe Observer.
A measure of self-sufficiency had characterised the towns and districts that came under the sway of sugar.
Moreover, small-scale farming, which frequently supplemented income from sugar, added resilience to tight-knit rural life.
Village elders bonded and shared wisdom and expertise with youngsters.
Informal agencies and abundance of social capital worked well to socialise and insulate.
And the agencies - extended family, the Church, the neighbour, the district constable - were equally effective at unobtrusively maintaining order and discipline, and at restraining youthful impulse.
But sugar's downward spiral, which began in the mid to late 1960s, brought erosion in the natural 'mechanical solidarity' it had engendered in village life.
As people migrated out of communities in search of new livelihoods, the influence of village life on behaviour weakened; and whole communities fell apart.
The new livelihoods, jobs in industry, that the new nation's leadership classes had promised the displaced were, however, in short supply.
By the end of the 1960s, hordes of the uprooted had nonetheless made their way, children in tow, into and on the outskirts of the island's three or four main urban centres. They'd come in search of new kinds of work.
The result ... you guessed it! As Kingston, lower St Andrew, Spanish Town, May Pen and Montego Bay expanded in population size and geographic scale, so also did the spread of urban poverty and inequality.
"It was the concern with the extent of urban poverty and the vast differences between neighbourhoods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that triggered the expansion of social enquiry into urban life, including in cities such as Chicago.
"Early sociologists found that the relationships between inequality, exclusion and criminal and interpersonal violence were more intense in settings characterised by unequal distribution of resources.
"Not only was criminal violence more pronounced in cities, but intra-urban disparities in violence were correlated with neighbourhood income levels: higher income areas suffered from property-related violent crime and more severe forms of violence (chronic or otherwise) concentrated in lower income settings.
"Many of these same observations are recorded in studies of inequality and criminal violence in the 21st century" (IDRC, 2012).
Inequality in urban contexts is a form of structural violence, which then triggers the more reactionary forms of violence.
The kind of inequality and deprivation referred to here, though, "are not limited exclusively to income, but also (to) lack of access to basic social services, lack of state protection, exposure to systematic corruption, and inefficiencies that most acutely affect the poor".
In situations of widespread and severe inequality, the urban poor are undervalued and marginalised, their daily living conditions heightened by the potential for conflict, and they become, above all other disastrous consequences, 'available' for pain, waste and destruction-to, among others, disreputable 'big' men and nefarious politicians.
Homicide rates inside branded 'volatile' communities of Kingston-lower St Andrew and Spanish Town are not 50 and 60 murders per year, per 100,000 inhabitants, by the way; rather, they are consistently in the region of 300 to 400 murders per year, per 100,000 people, as the works of colleague Professor Anthony Harriott indicate.
Children who had travelled in tow with parents in the 1960s would, in the years following Independence, morph into and reproduce two generations of hardened 'Johnny Too Bads'. 'Walkin' down the road' with a weapon in their waists, they could just as easily slit throats and make duppies of each other as they could 'make' babies - with the same lack of regard, or equal delight.
Fifty years forward with what works
Having come starkly face to face with this other Olympian side of our nation, what might be the way forward over its next 50 years to, if we can't reverse 'what gone bad a mawnin', at least not let it get worse?
Again, we are not lacking in the research findings department in identifying sets of 'what has worked' interventions, both in the international literature and from our local experience.
All successful interventions have had as their objective increasing the advocacy of the urban disadvantaged, and reducing the inequalities and other harsh effects of rapid urbanisation.
Pacification with community policing: Weeding out the 'bad guys' (i.e., the controlling dons and their henchmen) means reasserting state authority, combined with efforts to reinstall services and build trust in neglected areas.
Such was the security force's stated, good intention in West Kingston in the events of May 2010. We continue to watch and monitor.
Enhancing protection and reducing risks facing youths
A wide spectrum of interventions to simultaneously promote 'protective factors' and reduce 'risk factors' facing would-be victims, perpetrators and ex-offenders ought to be encouraged and sustained, and new ones imagined.
What we do with turned-out and turned-off youngsters, as well with the deported and first-time offenders, has a determinative effect on levels of crime.
The British High Commission in Jamaica, through its Jamaica Rehabilitation and Reintegration Programme, has been giving admirable support to a range of protective-type interventions.
Several UWI and Northern Caribbean University colleagues are also leading key community violence prevention initiatives - Claudette Crawford-Brown, Grace Kelly, Horace Levy, Elizabeth Ward, and Herbert Gayle come readily to mind.
But by financing instruments known as 'pay for success', or social impact bonds, private-sector actors (including in the diaspora) can also engage in actual investment mechanisms that are focused on youth-risk and violence reduction.
Promoting social capital and urban cohesion
The kind of social capital and cohesion that existed in the village can never be replicated in quite the same way in urban contexts.
Both, however, are "critical factors in binding community (and) the constellation of local social forces linking people together" (IDRC, 2012).
New, 'organic' forms of cohesion, such as youth clubs, neighbourhood watches and varying NGO networks that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit, have had the effect of promoting, within urban settings, security and resilience.
The 'tightening of social bonds can empower community actors to make more informed demands on public authorities' and to devise their own collaborative means for neighbourhood preservation.
Urban renewal and slum upgrading
The approach, though, need not be intensive social engineering.
We can build on innovations taken in the 1980s and 1990s by governments in South Asia "to regularise ownership and to identify innovative ways of working with private actors to harness the unrealised potential of informal (non-gully) settlements".
More recently, urban renewal interventions have started from the premise that informal settlements offer critical resources that can be built on, fostered and expanded.
"Some have developed market-based approaches to expanding the value of squatter settlements".
Think expanding recycling into a credible industry in and around Riverton City, for example.
Urban governance for security
Alongside the push for urban renewal and support for slum upgrading is a growing chorus to "transform modes of urban governance in order to stimulate social cohesion and economic development".
The concept of 'citizen security', for example, as currently articulated by both the ministries of National Security and Justice, is a way of framing a more holistic approach to promoting safety and enabling wider social and economic development.
Inducements to move out of the city
("I've got to go back home", Bob Andy):
One crime reduction proposal I have on the table envisions engaging in a nation-building project a pilot group of jobless deported migrants ('deportees') all with past convictions for offences committed while overseas.
The project would 'redeploy' out of greater Kingston willing participants, and engage them in social entrepreneurial agriculture - in a community in rural Jamaica.
The rudiments of this powerful social innovation idea were first fashioned by the deported migrants' assist organisations 'Families United for Reunification' and 'Second Chance'.
Projects like these, when sustained, go a long way towards promoting values of inclusion: they give an excluded, at-risk group a sought-after opportunity to participate meaningfully in national development.
Back in October 2000, the esteemed, beloved late Professor Barry Chevannes spearheaded an initiative by the UWI community.
The idea was "to assemble the various scholars from across the faculties to propose long-term strategies that could effectively lead to reduction in harms and overall aggression in the society".
I was given charge of writing the group's final document. Crime, Peace and Justice in Jamaica: A Transformative Approach, we decided to call the document (available on the Jamaicans for Justice website).
Our final recommendation called for establishment of a Peace (& Development) Institute, to search for, as a 2012 Inter-Development Bank report put it, 'antipodes' to violence.
Because a balanced development and nation-building strategy ought to include understanding, teaching and practising the ways of peace - respect and tolerance, healing and restoration, love and justice.
These are, in the final analysis, the ultimate 'protective factors' against crime and disorder.
Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme and other partners have devoted considerable resources to supporting "national peace architectures" to precisely this end.
We haven't received much traction for the Peace Institute idea in the almost 12 years (and more than 12,000 additional murders) since we proposed it - though hope lives eternal ... .
Bernard Headley is a retired professor of criminology and professor emeritus (sociology) at the North-eastern Illinois University, Chicago, USA. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.