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(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – Not surprisingly, and not for the first time, Jamaicans across the United States have identified the country’s astronomical murder statistics as “their most pressing concern” as another new year begins.
“With more than 1,600 homicides in their country last year, and with the numbers for this year already in double digits, the situation is having a debilitating effect on Jamaicans here,” said Dr Robert Clarke, president of the umbrella National Association of Jamaica and Supportive Organisations (NAJASO).
Clarke said that the situation continued to have a “crippling effect on potential investment opportunities from within the Diaspora”, as while many credit the Government for trying to bring the situation under control, “these efforts are seemingly being stymied by a lack of adequate resources available to the security forces”.
Clarke argued that the matter of resources — including a satisfactory resolution of the salary issue for the security forces and other public servants — should be a priority in Government’s crime-fighting measures.
He also reiterated calls from among the Jamaican community here for a greater, deeper, and more strategic engagement by Government with the Diaspora, in efforts to reduce the murder figures.
But he acknowledged that “there has been improved efforts in this regard”.
In a measured response to the concerns and effects the murder figures are having on Jamaicans here, Akelila Lawrence-Maitland, Diaspora Advisory Board representative for the north-east US, said “the issue of [crime] hits us in more ways than one”.
“While there is no one-size-fit all solution to the complex murder issue, as it is fuelled by many factors, the Diaspora stands in hope and optimism with Jamaica in the new year that the situation will improve,” she said.
Former correctional officer and current president of the Ex-Correctional Officers Association of Jamaica, Ronnie Hammick, described the number of homicide in Jamaica last year as “very upsetting”.
“There is an obvious need for a bi-partisan approach on a strategic plan on how to deal with the matter,” he suggested. Other community leaders in the meantime have used the occasion also to offer solutions on the matter.
Horace Daley, who heads the Connecticut-based Professional Jamaicans for Jamaica, has proposed a grass root level involvement of the youth in the inner-city communities, using sports and skills training measures as an appeal.
He said that this should be done as a public/private sector initiative, noting that, in his many visits to the country, he had sensed a “lack of hope and direction among the young people”, many of whom are responsible for some of the crimes.
Some of the crime-fighting measures like the zone of special operations are seen as more a political effort than a real effort to address the issue, he said.
“I do not feel that crime can be fought on a political level,” he argued.
Daley’s proposal for a wide-scale engagement of the inner-city young people is supported by Sadie Campbell who, however, would like to see an islandwide approach with major emphasis on skill training.
An emotional Campbell said she found it “hard to understand the lack of empathy, caring, and civilised behaviour engulfing our country”, blaming it ultimately for the high level of murders.
While she would not support a return to the hanging of those convicted of murder, Campbell said stiffer punishment needed to be meted out for some crimes, for example, individuals convicted for the use of illegal weapons should face a mandatory sentence of life without parole.