Many of us want the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) to work. We want any plan that suggest that it could control the ‘crime monster’ to work. But I am afraid we might not be seeing one that can work in ZOSO, it needs too many things, beyond legislative changes, beyond a well resourced police force, beyond the political will to do the right thing about our crime problem; it needs an understanding of the issues that sit at the root of the problem. Firstly, I think our solution needs to acknowledge the problem with post-slavery, post colonial societies and violence. We tend to romanticize a time in our past when our societies were peaceful and we respected each other’s human and democratic right. This is not so, this could not be further from the truth. We need to quickly get past the misplaced nostalgia and acknowledge that as a people and as a nation, our recent history is not one that is located in peace, respect, tolerance or peaceful conflict resolution. Our communities and our people might therefore be doing what they know, what has become imbedded in their post-slavery DNA.
The Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) need to adopt historically located, research driven, proactive poverty alleviation strategies in each community it occupies. One of the problems I have with how we respond to social realities in Jamaica is evidenced by how we treat with providing housing for Jamaicans. I do not see a philosophy of community and families in how housing is provided for Jamaicans or the kinds of houses provided. I have engaged with the National Housing Trust on several occasions, I find that their philosophy of providing housing solutions as oppose to building communities is shortsighted and unfortunate. NHT housing schemes have no social infrastructure, the houses are clearly not what Jamaicans envisage or imagine for themselves, as soon as a housing scheme is handed over the citizens start to build and modify the homes to suit their needs and taste. The inconvenience of gravel, marl, cement and steel all over the community is not just unsightly and aesthetically difficult; it is also a clear indication that these are not the kinds of houses Jamaicans envisage for themselves, hence the modifications and expansions. Beyond the unsatisfactory nature of the houses is also the absence of the other trappings of community – spaces for engagement, for children to play, for leisure activities for adults and a space where the community leadership can manage itself and the community.
The truth is most of our state agencies tasked with responding to the challenges of community development, poverty alleviation and citizenship engagement find the average citizen a burden. Our social intervention programs do not work because as a nation we believe that those who have not made it out of poverty and desperation need to struggle with their ‘lot’ because they could have pulled themselves up by their ‘bootstrap’ if they wanted to. So the ZOSO social intervention program should have already been the norm through the work of the Social Development Commission (SDC), Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and the Program of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) these are government departments and agencies that have already been tasked with addressing these historical, cultural and systemic problems. The fact that we need a ZOSO is evidence that these solutions have not worked in the past in the ways they have been implemented.
About six weeks ago the need for greater emphasis on parenting support for Jamaican parents found itself on the national agenda yet again, when a video of a mother beating her teenage daughter with a machete went viral. The video led to conversations far and wide over our parenting philosophy as a nation, some of our parenting practices and whether we are engaged in downright abuse of our children under the guise of punishment. Just last week UNICEF released two reports speaking to violence against children and adolescents in Jamaica;their global report, titled “A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents” two other reports looking at violence against children were published on that day one from the UWI: Global Report 2017: Ending Violence in Childhood and an update on crime data and children which was presented by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). we got confirmation backed by statistical data, supported by experts and researchers who made it plain that our brand of punishment in parenting was nothing short of cruel and inhumane treatment. Yet those tasked with the responsibility of engaging our citizens in their role as parents are not in communities, health centers and schools talking with parents about the skills and strategies that they need to employ to make them into more productive parents.
There is the National Centre for Youth Development (NCYD), different kinds of youth clubs; even police youth clubs to help build relationship between the police and our youth. We have Boys Scout, Cadets, Girls Guide among others – longstanding organizations that are tasked with engaging children and young people beyond the 8:30am to 3pm school day. The truth is we have not been short of solutions as we have tried to understand and respond to the problem of lawlessness and crime in Jamaica. What we have run short of are persons and agencies that have the ability to implement successful programs and leadership which holds everyone accountable.
What if we had real communities? where people could support each other and there were regular meetings of the community to discuss problems as they developed? What if we had community engagement spaces where young people could find training and engagement opportunities that were available and ready to ensure that there were no idle hands for the devil to hold on to? What if communities didn’t graduate their more affluent, educated and influential members to communities Uptown, where the aesthetics are pleasant and the environment is clean where residents feel proud of their neighbor and their home.
In rural communities the school was the epicenter of the community, the principal was one of the natural leaders. That principal would also more than likely be a Justice of the Peace (JP) there would also be a strong church leader or church leaders and they would serve on the school board. The principal’s cottage on the school compound was a central edifice representing leadership and the presence of authority. I have been noticing how the cottages have fallen into disrepair in some of these rural communities and how they have been left to rot. a different kind of leadership will emerge in these rural spaces, one that will perhaps not be welcomed. I wonder what we will say then, when the effects of our lack of attention bears fruit.
I remember when Montego Bay was called the friendly city, when we could walk on Bottom Road and sit on the Beach Wall at Dead End and eat jerk chicken from Pork Pit. After awhile no one seemed to notice the numbers of young people who were no longer being engaged by the sea, no one seemed to notice how the communities in Montego Bay lacked structure and leadership, no one seemed to remember that Montego Bay was a city beside the sea, easily accessed by external forces. We were focused on Kingston and its inner-city communities in all the wrong ways. Now Montego Bay is finally on our lips beyond the idyllic town by the sea where white people from America come to enjoy sun, sea, sand and sex. The visibility the second city has now gained makes it impossible for us to ignore the citizens themselves. Yet the signs were always there, visiting Montego Bay should be a must on the agenda of concerned citizens of how not to build communities. On the one had there is the informal ‘squatter’ settlements like Flanker or Tucker, and on the other are the badly built housing schemes at Catherine Hall or Cornwall Courts. I will never forget the incident in 1994 when developer Joe Witter attempted to ‘claim’ land that he had acquired in Flanker. What followed was a national incident and the matter of landlessness as a critical factor in Montego Bay life was put on the agenda, but no plan was developed to address the issue.
ZOSO will only work if it has a philosophy of community that is located in who we are as a people and the experiences that have brought us here. It will only succeed if it seriously and rigorously apply the solutions that we have thought about, have developed over the years, but we have implemented badly. It cannot engage in social development and social protection programmes with the same level of disgust for the people it needs to engage most, that now pervades the public service. ZOSO and those who implement its social protection arm need to recognize that we are here because we have not been serious or sincere about our belief that we can solve this problem. I think we need to start with our community building practices. We need to build communities, not housing solutions, we need to tackle the problem of homelessness and landlessness in this country. Both issues speak to a lack of awareness of how land and a home can help people to feel a sense of belonging and can help them to restore dignity. perhaps what is most powerfully suggested then is the need to address issues of poverty and marginalization. Poverty has devastating and deleterious effects on people, their psychological well-being we need to acknowledge this. When ZOSO goes into a community, we will know it will succeed when it really tackles the problems.