Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gang crime in Jamaica

Soutik Biswas:

The island of 2.7m people, which is slightly smaller than Connecticut, has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

The figures are chilling - there were 1,674 murders in 2005, up from 1,471 murders the year before. Last year, the number of murders came down to 1,340.

So far this year, there has been about 300 murders.

The never-ending spiral of gun crime has led to a vicious cycle of killings on both sides - nearly a dozen policemen have been killed on duty this year alone, and civil rights group allege that the police have also been trigger happy.

Inner cities like Trench Town and neighbouring Tivoli Gardens are states within a state. Residents of Trench Town pay no rent or utility and energy bills, and in Tivoli Gardens, a local don is called the 'President' because he pretty much rules the place.

Things have worsened to such an extent that recently schools in the Arnett Gardens community closed down after rising gang violence in the area. The number of students attending schools has dropped by 40%.

"Teachers cry, teachers shake... When me hear the gunshots start, me try crawl - you know like when you watching a war show and soldiers crawl with them gun," a young male teacher told reporters after the latest round of violence.

Crime in Jamaica is not new. According to a CIA report, "deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to rising violence as gangs affiliated to major political parties, evolved in powerful organised crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering."

"The cycle of violence, drugs and poverty has served to impoverish large sectors on the populace," the report says. Continuing double-digit unemployment does not help matters.

For a long time, Jamaica has been a transhipment port for Colombian cocaine. A lot of the cocaine gets smuggled out into the islands and sold. Drug smugglers from Haiti trade sophisticated guns for marijuana and cocaine, and the island is therefore awash with guns.

The World Bank in a recent report says crime in the Caribbean - and it's mostly referring to Jamaica - is "undermining growth, threatening human welfare, and impeding social development".

In inner cities like Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town - scene of a six-hour gun battle between a gang of teenage boys armed with AK-47s and M-16s last month - this means high levels of illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, unemployment and nearly every household involved in some kind of criminal activity, major or minor.

Youngsters fight gang wars, older men travel to the city to rob and steal and the women at home often take a break from homemaking to carry drugs to the US and UK. There are more than 300 Jamaican women in UK prisons serving sentences for carrying drugs.

Some 11,000 policemen, including 2,500 specially equipped frontline fighters, are engaged in fighting crime on the island, but the force's reputation has been sullied in the past by allegations of corruption.

Deputy Commissioner Mark Shields, a Scotland Yard officer on secondment to the Jamaican police, says there was a 10% increase in homicides in the first three months of 2007 compared with the same period in 2006. But, he says he is not "over concerned".

"The reality is that there is high crime in Jamaica, but it is in the crime hotspots," he says. "The perception is the whole of Jamaica has crime, which is not true."

Mr Shields said the quality of police investigations into the crimes had improved, and the courts were recognising the fact.

The hotspots are areas like St James, Kingston, St Andrews, Trench Town and Denham Town - a mix of inner cities and high-unemployment urban neighbourhoods where young gangs high on crack cocaine and armed with M-16s and AK-47s fight to kill.

"The fighting is mostly in the inner cities. These are mostly gang related fights over drugs and turf," says Karl Angell of the Jamaica police.

High levels of crime and violence threaten Caribbean growth and prosperity

Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean

That World Bank crime report

World Bank: Caribbean murder rates hurting growth

Crime costs steep in the Caribbean, World Bank and U.N. say


At 2:41 AM, Anonymous How to Get Rid of Bad Breath said...

hope that this gang thug kind f thing will stop by now.. show peace friend..


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