Editorial note: The story presented in bold italics is fictional, and for anecdotal purposes only.
Mary Smith walked into the busy hospital waiting area limping. She was concerned because the cut on the sole of her left foot showed no signs of healing after stepping on a rusty nail several weeks ago. It has also become swollen and infected.
The Honourable Attorney General of Jamaica (hereafter written as “the Attorney General” or “the AG”), Marlene Malahoo Forte, made her contribution to the Sectoral Debate to Parliament on July 5, 2016. In news reports following her presentation, the Attorney General was quoted as saying the following:
“fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to Jamaicans may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed”. – Jamaica Gleaner, July 6, 2016
This, as she spoke to the approach the administration, of which she is a part, intends to take to address the terror of crime in Jamaica. At the time of writing this, I do not have the benefit of the full text of the AG’s presentation to Parliament. Based on the above-quoted report, it does not appear that Mrs. Malahoo Forte outlined in detail the policy proposals being considered.
It is little surprise, however, that her statement has spurred debate regarding what measures are appropriate for these drastic times in Jamaica. I welcome this debate wholeheartedly. And I would like to add my voice in raising questions about the path we are considering as we explore solutions. Before delving into these concerns, however, I must be transparent: The views I present in this piece are from a lens that is coloured by my professional background as a Social Worker. I approach this matter from a certain angle because I see these issues on the front lines of my work. So kindly bear with me.
I have strong reservations when we are prepared, without adequate consideration of all the issues involved, to support the abrogation, abridgement, or infringement of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to Jamaicans. I say this because Jamaicans have in the past and over decades, either directly or indirectly, stood as witnesses or victims to the curtailment of their rights in circumstances where no policy allowed for this. Either at the hands of the state, or at the hands of civilians/criminals. I shudder to imagine a Jamaica where the further infringement of rights become policy.
I shudder…because the Jamaica we see now – the crime monster that has “emerged” – really did not emerge out of nowhere. It was created.
At first, because she was in a hurry at the time, Mary applied her Level 1 First Aid skills as best as she could and placed a bandage over the wound. “Better than waiting for hours at the hospital if I can do it myself,” she thought. Weeks passed and she carefully treated herself, “knowing” that it will heal soon. Mary was always too busy for a medical checkup, to be honest. And so Mary was also too busy to learn that she had untreated diabetes.
As history has shown, the erosion of rights over a period of time does not guarantee the solution we are looking for. These experiences have afforded us enough to make the argument that the infringement of rights (deliberately or otherwise) helps to feed the beast.
I am not old enough to have a recollection of Coral Gardens, “The Green Bay Massacre”, or the political bloodshed of the 1980’s. Regarding the events of the 1980’s, I have heard and read bits and pieces of other people’s stories. I have yet to fully understand clearly what happened, and the impact it had on our psyche as a people. There are Jamaicans among us living with the ghost of those experiences.
As the nation tried to grapple with the impact of its political past, the complexities of economic insecurity was interwoven into the fabric of its distress. There was FINSAC of the early 1990’s, and the Great Recession of ’07-’09 – all adding fuel to an already lit fuse.
There has never officially been “closure”. There has never been a space to really confront and explore those experiences. Experiences that haunt us as we bear witness to “The Braeton 7” and a raft of other extra-judicial killings. West Kingston alone has experienced major confrontations with the police resulting in two Commissions of Inquiry.
Pause for a moment and think about how people have survived and “moved on” from these traumatic experiences. Think of the monster that is created when a child witnesses first hand their parent brutally killed at the hands of those sworn to protect them. Without intervention, who do they grow up to become?
Then, consider the experiences of other law-abiding civilians who have had to endure other atrocities of crime such as rape and sexual assault, aggravated assault, or being a relative of a murder victim. With no support – no therapeutic intervention, no space nor process provided to address the resulting distress – how do they move on?
Mary sat there as she allowed the doctor’s words to seep through her. She grappled with the new reality she was confronted with. “You have diabetes, Mary. That’s why it has taken so long to heal. It’s one of the symptoms of the disease. And because it wasn’t properly treated, it has become severely infected.”
Now, consider how these experiences intersect. We have a history of unacknowledged and untreated intergenerational trauma which has been reinforced by additional traumatic experiences. Experiences that have, to some degree, been facilitated by the state by its lack of political will and/or resources to acknowledge and address the seething undercurrent of terror.
And NOW you are asking Jamaicans to consider the [further] infringement of their fundamental rights and freedoms? Rights that they could barely hold on to in the first place when no policy allowed for their infringement?
“What’s wrong, Mary?”
“My leg has to be amputated because I stepped on a nail.”
We await the details, but I ask that as we consider “drastic measures”, we also consider how we plan to buffer the long-term effects. Think of the generations to come that will bear the fruit of these policies. Who is speaking for them?
– @MizDurie, @ThinkJamaica