Jamaica Gleaner / So 17 months after the former mayor of Montego Bay, Senator Charles Sinclair, sparked a debate about the need for a state of emergency in St James, the rest of the country is now watching on as that same remedy is applied in a parish where 335 persons, overwhelmingly men, were murdered in 2017.
In a press release published by The Gleaner on July 4, 2016, Sinclair wrote that owing to a spate of murders, there was a tremendous fear factor among residents of the parish, with children afraid of crossing imaginary boundaries and people even scared to go to church.
Sinclair noted that an intervention on the same scale of a state of emergency had worked wonders in another murderous country, El Salvador, where its imposition contributed to a 50 per cent cut in the murder rate in 2015.
The then police commissioner, Dr Carl Williams, gave short shrift to Sinclair’s call, retorting that, “The crime problems in St James are not going to be fixed by a state of emergency or any significant police action.”
The then police chief affirmed his stance, telling Nationwide Radio in July 2016 that he could see no advantage from the imposition of a state of emergency in St James. Williams affirmed that where the JCF was concerned, the benefits of a state of emergency were inferior to the advantage provided by utilising other operational tactics.
Two months after Sinclair’s call was slapped down by the police commissioner, the prime minister addressed the issue at a press conference at his western office on September 25, 2016.
He said, “The Government is not afraid to call a state of emergency, but at this point, a state of emergency, in my mind, is not a tool that needs to be deployed. I think the police force has the capacity, our army has the capacity. I think with the other strategies and plans we have in place, we will be improving the capacity of the police and the army to respond.”
So, was it that Charles Sinclair was overstating the murder problem in Montego Bay and the broader St James? When he made this call in July 2016, was he effectively asking the Government to kill ants with a sledgehammer? And was he out of order to call for the dismissal or resignation of Dr Carl Williams as police commissioner over his misreading of the situation in St James?
In an article published on July 5, 2016, The Gleaner asked civic and business leaders in St James to share their views about Sinclair’s call. Cruise ship advocate Dr Lee Bailey essentially supported the call, while the outspoken head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Omar Robinson, said there was no need for a state of emergency, even as he noted there was no reason for Commissioner Williams to resign.
But in that same article, an unnamed senior policeman suggested his boss was out of touch with the carnage being unleashed on the parish by gunmen, noting, “This is war. When you go to a crime scene and count 27, 28, 29 AK-47 spent shells in one small area, it makes you worry for your family. A man with the experience of the commissioner should know that this requires a state of emergency.”
So, more than 500 murders after debate raged about imposing a state of emergency in St James, there is now one.
We often accuse our leaders of lacking vision and of failing to cultivate the ability to assess a current situation and anticipate the problems or opportunities it will create. Senator Charles Sinclair, councillor for Montego Bay North East, saw where St James was headed from almost two years ago. His was a one-man advocacy for the imposition of a state of emergency.
Last Saturday, the executive director of National Integrity Action, Professor Trevor Munroe noted that the 2010 state of emergency had the effect of reducing all major crimes in Jamaica, including murder, for a period of four years. Imagine the situation in St James and the rest of the country if our police chief, national security minister and prime minister could’ve anticipated what Charles Sinclair did in 2016.