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For a better Jamaica
published: Sunday | April 29, 2007

JEA, JMA Expo official opening ceremony at the National Arena on Thursday, April 27, 2006. - File

Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds, Contributor

In carrying out research at the Gleaner Company last year for a film project I am working on, I was reintroduced to some glaring, bloody and depressing headlines in The STAR and The Gleaner from the mid to late 1960s, on crime and violence that plagued Jamaica then.

Columnist Vivian Durham in an article: 'The problem of spreading crime - Jamaica needs national service to save youth', wrote in the October 3, 1968 issue of The STAR "... the crime rate in Jamaica is soaring so fast that there may be more criminals than honest men! What is more heart-rending is the fact that it is the flower of the nation's youth that has got caught up in criminal propensities." The article went further to report statistics that it was males between the age 17 to 30 who were committing these heinous crimes. Hugh Lawson Shearer was the Prime Minister, and the Jamaica Labour Party was 'in power'. More on this anon.

The crime and violence then was as deplorable and unsatisfactory to Jamaicans as the crime and violence is to the Jamaican people today. In an article I wrote then in The STAR deploring the leadership and its attitude to the socio-economic conditions afflicting Jamaica and fuelling the robberies and murders, I began with a Bible verse: Proverbs chapter 29, verse 18; "Where there is no vision the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Topics of choice

I have always written from a perspective of personal or community experiences, trying to avoid pontificating from mere intellectual posturing, and instead to articulate the feelings of the people with whom I interact. My experiences were wide: God, family, love for people, music, and work ethic I got from home; St. Matthew's Church in Allman Town taught me fellowship, Christian beliefs; at Elletson Primary School and Kingston College I got education, friendship, competing, passion for sports, and concern for others. On the 'camps' and 'corners'; Crook Street and Penn Street in Jones Town, Java in Rae Town, Dunkirk in Franklin Town, Poker Flats in Rockfort, McGregor Gully and Wembley in Rollington Town, I learnt sharing and many other things most good, some bad. But what stood out at all times was concern for others less fortunate than me.

I was aware of how poverty and poor education not only ruin the individual but families and communities. I remember an older friend who was a criminal, a gunman, asking me 40-odd years ago if I had any idea what it's like to wake up in the mornings on a bed with six others, nephews, nieces, cousins, siblings, and soaked in 'piss'.

The problems that Jamaica faces today are a result of decades of failed leadership, and a system that values profit above people and everything else. Between Jamaica getting independence in 1962 to about 1965, there was a window of hope for a Jamaica that could have made us all extremely proud today of its accomplishments, standard of living and value system. But another form of tribalism centred on politics instead of religion, as in the Middle East or ethnicity as in Africa, begun spreading with unheralded gun violence in the mid-1960s debilitating the Jamaican society, and leaving a lasting negative impact to this day.

The Jamaican political leadership, threatened and coerced by the governments of the United States and Great Britain, pursued a rigid class system that protected wealth in one level of the society, mostly mulattos and their offspring that had benefited from access to good education and money in post-slavery and colonial Jamaica. At the same time using financial policies developed by local and international bankers, and supported by a protective government, to deny access to capital to the other level of the society which was the majority, vastly black, landless or living on marginal lands without titles, increasing in numbers and burdened with failing educational standards.

The lack of vision on the part of the country's leadership; political, business and civic, hindered them from grasping, or some just didn't care, that by arresting economic development among the growing working class not creating entrepreneurs who would create more jobs and opportunities, not prioritising education and training, not advocating the total development of all Jamaicans, would create a climate of ignorance, hopelessness, selfishness, lawlessness and lack of values. Above all, a lack of value for human life among a generation today that see very little or no chance of getting out of the 'zinced', unsanitary, depraved, poverty-stricken conditions they are trapped in.

There are not enough economic opportunities in Jamaica today to absorb the workforce and provide decent living wages: And those who are fortunate to find themselves in situations that they can survive on, cannot disparage those who cannot earn decent wages to pay the high costs of rent, transportation, food, clothes and send themselves and their children to work and school.

Making 'two ends meet'

There is a destructive imbalance in the cost of living to the income earned in today's Jamaica by most Jamaicans. And as long as this imbalance, this disconnect exists, crime and violence will continue to grow and stymie the development of Jamaica. Because as hard as the average Jamaican will try they will never be able to work to make 'two ends meet' in the present economic climate. One only has to visit the bus depots anywhere in Kingston, Montego Bay or any of the towns throughout Jamaica and see the pathetic behaviour of hundreds of young men working as bus loaders and conductors. Four of them loading one bus, and quarrelling and fighting for a measly sum: A waste of human capital.


It has always dismayed me that while companies like GraceKennedy, the Matalon Group of Companies, in downtown Kingston, and all those companies along Marcus Garvey Drive and Spanish Town Road continue to grow and make profits over several generations, the living conditions of the people in the surrounding squalid communities where these businesses operate continue to deteriorate. I am amazed that while Jamaican financial institutions and insurance companies proudly announce billions of dollars of profits, simultaneously police cannot find equipment to better fight crime, hospitals cannot afford equipment and medicines to treat the sick and dying, and schools are in terrible disrepair.

True democracy, love and commitment to building Jamaica would prompt these beneficiaries of human capital to invest a significant percentage of their profits to deal with the conditions that thwart the development of the country. For example, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and Jamaica Bankers Association could institute a programme for their members to contribute 15 per cent of their companies' profits over one year to better equip the police.

Saying you love and empathise with the poor, or boasting that you continue to operate your businesses in depressed areas of Kingston while others flee, or getting your public relations machinery to get you publicity giving some computers, or a piece of equipment to a hospital, or a cheque for a relatively minuscule sum to your favourite charity is not what is going to address the hopelessness, ignorance, despair, lawlessness and loss of values in Norwood, Central Village, Spanish Town, May Pen, Maxfield Avenue, Mountain View, Rockfort, Torrington Park, and increasingly in the once peaceful hamlets around Jamaica.

My headmaster at Kingston College, the Venerable Douglas Forrest came to my class one day in fourth form to teach us in the absence of the regular teacher, and he imparted a piece of wisdom that will always guide my life; he said "We should never think only of me and my wife, my son and his wife, we four and no more." Jamaica needs more leaders today that instill those kinds of values and attitudes in the populace. And while some attempts are being made to address some of the problems, it is inadequate, very late, and not managed effectively to have optimum impact.

We need to downplay the big egos, the greed, selfishness, partisanship, bling-bling, better-than-you attitude, the Mr. Big and Ms. Big who exploit and manipulate the less fortunate as they please: Increasingly, sex as a commodity sold by our young girls and boys have replaced or supplemented non-existing or very low-paying jobs. The country's leadership instead must think and work to develop a Jamaican society that cares about all its citizens; providing decent paying jobs, more economic opportunities and access to affordable capital, equity, parity and justice. Or very soon it could be the heads of more of us that will be decapitated and left in a bag at the street corner.

Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds is an entrepreneur, writer and film-maker who lives and works in Jamaica and New York.

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