Michael Abrahams | Chickens have come home to roost – Jamaica Gleaner

Our country was again plunged into mourning recently when an eight-year-old girl, Danielle Rowe, died in hospital after being abducted and her throat slashed. I can only recall one child who was murdered when I was a youngster. Her name was Dianne Smith. She was a teenager who was raped and murdered while on her way to school. The crime was so unusual and heinous that, to this day, many Jamaicans remember her name. In recent years, however, there have been so many Dianne Smiths that it has been difficult to commit even a fraction of the victims’ names to memory.
Violent and other crimes in Jamaica have recently become more outlandish and brazen. People are being murdered in broad daylight in heavily populated and crowded areas, including just outside of and on school compounds. Police stations are being attacked. Scamming has become normalised in some areas. Vehicles transporting money are being held up. ATMs are not only being robbed, but stolen.
And our indiscipline is off the chain. At the end of my penultimate visit overseas, on my return to the island, a woman decided to duck under several barriers to go to the front of the line at Immigration at the airport. There was no security guard there, but I called her out and told her that her behaviour was not okay. The last time I travelled abroad, when I returned and was in a line at Customs, a woman decided to duck under one of the barriers to enter another line. A security guard was present this time and sent her back despite her vociferous objections. We are so unruly that we require visas to travel to countries that citizens of many other Caribbean islands can travel to freely without them.
How did we get this bad? The answer to that question is a complex one. But much of the mess we are in can be attributed to two entities: The Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party. Since our Independence, either of these two parties has led all our Governments, and much of the chaos and mayhem we are seeing now is a result of chronic, poor, corrupt governance. Endemic corruption in all its forms, including cronyism, nepotism, accepting bribes, demanding kickbacks, and the utilisation of thuggery for political gain, are all now biting us in the ass. In other words: the chickens have come home to roost.
I grew up in the late ‘60s, the ‘70s and the early ‘80s, and for much of my youth, I witnessed the rivalry between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, two of our most iconic leaders. These men have complicated legacies. They achieved much for this country; there is no question of that. But there was also a very dark side to them. Thugs associated with these men terrorised, extorted and murdered many under their watch. Supporters of these leaders will vigorously defend them and point fingers at the other party, but, in my opinion, both men and many of their associates have blood on their hands. There is no question that they benefited from the violent behaviour of criminal elements loyal to them. Manley and Seaga did not start gun violence in this country, but there is no convincing evidence that they made valiant efforts to stop it.
Our political leaders over the years have repeatedly empowered criminals. Euphemisms such as ‘area leaders’ and ‘dons’ are used to describe persons who are, in reality, thieves, extortionists, rapists and murderers. By legitimising these people and imbuing entire communities with a sense of entitlement, that they should be exempt from certain aspects of the law, these leaders have helped to destroy the very fabric of society. Indeed, there are multiple witnesses to politicians handing out guns, brandishing them, and interfering with ballot boxes.
Criminality and violence produce long-term, generational effects. For example, most of the victims of gun violence are men. Some are fathers. Leaving children fatherless and exposing them to violence creates vulnerabilities that can affect them for a lifetime and, in turn, their offspring, who will be exposed to their dysfunctional behaviour resulting from their trauma.
Similarly, area leaders are often not only involved in gun violence and the trafficking of weapons and drugs. Men with those mindsets often engage in other nefarious activities, such as raping children in the community. When a child is raped, like the above-mentioned fatherless and those exposed to other forms of violence, the psychological scarring that often results can affect them for a lifetime, impacting their parenting and negatively affecting their children.
Also, when corruption and violence are normalised in some constituencies, children growing up in those areas are often socialised to accept it as the norm and pass on those values to their children.
When money that could be used to improve the quality of life of inner-city youth via social programmes, the building of community centres and refurbishing schools is used to feather the nests of politicians and their cronies, the youngsters are left demotivated and hopeless. American writer James Baldwin said, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” Our politics has created many of these.
It is unrealistic to expect a society to be peaceful, orderly and disciplined when so many in leadership positions have tolerated, endorsed or even prescribed violence, broken laws themselves, and are purveyors of dishonesty and disrespectful behaviour. As we ponder our abysmal state, we cannot ignore the orange and green elephants in the room.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @mikeyabrahams.
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