Mighty Peter, have mercy!

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It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me; and I think that’s pretty important. — Dr Martin Luther King Jr


The state of public emergency (SOE) and zones of special operation (ZOSO) issues are trending again because a judge had spoken angrily, but I believe truthfully, about the SOEs’ inability to transform some of our societal issues. This newspaper carried the story in an account by Staff Reporter Racquel Porter, titled ‘Judge slams SOE, ZOSO as she chides pregnant accused women’, on Sunday, September 15, 2019.

The meat of the matter was summed up by Porter as follows:

“Parish Judge Maxine Ellis is of the view that the security exercises will not solve Jamaica’s crime problem.”

“Judge Ellis made the comment while addressing the three accused, two of whom were in an advanced state of pregnancy and were before the Kingston and St Andrew court on assault charges last week.”

“Kneife Ferguson, Shelia Smith, and Kallise Brown, who are expected to give birth on November 8 and September 25 respectively, are charged with assault occasioning bodily harm.”

“’They could a call ZOSO and SOE; it is not going to solve crime. Children are conceived and born in violence,’ Ellis said.”

“Noting that right up to delivery date expecting mothers are fighting, Ellis argued that children are seeing violence all around them.”

Speaking to the same issue, the editors of this newspaper, on Thursday, September 19, 2019, posited that the current Andrew Holness-led Government is “…at the mercy of the PNP [People’s National Party] with SOE”. They validated their statement with a simple summation:

“On its own, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government cannot get any extension of the SOE because it does not have the required two-thirds of the House of Representatives. This in effect means that it is at the mercy of the PNP.”

Speaking of mercy, renowned British playwright William Shakespeare wrote perhaps his most brilliant soliloquy in his play titled The Merchant of Venice. The opening lines spoken by a character called Portia say:

“The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath.

It is twice blessed:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.”


I hope newly elected PNP leader Dr Peter Phillips still has enough post-election excitement and verve in him to count himself among the mightiest. For, though I agree with Parish Judge Maxine Ellis that SOEs and ZOSOs cannot solve our crime and violence issues, I do believe that it’s an absolute necessity at this time.

Mighty Dr Phillips and his PNP crew should therefore show new-era Prime Minister Andrew Holness mercy and vote to extend these crime-cramping measures.

The SOE tool, though not a crime stopper, is a crime cramper. It is not by itself an anti-crime plan, but it sure fits the principle behind Dr Martin Luther King’s famous statement: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me; and I think that’s pretty important.”

So it may be true that SOEs cannot stop crime, but it can slow down or inhibit crime, and I think that’s pretty important.

Richard Blackwood, in March this year, observed that: “In 2018, as a direct result of the imposition of a state of emergency (SOE) in that parish [St James], the murders fell by more than 70 per cent to 102. The use of the SOE, it could be argued, led to a precipitous drop in murders across the island; falling from its 2017 high of just over 1,630 murders to 1,287 — a whopping 21 per cent decline.”

Let’s be mindful that even a one per cent drop in crime should be applauded. It means that some precious citizen was spared the indignity of being robbed, raped, or killed. So any initiative that cramps the style of our violence-producers should be applauded!

Speaking of our violence-producers, this is where I agree with Justice Ellis’s statement that, “They could a call ZOSO and SOE; it is not going to solve crime.”

Notice the word “solve”? ZOSOs and SOEs cannot solve crime because crime is a moral issue. I am not speaking of moral in a cultural sense. Morals or mores are simply honoured characteristics accepted and practised in a culture as the norm.

Take, for example, the value of reverence for life. We have long maintained a culture that has little or no reverence for life. So, too, with values like honesty, respect, and justice. We have for too long ignored the instilling of those values as real cornerstones in our families, communities, and nation. Sure we’ve given them lip service, but we have made no concerted and consistent effort at instilling.

I wholeheartedly share the opinion of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad expressed at a Harvard Club dinner on July 28, 1993: “The teaching and practice of common values… determines that nation’s social and economic prosperity and cannot be left to ‘natural processes’ for their propagation in society.”

Had nations like Rwanda, Bosnia, Burindi, and Darfur accepted and acted expeditiously on his words, perhaps, there would have been no civil war, ethnic strife, or genocide as part of their national journey.

An ancient text on human history and socio-economic development (The Holy Bible), years before Mahathir bin Mohamad’s advice also advised, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The current human history and journey of nations like those listed above, along with Jamaica’s stumbling gait, seem also to give credence to this ancient observation.

Social and moral transformation

If crime and violence is to be defused, it is therefore extremely important for our new-era prime minister to re-engage the Values and Attitudes Programme put forward by former Prime Minister P J Patterson and the National Transformation Programme of the era of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding. This, as the only hope of stopping crime and violence in the long term is a national programme of social re-engineering, social and moral transformation, values and attitudes, national social mobilisation. Call it whatever you desire, it is desperately needed now. The moral and social fabric is worsening and this deterioration will naturally continue downward if consistent and concerted efforts are not made to reverse the downward spiral.

It is time our citizens have the gumption to join me and call loudly for such a programme. It is time our private sector sees the need to join in with their resources. It is time our Government sees their role as facilitators and enforcers of such a programme. Until that day… until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained… Now everywhere is war. (From the words of Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia, popularised by Bob Marley in the song War.)

So, until that day, wi jus haffi run wid SOE and ZOSO, and put up with the inconvenience of SOE and ZOSO… until that day.

Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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