The sterility of the debate in Jamaica’s domestic press does not allow any keen insight into the dynamics driving crime management and the articulation of policies relating to crime control. Crime is characterized in the popular discourse as a monster. That imagery is perhaps adequate for the elementary conceptualization of social life in a social context where social relations are refracted through a magico-religious prism and permits only fantastical visions.
Jamaica, however, is not ‘fairy land’ and description of life cannot in any way be construed as a fairy tale. So, it is imperative that we dispense with such juvenile notions. I wish to state categorically that crime is not a monster.
What then is crime? Crime is economic activity which has sociological, legal, ethical and political implications. We are accustomed to regard these implications as having a negative bearing on society. This is a notion which I believe is in need of critical assessment, though the scope of this article does not permit such an assessment. The specific intent of this article is to focus attention on the fact that crime is an integral part of global capitalist economy and thereby, to open a window of understanding as to the nature of the dilemma that faces Lewin and by extension, his counterparts in the region.
Informed opinion acknowledges the existence of a crime control industrial complex which rivals the military industrial complex in its insidiousness and complexity. This crime control industrial complex is inclusive of the bureaucratic structures that legislate, detect and apprehend, prosecute and adjudicate, incarcerate and reform, intervene and treat, re/socialize and re/integrate.
It includes schools that segregate, stream and stultify multitudes of children belonging to the working class. It includes manufacturers of gadgetry and devices which facilitates automation in the warehousing of inmates. It includes interests that are involved in manufacturing and sales of arms and other equipment and materials utilized by private security personnel and public security agents. It includes sectors of the construction industry that build schools and prison facilities. It includes real estate speculators and banking and investment services. In short it has a whole complex of bureaucratic, management, industrial, and financial structures which some commentators have dubbed a “sub-government”.
Considering the broad array and clout of interests that are vested in the mega-profits-generating crime control enterprise, it is not at all surprising that the discourse on crime seldom progresses beyond the emotional pangs elicited by newspaper reports recording gruesome accounts of murders committed by “heartless gunmen” linked to the illicit drug trade or political gangs. Such reports are cleverly crafted precisely with that objective in mind. This feeds the panic that allows politicians to sell their “tough on crime” campaigns, which in turn drive the demands for more ‘security-related spending’ which bleeds public funds into the coffers of the corporate interest that are associated with the crime control industrial complex.
Conflict inheres in the notion of crime. Violent crime signifies an intense and deadly contest. This inherent quality is deliberately and dramatically enhanced in the popular imagination when crime control and matters relating to “law and order” are being discussed. This is particularly true regarding the trade in illicit drugs and arms.
The conflict between contending interest is extreme and is rendered in ethical-religious symbolism conjuring images of good and evil. This serves to inscribe the interest of the crime control industrial complex with an aura of moral imperative and simultaneously demonizes the contending interests.
Informed discourse however, understands that illicit drugs and guns/arms are simply commodities – tradable and commonly traded goods – for which markets exist across the globe. There is, moreover, nothing implicitly evil about such goods. This understanding permits the grasping of the fact that the traders who engage in ‘illicit’ commerce involving banned substances and light arms are an integral part of the crime control industrial complex.
Further, the interests of the crime control industrial complex are tied up with the careful maintenance of a delicate balance between the production of criminals and the control of crime. Once it is comprehended that the logic of the “war on crime” is derived from the profit motive of the crime control industrial complex, it becomes clear that crime fighting interests are implicated in the production of criminals as a matter of policy and judicious business practice. Hence the production and disgorging of criminals into the countries of the Caribbean is both a form of commercial dumping and an investment in future profits.
Having arrived at this point we begin to grasp the dilemma which presents itself to Commissioner Lewin. Being a military man, and having not being schooled in the basic philosophy and overriding objective of crime control, hence lacking knowledge of the profit motive of the exercise, he favored a military solution. In furtherance of the pursuit of the military objective he clamored for the granting of police powers to the military.
But he was soon to realize his error. He realized that unleashing a band of soldiers, trained professional killers that they are, on the criminal element in Jamaica, is contrary to the objective of the crime control industry. The wholesale apprehension/extermination of criminals is a profit-shrinking undertaking which cannot, therefore, be instituted at this juncture. Soldiers on the streets acting as policemen would tip the delicate balance too far against the practitioners of crime and, considering the conditions that currently obtains, can only be a short-term exercise.
Yet, as Lewin considers the error of his ways, and jettisons the idea of according police powers to the men and women of the Jamaica Defence Force, we see the idea gaining currency in Trinidad and Tobago. Thus the pendulum swings.