Over the past few years I have become acutely aware that my country is foundering hopelessly in a sea of neglect, myopia, selfishness and failed leadership. Of course we had been duly warned about the incipient backlash from protracted savagery on all fronts; enlightened opinion leaders in the society, few though they may be, have risked life and limb alerting the populace on the dangers of the growing menace, but we wanted to “think positive”, “leave it in God’s hands” and shut out the noise of these prognosticators of doom.
Our problem was that we chose to remain in our hermetic confines, safeguarded by layers of security, uncaring of the raging torrent without, confident that regardless of the terror outside, we would be safe within. We tried to convince ourselves and each other, that the savagery would in time subside, and cursed anyone who dared to suggest that the tentacles of crime would gain a stranglehold in our quiet enclaves, or on those within our circles.
Our inaction over the years was itself a decision to accommodate the cancer of corruption as we chose, at our peril, to ignore the erosion of ethical principles indispensable to nation building. When Amnesty International summed up our collective apathy in their report titled Let Then Kill Each Other, we cried foul, our outrage as usual reserved only for criticism from outsiders.
Last week’s murder toll reached the seven-mark, and a drive-by shooting occurred on a quiet boulevard in Hope Pastures. Night falls early here in this comfortable middle class neighborhood, the streets are deserted and doors and iron bars double-barricaded by eight. These panel doors are not easily kicked off, but no one is taking any chances. Under different circumstances, this self-imposed confinement could eventually result in more births, but I suspect with the prevailing high anxiety levels, the focus would remain more on coping rather than on copulating.
It is understandable that the folks in Hope Pastures would be running low on hope. Two nights before the “drive-by,” Hope Gardens had been the chosen venue for the 40th anniversary celebration of Appliance Traders Limited (ATL). It was a glittering affair, with the pièce de résistance a dazzling spectacle of fireworks at midnight. As the first volley of rockets went off, neighbors in the vicinity, unaware of the scheduled treat, jumped in terror from their beds and scurried beneath them, some lying flat on their floors, as has been the routine of the hapless residents of downtown “Matches Lane” for years.
When the talk shows were the next day besieged with callers reporting the sustained explosions of the night before, a sheepish Christopher Zacca, CEO of ATL, called to apologize for the omission of informing the area residents of the impending pyrotechnic display. The residents were not amused. Some were outright condemnatory. One woman took it in stride: “What a ting if a did Riu!”, she cackled, referring to the ongoing conflict between the Spanish hotelier group and its local rival, of which ATL is integral.
Nerves are frayed, tensions run high and tempers are nearing flashpoint. A “shotta” will shoot at a fly. Some would argue on whether or not Jamaica still remains a true democracy when the demos are clearly not in charge, but are instead caught in the grip of fear, inflicted on the nation by a group of young warlords, excited by the power they now wield over an entire nation.
It was bruited long ago that if the society were not so deeply divided against itself, people would have already taken to the streets en masse to demand justice of their government. But the violence never really attained untenable proportions, for somehow it was held at bay, for the most part in the warrens of the inner-city. And where are those who claim to be purveyors of hope?
It is especially troubling that the church has barely whispered, except when one of its own is caught in the crosshairs of violence. Perhaps the whisper signifies a lack of moral conviction in a collective organization gelded by greed and itself divided along political tribal lines. Its officials usually hold their peace unless the society’s morals are under threat from legislation concerning the unholy trinity of abortion, homosexuality or casinos. Only then will its officials storm the media and appear to be most bellicose in expressing their outrage. If only their vehemence could be redirected to denounce the alarming levels of violence and motivate their congregations to demand the justice denied the society’s lowest denominators for decades.
Equally disturbing over the years has been the dearth of investigative reporting in the media as a weapon against the abuse of power in the public and private sectors. With its potential to produce attitude change and influence public opinion, the media has for the most part been unabashedly self-seeking in serving the narrow interests of its sponsors. There has been no healthy skepticism, no deeply probing questions regarding the statements and actions of public officials, except where the fight assumes a personal nature, replete with vindictiveness and ad hominem statements.
One major daily, in the name of “free press”, has resorted to riddles and gossip mongering, perhaps a result of unwillingness to delve deeper into the decadence of the political reality, for fear of offending the puppeteers who sustain their existence. And then there is Nero fiddling around while Rome burns. The nation has expended more energy over the past week defending its honor against gays, following the cue of its leader, while every five hours on average, another Jamaican dies violently in this orgiastic killing spree.
With the current administration mulling over multiple crime-fighting initiatives and vacillating over the declaration of a state of emergency, the gunmen gallivant in the city and around the countryside, leaving a trail of death in their wake and the administration with no conceivable solutions.
There are those among us within the upper reaches of society, for years unseeing and mute while the storm was approaching, who are now gripped by fear as the mayhem swirls around them, and their strident demands, not for justice for all, but for extermination of the hired hands, echo discordantly across airwaves, through the web and in letters to newspaper editors. They choose quite conveniently to condemn the marionettes and ignore the puppeteers in high places, the choreographers of what must be the most tragic chapter in the history of the nation.
Though there may be some measures on their list of solutions worthy of consideration, others such as concentration camp-like structures as brutal punishment for the marginalized will only serve to institutionalize savagery, already a distinctive feature of the nation.
While the appointment of two ex-army officers has produced messianic expectations in some quarters, there is mounting distrust and resentment of the current administration across a broad swath of the society, from a nation too jaded and too weary to liberate itself. As it looks up to its rulers and heavenwards for deliverance, the nation needs to realize that the answers lie within itself; only when it has had enough will there be a desire for self-transformation, enough to demand constitutional change and an end to corruption within the ranks of leadership. As long as the nation stands divided, it will surely fall, for the malignancy of the corruption from whose seeds the decadence was sown, will continue to lay waste to the society.
In the meanwhile the nation awaits with bated breath a precipitous decline in the murder rate, a sure sign of divine intervention, a miracle far too long in coming.