No justice, no peace – will ZOSO have any long-term effect?

In a 2016 update, INDECOM boss, Terrence Williams, usefully invokes Peter Tosh – “I don’t want no peace; I want equal rights and justice” . Rather than an ephemeral “peace” that comes from oppressive and arbitrary state agents, the solution to crime must be justice, says Williams. But what hope when ‘the Ministry of Justice has for 2016-17 been allocated just over $6 billion. The Ministry of National Security received almost 10 times that amount’.

ZOSO may lead temporarily to more a peaceful Mount Salem in St. James as the guns move elsewhere, but the root of the problem will remain, that is injustice in its wider social and economic (not just legal) sense. Since independence1962, Jamaica has achieved a little more social mobility but almost no social de-stratification. We remain divided, in determined defiance of the motto ’Out of many, one people’.

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF VIOLENCE Sociologist Herbert Gayle describes the situation as the ‘political economy of violence in Jamaica’, a permanent war of structural violence against garrison youth as they stand up to economic and social oppression sometimes with guns, sometimes with anti-social entrepreneurship, sometimes with both. They cannot expect to get justice or social support even if, as so often, they are innocent bystanders. The logic is therefore clear that they must, by design, kill and be killed to maintain the privilege of a few and the relative (and often absolute) poverty of so many through suppressed wages and inadequate social provision. It is a warning to others who might be bold enough to get up and stand up for their rights, stand up against stubborn and pervasive inequality.

When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest in the world. In 2005, Jamaica had 1,674 murders for a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people, the highest in the world. The numbers fell from 2010-14 but have since climbed again heading towards 1,500 this year (2017). These rates are consistently in excess of the 30 per 100,000 per year used to ‘define’ a civil war situation. For our inner-city young men (15-34 years) the rate is 350 per 100,000, almost twice the rate of deaths (205 per 100,000) in the Iraqi War and Occupation 2004-11.

Whatever dislocation the assault on Tivoli, the ‘mother of all garrisons’, may have created for criminals in 2010, it has now dissipated and crime has spread more to other parts of the island, notably St. James, St. Catherine and Clarendon. It must be stressed that it is those in our poorer inner-city communities who suffer most from this mayhem – poor-on-poor violence, even if orchestrated by strategists who live up-town.


The paramilitary style of our policing (officers armed with hand guns and sometimes assault rifles, psychologically locked in a state of war-readiness) and the number of unlawful killings by the security forces, especially of inner city young men, gives at least equal cause for alarm. Gayle notes that with the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829 came a shift from military- to community-style policing as the primary way of dealing with social order. The many police forces formed in the colonies in the 19th century were not allowed copy this model .

However it should be recognised that in Jamaica’s classist society (overlapping with colour) what may even be a majority believe that everyone in Tivoli, not just the gunmen, deserved the beating they took in 2010. Ian Boyne does not go this far, saying that although the media and human-rights activists have done a marvellous job in sensitising the society about state abuse of human rights. But he opposes what he sees as their unbalanced views (bleeding hearts) which help prevent effective policing.

On the other hand Terrence Williams insists that granting the police a “free hand” may be appealing to some, particularly when crime reaches close to us, or our families. But this is no solution he says. Not only is it unlawful, morally wrong and reduces us to the level of the criminal, but it suffers our inhabitants (particularly young men) to the final and unreviewable adjudication of a state agent himself prone to error, caprice and the possibility of venality.

The Tivoli atrocities in 2010 certainly highlighted this problem of police abuse, though it has existed since the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion when the JCF was formed . At least 76 persons were killed in Tivoli at the time by the security forces, more than 40 likely unlawfully according to the Interim Report of the Public Defender and more than 20 according to the Report of the West Kingston Committee of Enquiry (WKCOE).

In September, a police review cleared the only five persons recommended for sanctioning by the WKCOE report, allegedly guilty of administrative, rather than operational wrongdoing. Nothing else (apart from an ongoing but secretive compensation process) has followed from the Enquiry as is indicated in INDECOM’s recent April-June 2017 Report and certainly no indictment of the superior commanders, especially necessary when the individual perpetrators cannot be identified. The beginnings of an effort to ratify Jamaica’s commitment to the International Criminal Court (ICC) some two years ago have been conveniently forgotten.

There have been more than 3,000 police killings since the year 2000, averaging about 200 each year. It was 258 in 2013, falling to around 100 by 2015 (98 JCF, 3 JDF, 7 in custody) quite possibly due to the restraining effect of INDECOM. But the numbers have spiked again in 2017. Not only are the unlawful killings by the police a clear abuse of the most basic human right, but it is counter-productive, alienating the very people and communities who could, if the police were community-focused and trustworthy, help to reduce the crime rate. Jamaica’s ‘fight violence with violence’ approach to crime is not only short-sighted but has proven utterly ineffective in tackling its root causes.

INDECOM has highlighted the number of people unlawfully killed by the security forces during planned operations, accounting for up to 40% of the fatalities. Williams notes that ‘a planned operation gives the JCF a way in which to conduct the operation so that death is minimised, but some of the operations, were not planned in a way that the risk of death or injury was minimized…. many of the operations are not being conducted according to protocol, which requires a written or recorded plan of the operation so that the operation can be checked against the plan to see if there was an attempt to reduce risk to life. The vast majority continue to have no recorded plans….’. Evidence suggests single police officers are often responsible for multiple killings yet nothing is done to remove them from front-line duty. INDECOM’s latest quarterly report highlights recommendations made by INDECOM for disciplinary actions for senior members of the JCF and their outcomes. The Commission submitted 97 cases involving 138 officers with recommendations for disciplinary proceedings to be instituted. To date, disciplinary hearings have not commenced in any of these cases. In some of the cases there has been no response to the recommendation.

Beyond the killings, the police are very rough in their dealings with the public, and not just in the inner cities. The former MP for central St. Mary, Winston Green (now deceased) described in a newspaper article a completely un-necessary fracas that developed in Annotto Bay in 2014. Such incidents are all too common, including one in St. Thomas where a mature woman was fatally shot for cussing bad words, and a mentally-challenged man caught on camera being shot by police as he lay on the ground defenceless.

Amnesty’s 2015 report ‘Waiting in Vain: Unlawful Police Killings and Relatives’ Long Struggle for Justice’ says longstanding practices of tampering with evidence, terrorizing / intimidating witnesses, planting weapons, leaving victims to “bleed out” and the use of unlawful killings as an alternative to arrest and lengthy criminal proceedings continue. This brings us back to the deficiencies of the court system. Clear-up rates for murders were 95% in 1962 at Independence but are now well below 50%, going hand-in-hand with a severely-under-resourced justice system faced with a soaring crime rate.

So given these challenges, where does ZOSO fit in?

The ZOSO (Zones of Special Operations, Special Security and Community Development Measures Act ) legislation, passed on 11 July 2017, amounts to authorizing localised states of emergency in high-crime areas with curfews, cordons and search of persons, premises and vehicles without warrant. Mindful of the shortened career of Prime Minister Bruce Golding following Tivoli 2010, the current JLP administration has attempted to build in safeguards against police abuse and also attach a social intervention component.

Given the serious crime situation affecting, as we have said, mostly our poorer communities there was a level of resignation that something had to be done. Opposition MPs, the Public Defender Arlene Harrison-Henry, INDECOM boss Terence Williams and Jamaicans for Justice gave the ZOSO legislation tentative support, hoping against hope that the police would really show restraint, and more so concerned that the social intervention component was only an empty and un-funded gesture.

In Jul 2017 Jamaicans for Justice put on a training session for JCF and JDF officers . ‘We engaged 56 senior officers in July 2017 who were responsible for training approximately 300 other officers. The training covered four areas: introduction human rights in local and international; the rights of vulnerable groups (like the disabled); the human rights approach to policing, including arrests, searches, seizures, and use of force; and the new “Zones of Special Operation” legislation, the additional powers, redress mechanisms, and achieving balance’. The training was much welcomed by the participants (70% wanted moiré), highlighting what presumably must be so absent from the normal training regimes.

Declaration of a ZOSO requires a request from the JCF/JDF heads and agreement of the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister that ‘there are reasonable grounds that due to rampant criminality, gang warfare, escalating violence and murder and the threat to the rule of law and public order’.

On 1 September, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the first 60-day ZOSO operation would take place in a small part of Montego Bay called Mount Salem (near the hospital), an area of 0.4 square kilometer with 3,500 residents. The justification given was some quite horrendous crime statistics –  40 murders in 2014; 70 in 2015; 85 in 2016, and 54 so far in 2017 and the existence of 12 gangs in the area. Much to Holness’ embarrassment, just a few days later the JCF corrected these figures drastically downwards to 11 murders in 2015, 9 in 2016 and 7 so far in 2017 – the original data was for all violent crime in a whole police area, not just murders in Mount Salem! Further embarrassment came when it was revealed that on the first day, less than a third of the security personnel assigned for onsite operations actually showed up. Was this sabotage?

Horace Levy explains why the government has now, possibly, decided to do something about this functional status quo. He says  it is only because the International Monetary Fund and Economic Growth Council are telling us how big a chunk of our GDP the violence is gobbling up that it has recently gained some serious (maybe) attention. The decades-long destruction of thousands of lives in poor communities has, for the most part, been tolerated by political directorates and an untouched outer-city populace.

Mark Wignall suggests the choice of Mount Salem may have been a response to the tourism lobby and the police’s unwillingness to take on a bigger challenge in West Kingston or elsewhere.

On 12 September, Holness gave the required statement to parliament. He reiterated that ZOSO was based on a ‘clear, hold and build’ model, as follows:

  • Clear – Law Enforcement goes into selected community and saturates the community with their presence and displaces the criminal element, and removes their freedom to operate while at the same time reassuring law-abiding citizens.
  • Hold – Law Enforcement maintains a sustainable level of presence and control over the area, creating the space and support for a multi-sectoral intervention into the community to address outstanding and critical human needs and basic infrastructure.
  • Build – Psycho-cultural, social capital, and leadership and organization building and support. At this stage, the community is able to manage and sustain their own peace.

The criteria for success are ‘the reduction in murder, the return of public order, the assessment that the community has been engaged, that the community-building exercise has been successful and entrenched, and a general determination that the community is now in a state where it can manage its own peace’. Holness reported that the first ten days were ‘found to be satisfactory, with respect to operational outcomes, as well as the accountability procedures of the members of the Joint Forces.
This level of professionalism displayed by the Joint Force has been welcomed by the residents of Mount Salem, he said. Residents have been both receptive and accommodating towards the initiative and have acknowledged the requirement for intervention to address the issue of crime and violence.   In fact, after only 10 days, the residents of Mount Salem are now able to express a level of relief, as they now feel free to venture throughout the community without fear. While the outlook has been promising, building trust between all parties is a process and will only be realised over time. Following 32 Special Operations conducted by the Joint Force in the first 10 days, 5 illegal firearms were recovered, 2 wanted men were taken into custody, and number of Lead Sheets were also recovered’.

What of the social intervention component?

The ZOSO Act emphasizes the mandatory establishment of a Social Intervention Committee within five working days of the declaration of a Zone to facilitate ‘as far as is possible’ social and economic development in a Zone through the efforts of various government agencies and civil society and develop a sustainable development plan. This includes assessing conditions within the Zones, including the state of the physical infrastructure, health, environment, land tenure, housing and settlements.
The committee met on 5 September with the Prime Minister in the chair. Omar Sweeny, managing director of Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) as deputy chairman got off to a bad start by stating that 70% of the women in Mount Salem are engaged in prostitution. Residents have strongly complained that this false information stigmatizes the community.
So far a well-attended information fair has been organized and the problem of poor garbage collection identified. On 28 September Sweeney announced that the operational framework for the social intervention had been signed off with the National Security Council. Most of the initiatives now are around civil registration, including the delivery of birth certificates, tax registration numbers and other forms of identification as well as some public health services. “We are now moving to start looking at clean-up activities in the community in a coordinated way. That is solid waste removal, bushing, clearing of some areas, street lighting for public safety, [and] the development of youth corps,” he said.
Many commentators would not be surprised at this expectedly slow process. On 28 July, Mikael Phillps called for the ZOSO social intervention to start immediately and islandwide rather w ait for a particular area to be designated. At the same time he questioned whether the more than $2.5 billion in additional funds disbursed to the Ministry of National Security would be used for social intervention purposes.
Peter Espeut wonders how many sociologists and behaviour-change specialists the Government has engaged in developing the ‘build’ component of the ZOSOs. If they have none, he says they won’t get far. And if they have good ones, they will tell the Government that you can’t reverse decades of underdevelopment and social marginalisation in six months, or a year, or 10. He suggests a community centre should be built and a non-partisan community group formed with spending on infrastructure (removing garbage, fixing roads and sidewalks, repairing/installing streetlights) to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness. NHT funds should also be used to help remove zinc fences, paint up and regularize electricity supply.
Anthony Gifford and Gillian Burgess say ‘the list of important people who are to be members of the committees does not impress us: the minister, the member of parliament, the custos, the mayor, and various permanent secretaries are all included. Only at the end do we see a glimmer, through the addition of “any other person who, or agency that, in the opinion of the minister, can assist with the work of the committee”. They suggest a focus on children which would show results within 10 years and also things as simple as local petty sessions.
Martin Henry suggests that ZOSOs, on their own, especially if too few, are very likely to produce the balloon effect of pushing crime into other areas. Let’s do it right this time, he says and tackle this national public emergency on a broad enough front, in a sustained enough manner, and with enough resources provided for real success.

What do other reports have to say about operation and its likely overall success?

3 September – Gleaner reporter:  there are growing concerns about the demand for persons to show picture identifications when entering or leaving the community. Yesterday, there were some contentious interactions at checkpoints as some residents showed up without proper identification. “Me hungry, me nuh nyam nuttin from yesterday … me wah go out a de shop go get something fi eat,” said an elderly man, after he was blocked at a security forces checkpoint on Crawford Street. “Right now me having mixed feeling about this ZOSO thing, me want the crime fi stop, but at the same time, we have we life fi live,” said Maxine Smith, a resident of Clarke’s Street.

6 September – Gleaner reporter: ‘When we visited the community yesterday, the general atmosphere was much more relaxed than during the previous four days. There was also a noticeable reduction in the number of police and military personnel, and some lanes that previously had checkpoints had none. As regards the flawed data, people were not angry with the Prime Minister, adding that ‘since the soldiers and police are already here, he could just instruct them to move to the next phase of ZOSO, which is to start work on rebuilding the community’. Some of the residents said they were not surprised that no guns or ammunition have been found, despite the incentives the prime minister has offered to provide information on illegal guns, ammunition and explosives. ‘It would appear that the thugs got advance notice, because they have simply disappeared since Friday’

8 September – Insight Crime: Amid high levels of homicides, Jamaican authorities appear more pressed to take action than take a careful, studied approach to citizen security. The government’s first priority should be clearly defining the hot spots. Instead, they moved on data that was wrong. The decision to maintain the ZOSO in Mount Salem even after having to publicly admit its error, illustrates that the government is ready to adapt the reality to match the policy rather than the other way around.

8 September – RJR’s ‘All Angles’: according to Ian Boyne, Dionne Jackson-Miller did a good expose of the views of Mount Salem residents after one week of operations. People were expressing relief that they could sell in peace, go to church in peace, and sleep in peace. In other reports, people were saying that it was the first in a long time that they were able to sleep without hearing gunshots. Those guns have been silent since last Friday, thanks to ZOSO. When asked about some inconveniences in Mt Salem, one young man said, “We haffi sacrifice something.” Another said of the security forces: “Nobody nah give we nuh trouble. You follow the procedure and yuh good.” An old lady coming from church told Dionne that she wished the soldiers would stay “a long, long time”. She saw them as a godsend.

12 September -McKoy’s News:  Dozens of angry Mount Salem Residents in Montego Bay, St James happily welcomed a tour by Former PNP Minister of National Security Peter Bunting. The residents complained to him that their community did not need a Zone of Special Operation. Only a section of Mount Salem has been placed in the Zone and is inhabited mostly by supporters of the Peoples National Party. They further stated that since the start of the year, the community of Mount Salem has been registered as one with the lowest crime and murder rate in St James, so it came as a surprise to know that the Prime Minister targeted Mount Salem.

14 September – Letter in Gleaner from Mikhail Williams, Youth Advocate
‘Incorrect figures, a highly publicised crime solution, and criminals going into hiding or left scampering for other parishes – when will we ever get it right? The social-intervention component is a nice touch to invest in communities that should have been receiving help from the start. But we have to admit, there’s more that needs to be done than dreaming up soft tactics to please the ideals of a select few.
We can’t empower citizens to speak up about crimes in communities when we don’t provide an effective witness-protection system. And we can’t convict suspects without a proper justice system. ZOSO cannot be the end all, be all to fixing our crime situation’.

14 September – Loop News / Tropix: A member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has disclosed that the top brass of four gangs operating in Mount Salem, St James have fled the community and taken up residence in other areas, including a community in nearby parish, Westmoreland, since the declaration of the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO). Major Dameon Creary disclosed that intelligence suggests that the gang leaders have fled to areas such as the Whithorn community in Westmoreland. Others have fled into other communities within the Mount Salem police area to include Rose Heights.

28 September – long-time Mount Salem resident: it is time to take back the community from vicious criminals who have had residents cowering in fear, but she acknowledged that this could have deadly consequences. “There are going to be some casualties, and it’s hard, because me nuh wah dead. Are we willing to stand up and be the first casualty in order to effect this change?” asked the middle-age woman, who, like many others, declined to give her name.“Let’s say there are 100 persons living in the community. Three are bad. Am I going to allow those three to make me become fearful. Hell no!” declared the woman. “We should not allow the three per cent (criminals) to dictate how we live. Either mek dem join we (law-abiding residents) or we tek dem out,” she underscored. “The good haffi suffer fi the bad,” said one man who was firmly in support of a limited state of emergency.

28 September – civil society stakeholders: Stressing that there is no quick fix for a long-term culture of bad behaviour, these stakeholders are adamant that the 60-day time frame set out for the implementation of social intervention programmes is not enough to bear much fruit. Representatives from RISE Life Management Services and Eve for Life practically scoffed at not only the impossibility of such a plan, but at the social support and capacity building being proposed under the ZOSOs. The Government’s usual excuse of not being able to source funds to support programmes in a long-term, sustainable way is unacceptable. When they (the Government) wants to do something, whatever it is, they find the resources. So the resources can be found.

29 September: Justice of the Peace (JP) in the parish of St James, Noel Hastings, says he is pleased with the conduct of the joint security forces in the Mount Salem Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO), noting that the residents’ rights are being respected. Hastings said that the members have been operating in a professional manner. Residents report that there have been no abuses and the security personnel are polite and respectful.

6 October – Franklyn Johnson, commentator: Mt Salem is quiet, police well behaved, but outside crime moved at warp speed as gunmen cleared by ZOSO set up elsewhere. Holness, they got your message, “When we arrive, clear out!” Was Holness under special pressure to parade police conduct but not interdict gunmen? Human rights courses were fine, but what priority to pre-dawn swoops to catch gunmen? The focus on body cameras is risible as it is a defensive device to spy on the wearer. Why no direct crime-fighting technology?

Given the once-again escalating levels of violent crime in Jamaica, the government passed the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) Act in July 2017 premised on a ‘clear, hold and build’ approach. It allows particular crime-prone areas to be put under a state of emergency for initially 60 days, with extensions possible, involving curfews, cordons and searches of people, premises and vehicles with a warrant
Mindful of the unchanging brutality of the police force, and especially the atrocities carried out in West Kingston in 2010, care was taken to build in safeguards against abuse of citizens by the security forces, both the JCF (police) and JDF (military) . Whether these safeguards would work was anyone’s guess but most commentators were prepared to hope against hope (nothing more) that they would be effective.
At the same time it was explicitly recognized that without serious social intervention and infrastructural support (the ‘build’ component) any reduction in crime resulting from the ‘clear and hold’ components would be short-lived. A broad-based social intervention committee, headed by the Prime Minister, was to be the driving force although there were doubts that this was really more than just talk, given the un-availability of funds.
To most people’s surprise, a small area in Montego Bay was designated as the first Zone of Special Operations, announced by the Prime Minister on 1 September after consultation with the National Security Council. As with the Iraq war, the figures given to justify the choice were soon found to be complete exaggerations.
Taking this action could have been in response to what the IMF and the local Economic Growth Council had been saying, that crime was hindering economic development. Concern for the safety of our poor inner-city communities was probably secondary, given the usefulness of an exploitatable ‘reserve army of labour’. Selecting a small 0.4 square kilometer area in Montego Bay may have been the result of lobbying by tourism interests and by the fears of tackling somewhere more daunting, with a greater chance of failure.
Despite only one third of the security personnel turning out on the first day, the operation went well in terms of quelling the violence. There were no reports of abuse by the security forces, only the inconvenience of the cordons and curfews. Most residents were thankful for the intervention but did it really achieve very much?
As with the apprehension of Dudus (Christopher Coke) in 2010, criminals were given ample warning to escape before the arrival of the security forces, with possibly dire consequences for other communities. So was it about reducing violence,or catching criminals – the answer remains deliberately unclear. Whether Mount Salem will remain peaceful after 60 days when the security forces withdraw is anyone’s guess, and those who may have turned informer will be living in fear of reprisals.
But what of the social intervention? Still no budget, just a large and cumbersome committee that has begun surveying the situation and now recommending better garbage collection… Will there be a new community centre, upgrades to housing , schools and streets, income-generating projects, new self-sustaining community groups etc etc? Every commentator has pointed out that social interventions can take years to bear fruit, even if done properly. So what really is the plan, especially when such localized operations only move the violent crime to another area?
It comes down to Peter Tosh’s refrain that peace is not enough – equal rights and justice must also be in the mix. But will this administration be prepared to challenge the status quo which so suits the privileged (providing it doesn’t boil over)? Will they break with paramilitary policing, at the same time finding the funds for wide-ranging social interventions and investments? Will they challenge the finance capitalists, including our local banks, who have Jamaica all to readily committed to the ideology of austerity?
ZOSO may be welcomed by troubled communities which are indeed boiling over. But such a piecemeal approach, even if abuse can be avoided, will surely not solve our more fundamental problems.

Paul Ward 8 October 2017