Another bloody year…what next? | Journalist

Murder rate

2022 for 100k

Jamaica 1,498 50

(Saint James 198 107)

T&T 605 43

Saint Lucia 72 39

St. Vincent 42 38

Bahamas 128 32

Belize 113 28

Dominica 17 24

Guyana (1) 124 16

Barbados 43 15

Suriname 47 8

Pomegranate (1) 8 7

(1) Estimate based on data for part of the year

It’s Wednesday morning. I open the London Guardian online. There is a Caribbean story.

“Jamaica: Briton shot dead in villa”. Sean Patterson, a 33-year-old personal trainer from London, was killed Monday by the pool of a $300-a-night Airbnb in Montego Bay. A simple burglary? Check below.

The story is featured on the BBC, Sky News, ITV, Daily Mail, Times, Mirror, Metro, Daily Star…the list goes on. It’s all over social media.

Sean’s was the first murder this year in Montego Bay. It won’t be the last.

MoBay is in the parish of St James, which recorded 198 murders last year with a population of just 184,000. This murder rate is 107 per 100,000, more than double the Jamaican national figure. It is the tourist capital of Jamaica.

Jamaica welcomed around 2.5 million tourists last year. Most were not murdered.

This is despite an official advisory to American travelers: “Violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults and homicides, are common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.

Visitors to Jamaica’s all-inclusive resorts rarely venture outside the security perimeter.

The average Jamaican has to live in the real world, 24/7.

Jamaica’s murder rate has soared to 50 per 100,000 in 2022. This will likely be the highest in the world. That’s ahead of the numbers for Venezuela in 2021, or South Africa, or the Central American countries that topped the charts.

Tariff 2021 Tariff

Total per per

100k 100k

2011 2021

South Africa 26 370 30 44

Venezuela 11 081 48 41

Honduras 3,651 91 37

Salvador 1 140 70 18

T&T’s 2022 murder rate of 43 per 100,000 was not far behind Jamaica’s. In 2001, Jamaica’s rate was already 46. T&T’s was 12. Another jump like 2022, and we pass.

For comparison, the murder rate in Britain is 1.1 per 100,000 and in the United States around 6.5.

Murders at T&T account for 5% of all deaths, one in 20. That’s behind heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Covid-19. But murder strikes above all in the prime of life. So, yes, it’s a public health crisis.

Of the 39 countries with a recent murder rate above ten per 100,000, 14 are in the Commonwealth Caribbean. 14 others are in the wider Caribbean. It seems there is a Caribbean-wide problem.

The problem is not precisely transnational organized crime. Yes, there are organized drug and money laundering networks with a regional reach. But they’re not into the killings around the corner.

Guyana and Suriname have well-lubricated cocaine shipments, but a fairly low murder rate, although a few high-profile murders of prominent “businessmen” appear drug-related.

Instead, the regional issue is more a case of structural similarities, with lower-level gang conflicts playing out in different ways.

Jamaican anthropologist Herbert Gayle has done excellent work in his own country, at T&T and in Belize, highlighting the gangs’ recruitment of neglected and abused boys from low-income single-parent families, with absent fathers being replaced – in better – through alimony. These problems have no quick fix.

These and other damaging social structures have deep historical roots. But across the region, there has been a sharp increase in murder rates since about 2000. Why? And why the even sharper rise of T&T last year?

Street gangs infest working-class neighborhoods. But “poverty causes crime” is far too simple. T&T’s murder rate took off around 2000, just as the natural gas boom began. When the killings reached an earlier peak in 2008, there were “help wanted” signs all over the city, with near-zero unemployment.

Governments and cabinet ministers make mistakes. But changing direction can be a distraction. Kamla Persad-Bissessar sacked national security ministers every five minutes, to little effect.

The problem may stem from an increased influx of illegal weapons. Sale prices indicate availability. Increased vigilance in ports would help.

Allowing bail for murder suspects is more problematic, not least because those who are released can be tempting targets for revenge.

Little has improved since 2020, when there were 31,739 reported crimes and only 1,286 convictions.

The long constitutional dispute over senior police appointments cannot help speed up reform. Bullet leaks from the security services point to deep-rooted corruption issues. But too often, reforms require a special majority, with the cooperation of a reluctant opposition.

The big unknown is gang politics; 6ixx and ABG are jostling with the Rasta City and Muslim Gang networks. Anything can destabilize the fragile balance, triggering a deadly conflict. Did this happen in 2022? It seems quite likely.

Long-term solutions to underlying social problems or quicker fixes to strengthen the police and the courts? We need both. And money? Throwing money away won’t solve the problem, but yes, smart solutions do require money.

And Sean Patterson? Jamaican police initially arrested a 34-year-old man who was deported from England in 2013. They now say it was a contract murder, emanating from Britain. Maybe. These things are never simple.

—The author Mark Wilson is an international journalist based in Port of Spain.

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