Oh, Say it Ain’t ZOSO

The latest buzzword in the Jamaica crime scene is these Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO). ZOSO is an Act recently passed by Parliament which allows for the use of “special measures” to uphold public law within “certain geographically defined locations”.

At face value this Act sounds like an Act of Discrimination, like the Prime Minister is giving the security forces full permission to kick down people door and mash up dem tings, but only within specifically designated areas of course (aka ghettos). But according to the Jamaica Gleaner, the Bill is trying to balance the need for extreme measures in the battle against crime and violence with the fundamental need for the protection of citizens’ rights.

On September 1 the PM declared Mt. Salem, St. James the very first ZOSO. Acting on information that was later challenged by residents of the community (backed up by the Councillor for the area), Mr. Holness may well have moved somewhat rashly. But despite the less-than-sinister statistics, Mt. Salem is still perceived as a tension-driven melting pot of criminal activity. Driving through that community just last week I heard one woman cussing another spit menacingly, “You feel seh ah you one know gunman!”

So there is no question about the need for increased police attention, even with a police station already on the main road. What I do feel needs to be questioned is the approach to the citizens on the left and right sides of the Mt. Salem main road. And yes, I’m talking about a literal representation of the ubiquitous class divide.

After you pass the hospital, on the left hand side going into Salem the side streets display large, well-painted two and three storey houses. There are garages with cars, the houses are populated by a mainly middle-aged and retired set of citizens, and the streets themselves are paved (for the most part) and wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic.

Flip the script, and observe the right hand side of streets. They are narrow and winding, descending sharply into one way lanes and dead ends. There are two and three storey concrete structures at the intersection yes, but as you advance further along, there are more board houses, less space for cars to fit and a dramatic increase in shady characters lurking on street corners. Some taxis don’t even carry people here.

Obviously infrastructural problems have played a huge role in this divide, and real estate prices drive people left and right as their pocketbooks allow but my real contention is that there are two very different classes of citizens living in Mt. Salem and my concern is that one set will end up with the “special measures” while the other enjoys the “protection of citizens’ rights”. So far I haven’t heard anyone cry foul (quite the opposite) but in these cases the voices of the downtrodden rarely make it past the streets where they are stepped on.

What ZOSO excels at is highlighting the blurred geographical lines of Jamaica’s class divide. It is a truth universally acknowledged that beside every uptown is a ghetto: Ironshore has Flankers, Westgate Hills has Mt. Salem, Mango Walk has Paradise and Norwood. . . The list goes on, and this is just in St. James. But as time has progressed, social climbers (including scammers) have managed to straddle these communities and erase the demarcations. ZOSO is a potent and pointed reminder that “ghetto people” are considered criminals before they even open their mouths. Reminds me of that Etana song.

Ultimately, I don’t think ZOSO will be an effective crime-fighting strategy. It is too much of an acute solution to a long term problem, too much of treating the symptom and not the disease.

Man goes to the doctor and says Doc, I have these headaches. Doctor says, Take these painkillers. Man dies of a brain tumour*.

What have we learnt?

Crime and violence in our society is directly related to our social infrastructure: education, employment and parenting, underlined by systemic political and judicial corruption. Opportunities for legitimate engagement are scarce while guns are plenty and every little boy is raised to be ‘tough’. Legal jobs grant you enviable social standing but it’s the under the table stuff that sends your kids to offshore schools. This culture is entrenched and serves far too many powerful people for it to be overturned overnight.

But that doesn’t say we can’t try.

In his Letter to the Editor, Dr. Canute Thompson expounds on the theory that attacking these root causes will ensure a sustainable decrease in crime statistics. He lays out an innovative approach to community development involving skills training and infrastructural reform. Granted it raises a whole new set of questions, but it’s a solution that just might make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.


*I am compelled to disclaim that headaches are not usually the presenting symptom of a brain tumour. Not every headache needs a CT scan. The point is that you need to rule out a more serious problem. /medic

This post has way more gross references than I originally intended.

I was doing so well. My views were climbing, visitors were getting as regular as bowel movements, and I was seeing legit proof of my existence on the vast expanse that is the internet. And then I disappear for a week and it all goes down the drain.

Utterly devastating.

Now we’re back to square one. The only difference is that I’m no longer on the vacation-rotation that was Community Health. I am on death-to-all-who-enter-here Medicine. I am a zombie programmed to study brains. And hearts. And everything in between.

What options does that leave me with? Pre-writing and scheduling posts.

Call me old-fashioned but I just don’t think scheduled posts have quite the same impact as fresh ones do. I know, readers can’t tell the difference, but I’ve got this gut feeling that the statistics tell a different story. Alas, I have no choice.

So, like a new mother with only three months maternity leave, I’m afraid I’ll be expressing quite a bit.

But at least it’s better than the other stuff.


Can you tell the difference when a writer schedules a post rather than just hitting publish after writing/editing?

Being jealous of my (other) blog

I’ve had Red/Read Robyn for a little more than year now, and in all that time the highest number of views I’ve ever gotten is 58. On my Jamaica 50 Challenge blog? 99. 99. That blog has been up for less than two months and already has peaked at 99 views on its busiest day. I guess I’m so jealous because none of the work that gets posted there is actually mine. On the other hand, it means the writers over there are totally awesome.

I’m really proud of how far 50 for 50 has come, though. And even prouder that this harebrained scheme is still plodding along with support and participation. Every entry I post there gets liked almost instantly; comments are fairly frequent and the people who are interested keep me interested. I do my best every week to put out a prompt that will spark some creative juice in someone’s mind, and I may not always hit the right spots but my writers are dedicated and nice enough to work with it regardless.

We’ve passed the halfway mark at six weeks, with four more weeks to go, and I’m really looking forward to completing this journey with all my participants – holding hands like we just helped each other across an Olympic finish line.


Child abuse, not a recent problem

2000. That’s not a date in history. That’s how many children have been abused every year for the last four years in Jamaica.

1 in 4. The number of girls who will be sexually abused before the age of 18. (Global statistic)

1 in 6. The number of boys.

2 out of 100. The number of Jamaican children who are reported as victims of sexual abuse (according to Professor Samms-Vaughan on April 30, 2012).

No, child abuse is not a recent problem. But with 50th anniversary celebrations looming, people are taking a more critical look at what we have achieved over the last half century of holding our own. How far have we come? And are we doing it right?

In her speech at the launch of Child’s Month 2012, Professor Samms-Vaughan mentions that we are the only country (except for Vietnam) who observes a month for children. This pales in significance to the depressingly morbid statistics she goes on to relate. Children in Jamaica are exposed to violence and abuse of all kinds from an early age, in their homes, in their communities and at school. It’s almost inescapable. What is being done to change that?

It’s reported that teen pregnancy is on the decline, which could be attributed to anything from under-reporting to teens finding cleverer means to avoid getting pregnant. It does not necessarily mean they are any less at risk.

In this article in the Gleaner’s Sunday Outlook, Dr. Little-White begins with,

Sexual molestation in the church is an age-old problem and no one likes to talk about the ongoing sexual abuse of children.

Her article centres around the story of a girl who was sexually molested by a leader of the church, and it serves to highlight 4 main points about the way Jamaicans deal with and perceive sexual abuse.

1. We don’t always know what it is

Persons with the most responsibility for children (parents, school authorities etc.) don’t know enough about the form of child abuse, the profile of abusers or how the abuse can affect the child. There have been cases of mothers saying ‘Well I went through the same thing and I’m all right, so she’s going to be all right too.’

2. Children are not taught how to identify these situations and what to do if they happen.

The majority of sexual molestation cases begin with some variation of ‘I didn’t know what he was doing’. This only makes it easier for the perpetrator to get away with their actions, and makes it less likely for the child to be able to adequately explain to the parent what’s going on.

3. We are too quick to dismiss claims.

This is a running motif in child abuse stories and re-enactments. Too often, the person with primary responsibility for the child ignores and brushes off their claims. At the worst, they don’t believe them and tell them to stop making up stories.

4. We are quick to dispense our own brand of vigilante justice.

We are a hot-tempered people. It’s understandable, given our history of rebellions and activism. But the law cannot be left out in these cases. If a man abuses a child in one community, is found out and subsequently beaten half to death by the members of that community, what is to stop him from moving on to another community to do the same thing all over again?


Education, on both sides. Respect. More faith in our justice system. Better parenting. More attention to detail. You can mix and match these answers, but they are all relevant and they are all necessary.

We have done a lot for our children over the last fifty years, says Professor Samms-Vaughan.

But we need we need to do so much more.

Sources: Gleaner Outlook Article. Professor Samms-Vaughan’s address