Jamaica Minister: Street Gangs Primary Cause of Violence

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Jamaica’s top security official claims that the country’s violence is due to the mounting threat of street gangs in the island nation, and announced the creation of a new anti-gang policy.

At a press conference yesterday, Jamaica’s National Security Minister Peter Bunting said that police have seen 165 homicides so far this year, compared to 135 during the same period of 2011. According to Bunting, the vast majority of homicides in the country are gang related. He was joined at the conference by Police Commissioner Owen Ellington, who told reporters that police on the island are currently attempting to quell the violence resulting from 42 active gang conflicts.

Bunting also announced that the government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was elected just two months ago, is preparing a comprehensive anti-gang policy which is intended to bring the country’s homicide rate down significantly over the next five years. By 2017, the government hopes to reduce the number of homicides to a maximum of 321, which Bunting described as “First World levels.” Last year, police registered 1,124 murders on the island, the lowest number since 2003.

InSight Crime Analysis

Bunting’s remarks about the influence of Jamaican street gangs are supported by a recently-released UN report on citizen security in the Caribbean. The study found that in 2009 about 48 percent of killings in Jamaica were gang-related, up from 33 percent in 2006.

Jamaica also has the highest number of gangs in the region, with an estimated 268 criminal bands on its streets. Perhaps the best known street gang is the Shower Posse gang, based in the West Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens. The Shower Posse was significantly weakened following the June 2010 arrest of drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke, but is still among the most influential gangs in Kingston.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller’s promised security plan is ambitious, but its implementation may be slowed by the entrenched corruption in the country. Jamaican gangs are notorious for their hierarchical structure, and are frequently involved in politics. While usually this involvement only takes place at the local level, with neighborhood gang leaders pledging to support a political candidate in exchange for favors, the difficulty prosecutors faced in extraditing “Dudus” Coke illustrates that some gangs hold sway amongst even the highest levels of Jamaican government.

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