‘If the threat is still active, the SOE should remain’

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WITH the Government and Opposition scheduled to meet today to discuss national security issues, especially crime, public comment on the political skirmishes between both sides on the effectiveness of a state of emergency (SOE) continues to grow and become emotional.

The Opposition, in particular, has been taking heavy flak for its decision to vote in Parliament against a further extension of the SOE last month.

That vote has resulted in the anti-crime measure expiring in St Catherine North last Wednesday, Kingston Western and St Andrew South today, and on January 31 in St James.

Last week, in response to a Jamaica Observer story reporting the reactions of residents in St Catherine North and St James communities, readers posted online comments, mostly expressing support for the SOE.

Here are a few:

“The SOE has worked. Crime in the affected areas I felt by over 60%. Nationally, the murder rate fell by 23% in one year. Those are very good numbers,” wrote one reader who posted under the name Antwain Clarke.

“The Government has constitutional lawyers too who said that the very high murder rate and presence of 200-plus gangs in the country are a direct threat to public safety and governance. Those two things would make the SOE relevant. Fact is, the murder rate, although 23% lower, is still very high.The SOE isn’t just bound by time. You have to be a bit more pragmatic and see if the goals of the SOE were attained. If the threat is still active, then the SOE should remain. The gangs are still out there and many ppl suspect and expect murders to rise because of the end of the SOE.”

Another reader using the name Andre Gibbons posted: “Garrisons by their very definition need heavy policing — military style. Don’t let Jamaica become another Brazil with the favelas. We are just a few steps away from becoming like them.”

Regular commentator ‘Peejay the original’ said: “Hope you all remember this come election time. Yes both side dish out a lot of b.s. but remember the claims some had stated that were straight up lies that did and will continue to affect your lives. SOE should have been placed on the whole country and the ones that did get it fear even more now it’s gone. As a nation we all have to step up. I would be proud to lose my life fighting for my country than cowering in fear.”

The reader using the name Bailliff14 questioned the extraordinary powers granted to the security forces under the SOE and the possibility of abuse of those powers.

“This really shouldn’t be taking such a political tone. Under the SOE, a person only needs to be ‘suspected’ of doing something ‘deemed’ to be prejudicial to public safety to be locked up for three months without any chance of bail.

“How can anybody be happy with this level unrestricted power for an extended period? Plus, there are no consequences for any abuse by the security forces with this level of power under the SOE. None! They could lock you up for your appearance and ‘acting suspiciously’ without due process.

“I can understand that certain drastic measures are needed under certain circumstances, but these powers are not meant to be granted over the long haul of months going to a year. There can be increased policing without the unrestricted power of the SOE,” Bailliff14 wrote.

That drew a response from another reader who posted under the name Gosford: “We live in a democracy where the majority rules. A vast number of law-abiding Jamaicans want the SOE to continue. Why are some people only interested in the rights of a few who are probably in the wrong place at the wrong time? Jamaica is at a crossroad, we can continue to dilly dally with the crime situation or attack it with gusto once and for all.”

Another reader, posting as Chav, also responded to Bailliff14, saying: “There are people alive right now who wouldn’t be if that SOE wasn’t in place, let that sink in. It’s the price you pay for less families having to cry and bury loved ones. The fact of the matter is, these people being locked up pending investigations aren’t angels or just regular Joes. I have spoken to cops who have said they know these people name, faces, and crimes they commit, but they can’t get them in the courts… The SOE isn’t pretty or a long-term solution, but it has its uses.”

However, Bailliff14 countered: “If the people being locked up aren’t angels…put them before the courts for their crimes. Did they tell you if any innocent persons are locked up? You need to read the Emergency Powers Regulation.”

Regular reader Xamyca posted: “All of this anxiety, drama and tension could have easily been avoided if the Opposition PNP and their leader had looked at the bigger picture and not sought to make political hay out of crime by easily supporting the continuation of the SOEs, even while we look into the ‘problems’ of the detainees. To put people’s life in jeopardy in this way was highly irresponsible and selfish. It is not reasonable to expect life to operate as ‘normal’ when crime and lawlessness are out of control and people dying everyday. Certain sphere of national life must be beyond politics.”

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