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Judicial CP - June 2004

Corpun file 13682

Jamaica Observer, 6 June 2004

Chewing gum and other sticking points in the quest for law and order


With roughly half the year already gone, the Picture of the Year, in my mind at least, will undoubtedly go to the Michael Gordon front page photo of the Daily Observer of May 27, 2004, which shows in vivid colours the country's most wanted, Joel Andem, being carted off to the Horizon Remand Centre.

If you're like me, you will have scrutinised this picture and come away with two questions: (1) why the duct tape on the prisoner's mouth? and (2) is it the eyes playing tricks or is that police officer (at left) more handsome than any law enforcement personnel has the right to be?

But really, this picture is one I found to be more stirring than any I've seen in a long time. Andem, after evading the law for four years, was finally caught. The shot freezes for posterity what is being touted as a major triumph for police intelligence in crime fighting in Jamaica. I kept returning to it all day, and then periodically throughout the course of the week. Beefcake policeman notwithstanding, it is definitely one kick-ass picture.

Yet, it did not prompt me to do a little jig on my front lawn. Rather, it made my heart sink because I know that for one Andem taken into captivity, there are scores more of his clones running free in our country. The picture presented, in some tangential sort of way, a reminder of how we've in some ways allowed ourselves to be held hostage by the likes of people like him. When did this happen?


I'm of the age when I can remember Jamaica as a safe place. Today, saying things are different is a gross understatement. Indiscipline, as a way of life, has become the status quo, and a generation of young Jamaicans is coming up without boundaries. Makes me nostalgic about the old days - the days when law and order was an actual concept and not merely the name of a highly successful American TV franchise.


Singapore, a Southeastern Asian city-state, is virtually crime-free. With a population of 4,300,419, it is one of the world's most prosperous countries known for its immaculate streets, remarkably open and corruption-free environment, stable prices and has, by all accounts, one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world.

But that accomplishment has come at a high price. In Singapore, films and TV shows are often censored; home satellite TV antennae are banned, as well as various books, magazines and pop songs. There are even fines levied for spitting or failing to flush public toilets. In an article titled, 'Gum, gays and the goggle box: Time to consider a U-turn' in the Straits Times on July 12, 2003, writer Chua Min Hoong claims that Singapore has been ranked in a Freedom House (a leading democracy advocate group founded by Eleanor Roosevelt) report as a 'partly free' country, in the company of Kuwait and Nigeria, with "dismal scores for political freedoms and civil rights".

But despite the arguments of Singapore's Western detractors, I was nevertheless dizzy with the sense of the possible - if highly improbable - were the powers that be here able to get really zero tolerant with little things, as a starting point to reclaiming control. Punishing little grievances that stack up, over time, to become egregious national headaches. For instance, maybe men urinating in public could be sentenced to one year in prison. Taximen and other public passenger conveyors, when caught performing potentially life-threatening road manoeuvres - maybe some humiliating form of corporal punishment in the town square. And oh, for those unconscionable nuisances who visit apartment complexes at one, two in the morning and blow their horns, something particularly festive. Like picking up garbage along Mandela Highway. At seven every weekday morning. For six weeks. Dressed in bright orange jumpsuits.

Copyright 2000-2001 Jamaica Observer.

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