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The MVP from Barack Obama’s Jamaica trip


Published: Apr 17, 2015

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The anticipation surrounding United States President Barack Obama's trip to Jamaica seemed like that of a World Cup football game where Jamaica made the play-off. The 24-hour ticket created a nostalgic vibe across all strata of fans. Some even took credit for his visit.

Some of what was highlighted suggested that the Jamaican government bought a new set of brooms and swept up several unappealing spots that had been overlooked for decades.

The facelift gave an impression of a well-kept yard but it was simply a temporary cosmetic. Many asked, when the mascara fades, after the last whistle has been blown, what next? Despite the joy, social media quietly erupted, and pundits, politicians, and bloggers seized the opportunity and aired what is called the dirty laundry.

Some debated the new asphalt and pavement, and asked what will happen after it again deteriorates. One suggested only criminals benefit, as people are scared to venture out on these new roads after dark.

Additionally, temporary relocation of mentally ill and homeless people disguised images of poverty. Given the president’s compassion for the poor and youth in general, leaving these images intact could have resulted in more aid. Under his administration, the US budget to help affordable housing programs increased and the homeless rate has declined, according Housing and Urban Development statistics.

The irony is that some players have been part of the team for decades and refused to quit, retire, or accept the penalties for foul play. Many players who arrived at the airport and the town hall meetings wore hidden bandages, hurting in disguise.

The region’s stagnated socio-economic problems have been a cancer for decades and this one-day match has not solved corruption, poverty, high unemployment, crime, and social stratification.

Only Obama can take full credit as to where he visits. Obama’s trip was more than a popularity contest.


Paradigm shift

When women negotiate, even women in power, it seems like they continue to suffer a social cost: the unintentional bias still lingers. So before the MVP is selected, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller must be commended for a successful visit.

Despite the struggles and obstacles, Obama called Marley’s house “one of the most fun meetings I've had since I've been president”. The reggae legend Bob Marley lived there until his death in 1981. Jamaica’s relaxed and warm attitude brushed off on Obama. He even signed the Jamaica House visitors’ log one day in advance: April 10, 2015, and not April 9, 2015.

What was this trip or game about?

Despite the chatter, the Caribbean needs a new broom. Few local outlets believe that Jamaica’s new economic power in the region plays a meaningful role. Local posturing and political ploy is always a factor.

According to Reuters, Obama wants to reassert U.S. leadership in the Caribbean, feeling the region has been overlooked by Washington of late.

Many analysts say a key reason Washington is suddenly paying attention to the Caribbean Basin is that it wants to wean the islands off Venezuelan oil and influence. Recently, the United States declared Venezuela a national security threat. When a country is so declared, it is the first step in starting sanctions.

However, CNN’s Joe Johns in a recent interview with Jamaica’s Police Commissioner Carl Williams discussed the potential of sleeper cells in the region. This issue appears moot, but he noted that Jamaica has formed a new intelligence unit to collect data in collaboration.

Stay with me here, the game is still being played. I will get to the MVP.

Concerning potential sleeper cells as reported, the region has not seen Al Qaeda, as in the Arabian Peninsula, capitalizing on the region’s poverty, or locals traveling to join ISIS. However, these concerns should not be taken lightly. Even smart people can be confused and come to believe that only Islamic countries can create terrorists. One cannot discount the possibility that the phenomenon can strike anywhere.

With the lack resources to solve a wave of recent local crimes, one wonders. Several victims have lost trust in the government and are still searching for answers and justice.


The pick

Although it seems society is picking MVPs before the season ends, Commissioner Carl William is the MVP of this game. Jamaicans might not agree because crime and safety, as well as corruption, remain challenges.

Dealing with crime is certainly a challenge: all economic correlations, including changing criminogenic needs, mean the security team has to remain the tallest person in the room.

Commissioner Williams will always have difficult task ahead, especially to identify potential sleeper cells, track and measure criminal history and people engaged in crime, and prediction requires synergy.

Sadly, today it appears social media can get more evidence than a local investigator. Jamaica, Trinidad, Guatemala, Haiti and others cannot be successful with pockets of outlaws who continue to cause mayhem, and residents remain silent (no snitch). These communities must become vigilant and be protected.

Williams and others holding top cop positions cannot solve crime alone. If Obama’s trip was built on security concerns, the nation needs to realize, despite their frustrations with local criminal elements, that solving crime requires critical data and analysis with methodological commitment from the team.


The road ahead

Since high-profile games are played in a nation’s capital, often rural communities are overlooked when they need a new social and justice stadium. Recently, a lifeless body was left for hours after the victim died form a machete chop. (What happened to a trained forensic expert?) Speaking on condition of anonymity, an officer said you cannot solve a crime if you arrive several hours later, at times intoxicated. By then, he entire community has possession of the deceased, the crime scene is compromised and the officer fears for his/her own safety in investigating the incident.

There are many parents still searching for justice. Four-year-old Kayalicia Simpson’s family now wonders how the system missed the warning signs, while other mothers are living in fear of their young child being kidnapped and raped on the way to and from school. The idea that some local communities now have turf wars like the Sunnis, Shiites, and ISIS is problematic. These conflicts cannot be allowed to manifest into more issues.

Eliminating potential threats and cutting recidivism requires community trust and resources. The politics that often surrounds community policing has to be balanced with accountability. It is less likely for a young man or woman to join a gang when he or she has opportunities, equal protection, and respect for the rule of law.

Dangerous ideologies are often formed by exclusion. What if Jamaican society had continued to isolate the Rastafarian movement? The question posed to President Obama on the legalization of marijuana would not have been possible. Inclusion only makes a society stronger, even when we disagree.

The crime rates have declined as reported. However, several issues are not resolved while victims search for follow-up and support. The sense of hopelessness cannot be measured. Strengthening local police departments with modern equipment and training is critical. “To serve and protect” is not simply the power of a badge received following graduation from an academy. The recent reported killing of a police officer by another officer who was trying commit a robbery at a bar only further deteriorates trust in the system.

The ending of police violence is equally important, and an independent review board is paramount.


Our hope

As Obama said, “Wah gwan, Jamaica?” Being critical of public safety standards only makes the system better. It is not a good feeling having to spend one’s vacation in another part of town simply because of the fear being killed, and frustration in seeing others suffering from barbaric atrocities. For Prime Minister Simpson-Miller, despite the difficulties, she has tried and needs more collaboration. This is not an endorsement.

Winning this bid to host Obama comes with enormous responsibility. Obama leaves Jamaica, what next? The region has to get back its moral compass. Leadership can no longer ignore rural areas until an election season, while continuing to depend on its fruits and vegetables.

As an outsider, how do I choose this MVP? One simply watches the young people basking in hope and change through education. After the last whistle has blown, and the parade is over, the confetti is off the street, and new trees are planted to greet the next world leader, the commissioner will be the fence around which safety can grow.

If this MVP has already begun to stretch this physical and mental fence, great. If not, we cannot see how he can build confidence. I still believe the community is where his best supporting players are.

Finally, the criticism of the cost generated by the cosmetics for Obama's visit only confirms that if the region focuses its resources on solving systematic problems, the temporary beautification can have a lasting effect, and residents will have less ammunition during high profile visits to vent their frustrations.



• Derrick Miller is a trained U.S. Federal law enforcement officer that has been in the criminal justice field for more than 14 years. This article is published with permission of Caribbean News Now.

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