Bishop backs martial law in Montego Bay

Jamaica’s problems are moral — not merely economic

The Bishop of Montego Bay has endorsed the temporary state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to combat crime in Jamaica’s second city. However, the Rt. Rev. Leon Golding, suffragan Bishop of Montego Bay in the Diocese of Jamaica, said chaos is likely to return unless there is a moral reawakening on the island.

In January Mr. Holness declared a state of martial law in St James parish on Jamaica’s north coast in the wake of an unprecedented crime wave. The Jamaica Defence Force has been deployed in the streets of the city of 200,000 home to many of the island’s leading luxury resorts. In January the US, Canada and the UK issued travel warnings for Jamaica. The Foreign Office released a statement on it website warning travellers. “You should limit your movements outside of resorts in the area at this time, and exercise particular care if travelling at night,” following attacks on foreign tourists and the murder of a Canadian couple in a vacation home.

In February, Mr. Holness extended the state of emergency to May, until the end of the tourist season. Tourists have been advised not to leave their resort hotels or to travel by car at night.

Speaking to The Gleaner after presiding at a service at St Luke’s Church in Kingston, Bishop Golding said the cure for Jamaica’s ills was moral rejuvenation.

“It cannot just be providing work. Work is one thing, but people are more than just money. We need to create character. Montego Bay is still focused on tourists, where we expect whatever falls from the tables, the citizens will benefit from it. If they don’t have money or someone in the hotels, then they don’t see much of their culture being shown to the tourists,” he said.

“We are only building hotels. Our failure to develop our people has contributed to crime, violence, and squatter communities, as well as the fact that when some of the immoral things like scamming started, nobody addressed them,” the bishop said.

The improvement in public order was immediate, he said.  “When the state of emergency was introduced initially, I never saw discipline like the way I saw it in Montego Bay. It had a tremendous effect not just on crime and violence, but on our roads. The fear that some of us have is, if they cease to have a state of emergency, we may see a rise in crime again. We pray that doesn’t happen.”

In 2017 Montego Bay recorded 335 murders, most tied to gang violence. With 43 murders per hundred thousand, Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The comparable rate for the United States is 4.88 and .92 for the United Kingdom.

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