MIAMI — In an effort to improve the social and economic climate in Jamaica, agencies from the tropical island and the Sunshine State will collaborate to tackle the rampant gang violence in the popular tourists’ paradise.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Aug. 8 will host the “Diaspora Conference on Gang Violence Prevention in Jamaica.”
The symposium will take place in partnership with the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and in the Americas (FAVACA). The purpose of the symposium is to establish a functional gang prevention group that will offer input, resources, technical support and advocacy in developing the Jamaica Gang Violence Prevention Strategy.
The conference is one in a series of consultations between Jamaican law enforcement and their counterparts in Miami to counteract the gang violence that is prevalent in the island. Jamaica has one of the worst murder and crime rates in the world.
The island had “the highest per capita homicide rate in the world in 2005 – 63 murders per 100,000 persons,” according to the website of USAID’s Community Empowerment and Transformation Project (COMET), a security and economic development program in Jamaica.
Local attorney and Jamaican native Marlon Hill, who is also a board member of FAVACA and the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory for the Southern United States, will serve as the moderator of the panel.
“Crime and violence is a crippling cancer to Jamaica's society,” Hill said. “In facing the unfortunate reality, we must tackle this challenge deliberately and proactively.”
Hill continued, “The Jamaican Diaspora can play a pivotal role in providing technical assistance, grassroots intelligence and political advocacy in combating the impact of criminal elements and networks in Jamaica.”
According to the Florida Gang Investigators’ Association, the US gang population is growing more rapidly in Florida than any other state. Gang violence in Florida has implications particularly for Jamaica due its proximity, the high level of trade between locations and the state’s large Jamaican population. It is also believed that almost 80 percent of the small arms shipped to Jamaica originate in Florida.
Bert Laurent, a COMET representative said, “[The problem of gang violence in Jamaica] will only be solved when all Jamaicans, whether they are in Jamaica or abroad, are aware of the situation and its causes, and when everyone contributes to the solution. It has to start with awareness.”
The conference organizers hope awareness will enhance the potential for regional collaborations between law enforcement entities in Florida and the Caribbean. The conference also aims to increase the understanding of development program activities in
Jamaica with members of the South Florida Diaspora and offer them the opportunity to volunteer their skills to help their home country.
Panelists at the conference will include Regional Deputy Attorney General for Florida Cindy Guerra; Chief Andrew Smalling of Lauderdale Lakes; Magdaleno Rose-Avila, founder of Homies Unidos; and Laura Kallus, director of the Panzou Project in North Miami Beach.
Representatives from Jamaica include Sasha Parke from USAID/Kingston, Laurent and Sharene McKenzie from USAID’s Community Empowerment and Transformation Project, Allan Bernard from the Flanker Peace and Justice Centre, and Jamaica Constabulary Force members Willoughby Saunders, Shernette Griffiths, Stephanie Lindsay-Clarke and Merrick Watson.
“FAVACA’s mission is to improve social and economic conditions in Jamaica,” said Rebecca Reichert, director of development of FAVACA. “We achieve our mission principally by sending technical expert volunteers to help associations and organizations in need in Jamaica. As a Florida-based organization, FAVACA serves as a natural channel to build bridges between groups in need in Jamaica and the Diaspora in Florida.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Diaspora Conference on Gang Violence Prevention in Jamaica.
When: Friday, Aug. 8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: InterContinental West Miami Hotel, 2505 N.W. 87th Avenue, Miami.
Contact: Rebecca Reichert, 305-470-5034, or Rebecca@favaca.org.