The Gleaner: WESTERN BUREAU, Jamaica, By Christopher Thomas – Stung by public criticism over his proposal that the Government appease gangs and referee violent conflicts, State Minister Homer Davis has back-pedalled on his advocacy for the State to negotiate with St James’ underworld.

Davis’ about-face was as emphatic as his original declaration, raising questions on whether he had given thought to his initial statement or that he was now bowing to pressure – from the public or his own party.

The controversy has been a source of embarrassment for the Andrew Holness administration, sparking concerns of policy incoherence with Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang and Justice Minister Delroy Chuck embracing opposing views.

Addressing a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) divisional conference in Catadupa, St James, on Sunday, Davis sought to whitewash his previous statements made a week ago, arguing that his comments were aimed at rescuing vulnerable youths who were “an easy target for gangs”.

But Davis did not take responsibility for his statement, opting instead to pass off blame on the public for “misconceptions” drawn from “listening to your radio and possibly reading the newspaper on comments that were attributed to me”.

“It was never my intention to ask anyone, the police or otherwise, to negotiate with hardened criminals, especially those who are wanted for serious crimes,” Davis, who is the member of parliament for St James Southern, told Sunday’s partisan meeting of Labourites.

“It is my firm belief that if someone is wanted for a crime, they must be taken into custody and taken to court so they can have their day in court. The Government that I am a part of, we will never negotiate with criminals.”

Torrential backlash

Davis’ Damascus Road experience is a stark reversal of his lobby for the police to summon so-called violence producers to a meeting to thrash out their differences as parents do with children.

“I think if we can get the combatants, the leaders of these groups, gangs, together and put them in a space and say, ‘Listen, tell me now, what are you fighting for? Tell me, what do you want, what do you need?’” he was quoted in the Observer as saying days earlier.

Davis has faced torrential backlash because of the scale and intensity of bloodletting in St James, with gangs, including purveyors of the multimillion-dollar lottery scam, unleashing mayhem across the parish.

Up to Sunday, 109 people were murdered in St James, a rise of more than 20 per cent over the corresponding period in 2021.

The latest criticism of Davis’ proposal came from People’s National Party (PNP) Vice President Ian Hayles, who condemned the suggestion as a sign of poor and weak leadership.

“When it comes to crime, I heard Delroy Chuck and Homer Davis say that Government ought to go and negotiate with gunmen,” Hayles told supporters at the party’s weekend divisional meeting in Brompton, St Elizabeth.

“Now, Jamaica is not a failed state, but it is getting there, and any time you see a Government that is willing to negotiate with gunmen, something is wrong … . That cannot be the right direction,” he declared.

Chuck, member of parliament for St Andrew North Eastern, has supported the staging of gang talks, citing its value in curbing gun crimes in the historically troubled Grants Pen community in his constituency.

During his address in Catadupa, Davis urged attendees to assist at-risk youth who are susceptible to immersion in crime.

“My position is that there are hundreds of unattached youths, both male and female, across most communities, some of whom have no hope and think that the system is not for them.

“So they become easy targets to be recruited by gangs and also to get involved in illegal activities. It is important for us to understand that these unattached youths need help,” said Davis.