Extortionists have police's ticket in Spanish Town
I sometimes loath to criticise the police, given that my own father served the Jamaica Constabulary Force for many years. One of my late older brothers also served, as did a good cousin until he left for Canada decades ago. A young female cousin is serving in St Elizabeth, while a grizzled veteran, himself another good cousin, is currently serving at the level of the High Command.
A former high-school flame who regrets not getting my hand in marriage is serving in St Ann, while several good friends from high school are scattered across the five police area headquarters.
But despite these links, my job is not to call a spade a trowel. And where the police deserve to be chewed up and spat out, I must oblige.
The police must accept that they have done a monumentally poor job in ridding Spanish Town of extortionists. When the American rapper Coolio sampled Stevie Wonder's work and dropped the anthemic single, Gangster's Paradise, in November 1995, he must have been inspired by events in Spanish Town. The Clansman and One Order gangs were running rampant through the town, and the bus park off Burke Road was the site of the most blatant form of extortion Stevie Wonder himself could have seen, even if he had his hair braided and beaded blocking his sunglassed eyes in the middle of the night.
At the spot where the Old Harbour taxis parked, several 'come-arounds', among them the boy, Barnaby, from Old Harbour, would hustle and harry the taxi men, collecting the $100 and $50 for the gruff-looking, dreadlocked man with thick lips, sweet-pepper-sized nose, bloodshot eyes, coarse-looking hands and enough gold rings and chains to make Mr T look like a member of the B-Team.
Throughout my five years at high school in Spanish Town, I would see this enforcer from Monday to Friday smoking weed (never cigarettes) and drinking Guinness, sitting calmly and collecting the cash extorted from those who operated taxis.
The president of the St Catherine Chamber of Commerce, the affable Dennis Robotham, last week told The Gleaner of how extortion is killing the town. He had also said this in 2009. Nothing has changed in the six years between his statements. In May 2011, Deputy Superintendent Victor Hamilton, a commander in the St Catherine North Police Division, said business operators were breathing a sigh of relief as Clansman gangsters had fled the town, taking with them the practice of extortion. He was wrong.
In December 2005 when the extortionists were filling their craw, the head of the Spanish Town police, Superintendent Kenneth Wade, said he could not say whether the practice was still alive in the Old Capital. Whereas DSP Hamilton was wrong, Superintendent Wade was clueless.
In December 2006, the then head of Operation Kingfish, Assistant Commissioner Glenmore Hinds, said the police had driven out most of the extortionists from Spanish Town and had disrupted the practice. He, too, was wrong.
And while the police have continuously been proven wrong over the years, residents and business operators in Spanish Town have continuously been paying a heavy price to the parasitic criminals.
Making matters worse
In that December 2006 interview, DCP Hinds noted that business owners were making things worse by continuing to pay extortionists. He was right on that score. But how many proprietors have shared information with the police about the criminals, only to have the scat kicked, boxed and punched out of them by the same criminals?
Many proprietors were mortified by the beating dished out to the boy, Barnaby, by the same man on whose behalf he collected the extortion proceeds. A month later and Barnaby, hobbled and walking with a stick, was back on the line, collecting money on behalf of his beater. That show of ruthlessness, to severely punish one of their own, was enough to make a grown man very afraid.
The police are seemingly chasing their tails when it comes to ridding Spanish Town of extortionists. Every few years, they speak of success, only to be confronted by the reality of never-ending extortion.
A new strategy is needed in the Old Capital if the police are to end their love affair with failure.