Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Editorial: Don’t let Newlands become flashpoint

Published:Friday | December 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM

RECENTLY, WE were sufficiently confident about the advancement of politics in Jamaica to question the private sector’s unease with elections in the country and campaigning for them. There was no reason, we felt, why this exercise in democracy should mean a slowdown, or freeze, of economic activity.

Two primary factors informed our view. One is that the ideological schism that marked Jamaica in the 1970s and ‘80s has long dissipated, so these days, debates on economic policy are more likely to be about operational tactics than overlying philosophy: who can manage better.

The second, flowing in part from the first, is that intimidation and violence as a political tactic, unlike during the election campaign of 1980 when hundreds died, has been in retreat, which was, hopefully, gathering pace. Our concern was that private-sector fears, too loudly expressed, could excite those who benefit from this approach to politics and to the realisation of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We may have been wrong, although we cling to the hope that we are right. In the event it is the latter, those in the political process and anyone who has a stake in Jamaica’s peace and prosperity – which is all of us – have an obligation to redouble efforts at reversing this course.

The trigger of our disquietude is this week’s murder of two persons in the Newlands community of Portmore whose deaths may have been a consequence of a seemingly petty dispute and the response of officials of two major political parties, which, if unchecked, could fan the flames of escalation.

The situation, therefore, demands calming intervention by Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness, the leaders, respectively, of the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), as well as firm action by the new political ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown.

Under Jamaica’s Code of Political Conduct, which is Mrs Parchment Brown’s job to police, defacing public and private property other than one’s own with electioneering paraphernalia is prohibited. This includes the placing of flags, in the orange or green colour of either party, which in the past has proved to be provocative in some communities.

THREAT, THEN DEATH

Apparently, in Newlands, flags in the JLP’s green have been hung, including at the gate to the home of the now dead Sade Forbes, who was said to have been a PNP party worker. She is reported to have taken them down and was threatened – a fact which PNP activists claim was reported to the police.

Ms Forbes was shot dead while walking on the road. Political activists linked her death to the flag issue.

Nicholas Vassell was subsequently stabbed to death. He has been claimed by the JLP as a supporter. Some people in the community claim that his killing was a reprisal for Ms Forbes’ murder.

Despite the rhetoric on either side of the political divide, the police have not established motives for these killings. Our fear is that the tone of the dispute could incite further political violence – if that is what it was – or incite outbreaks of it, assuming people got the reasons for these killings wrong.

The party leaders, without equivocation, must condemn violence and disavow supporters who employ it as a tool of persuasion. Given their vast network of contacts, they should provide the police with information that comes to their attention that might help to convict the perpetrators.