Paul H. Williams | Mount Salem needs a rebirth
When Prime Minister Andrew Holness said Mount Salem in St James selected itself as the first zone of special operations, he was very much spot on. That suburban Montego Bay community was selected based on historical data, and the history of crime in the area.
Despite objections from certain quarters to the reported number of gangs, and the number of people who have been killed since the start of the year, Mount Salem is no paradise, and has been one of the most volatile communities across the entire country for several decades.
I was born and brought up in St James, and I spent my childhood and young adulthood days hearing and reading about criminals in Mount Salem. It was a community whose name would appear in every publication of a very popular biweekly tabloid, and not for very good reasons.
I, myself, was afraid to travel through Mount Salem to get to Barnett Estate where my father worked for years as a cane cutter. I never suffered any attack, but because I lived in Glendevon, I was under the impression that Mount Salem was a place to which I should not go. So, we had to walk fast to keep abreast of our fearless father, who was not a part of the war.
In the 1970s, there were 'tribal' wars between elements in Mount Salem, Canterbury and Hendon/Glendevon/Bottom Pen. The gangsters were young men, barely older than 20 years old. I saw people from Glendevon who went downtown Montego Bay and came back with cuts, sustained in fights with people from Mountain Salem, all over their face. Ratchet knives, razors and machetes were the weapons of choice then.
When the bridge at 'Gully Bus Stop' was being built, the tension intensified significantly. I remember many women from Glendevon were afraid to go to downtown Montego Bay. My own mother was warned several times not to venture into the Friendly City, irony of ironies, but because she was not involved in any tribal war, she disobeyed the cautions.
Many parents in Glendevon pulled their children from Mount Salem All-Age School because of the perceived danger. Glendevon, at the time, did not have a primary or all-age school, so it was a feeder community for Mount Salem All-Age. Some people even refused to go to Cornwall Regional Hospital for treatment because it was located in Mount Salem. Yet, the tension was simmering long before that.
In the 1960s, when my mother was living at Brunswick Lane, which was located on an incline, she could look down into Crawford Street, probably now the most notorious place in the community. She said there were frequent 'wars' down there, and women were a part of the melees. The altercations would continue for days, non-stop. Crawford Street was a place she dared not enter.
Things did not get better, and over the years, the violence has spread to other sections of the community. There have been wars between people who lived on adjoining streets, and many no-man's lands. It is a place where gangs, domiciled or not, operated.
And when lottery scamming came along, Mount Salem was ready to indulge. Montegonians will tell you that Mount Salem is a hotbed for scammers, and some people are of the view that it was one of the first communities from which scammers operated.
The truth is, whether Mount Salem was selected first or last for the operations, it is a community where much intervention is needed, military and social. It has long been neglected and people have been pretending that it is not festering like a big sore from which blood runs.
Why are people, including politicians and some residents, refusing to embrace the facts? They need to grin and bear it, and then out set out for the cleansing, for many things are wrong with the state of affairs in Mount Salem.
However, special operations for 60 days cannot pull Mount Salem from the social quagmire in which it wallows. It needs a rebirth, a much longer period of intervention, including the eradication of the impotent cops at the Mount Salem Police Station. They are a big part of the problem.