Mark Wignall | No easy fix for Denham Town
If we exercised our collective imagination to its fullest and most adventuresome, it's not too difficult a stretch to make the case that the entire length and breadth of Jamaica is one big special zone needing urgent intervention.
That is hyperbole, of course, because there are socially exclusive areas in Jamaica which are degrees of magnitude safer that others. In some areas, the sound of a gunshot is a rarity. In others, like Denham Town, the sound of gunshots and the revelation in the morning of a bloody dead body horribly sprawled out on the hard pavement is more par for the course than the exception.
Chosen as the second community in the ZOSO (zone of special operation) initiative, Denham Town is also hobbled by intergenerational mistrust; political tribalism at its worst; long-term, high rates of employment among all sectors; but mostly the young - young boys - given over to idolising the gun culture and an extended season of hopelessness.
Bear in mind now that the community was always seen as a surrogate of Tivoli Gardens in the days when the very mention of Tivoli and its boss/gangster culture was enough to make grown men quake in their boots. In all conflicts that Tivoli Gardens had with law enforcement, Denham Town had its own stock of gunmen willing to use the ample supply of Tivoli ammunition to rain fire on those who they saw opposing them.
The saddest aspect of the cultural flaws messing up areas like Denham Town and rendering positive social change a most bothersome fix is the extent to which the accumulated tribal faults are given to the next generation of adults as a legacy.
I have seen women and children, with the assistance of Tivoli and Denham Town gunmen, pelt the local police station with stones and small boulders. I have seen and heard cousins from across what became a political dividing line between Rema and Denham Town cussing out each other from their respective perches. I have seen the results of the firebombings and families moving out en masse to save their souls and sanity.
Whatever may have been sacred in the melding of the family and the community across Jamaica has long evaporated in Denham Town. It is not that there are no good people there, only that its costs too much to be good where goodness earns one few, if any, rewards.
The story of Denham Town with its high rises, shacks and cramped and overcrowded apartments is just another riff on areas like sections of Rockfort, Waterhouse, Drews Land, etc., where hopelessness has left many behind. It has also made the gun and the exercise of badness among many youth just as much a cultural pull as the movies and the music and jerked turkey necks on a late evening filled with tension.
Those with specialist skills in the social fixes will be looking at the studies made of Mount Salem. Is there something there to be bottled as a template and usable and transferable to other areas like Denham Town?
Having dusk-to-dawn curfews is standard in the ZOSO initiative. Perversely, so few people are actually gainfully employed that curtailing the movement of many would not be as problematic if there were significant employment. Then again, if there were significant employment, there would probably not be a need for naming the area a special zone of operations.
In the 2010 Tivoli incursion, I was in touch with a man who told me he was in possession of two guns. An 'Israeli', that is, an Uzi, and a 9 mm automatic. He told me he also had a knapsack with ammunition. As we spoke I could hear explosions and I didn't get the sense he was playing 'spin the bottle' with his guns.
The main fix needed in Denham Town is the unlearning of the worst of the garrison factors. The ridding of hate from the system, the embrace of a new paradigm in the informer. culture and the rejuvenation of workable social community structures.
At an early stage it has to be determined which gunman is irredeemable and which is worth saving. After the appropriate fixes there, the almost impossible one begins: the community and its future viability.