Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Mark Golding | Apologise, PM, for Trench Town hatchet job

Published:Monday | October 15, 2018 | 12:25 AM

This is an open letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Trench Town is the community from which emerged Jamaica's most influential popular music group, The Wailers, including Bob Marley, who is numbered among Jamaica's greatest sons, and many more of our country's greatest musicians and sportsmen, such as the
revered O.G. 'Collie' Smith.

The rich cultural heritage of Trench Town provides great potential for economic benefits for its residents, as visitors from all over the world want to experience what the famous community is really like. Tours regularly visit Trench Town, bringing busloads of tourists to enjoy attractions such as the celebrated Trench Town Culture Yard and other sites of historical interest.

The image and reputation of Trench Town are, therefore, very important to the residents, not only from the standpoint of their identity and self-esteem, but also to their economic prospects and livelihood. Indeed, Trench Town has repeatedly been identified as the community in Jamaica that enjoys the highest level of Airbnb visitors.

All this was dealt a very painful and damaging blow on Tuesday, October 2, 2018, when you stood up in Parliament and stated that in 2017 Trench Town had a "combined total of 100 murders and shootings, the highest af any community, and that for the first nine months of 2018, Trench Town had the "highest combined total murders and shootings in the country (55)".

Those allegations came as an unpleasant surprise to the people of Trench Town, many of whom were hurt and offended by the stigma and slur that your remarks have so unfortunately cast on their community and, by extension, on them.

Surely you recall that 20l7 was the year in which Montego Bay was like the Wild West, with unprecedented levels of murders and shootings that led to the declaration of a zone of special operations (ZOSO) in Mount Salem and then a state of emergency for the parish of St James?
That period also saw an escalation of violence between warring factions in Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, leading to another ZOSO being imposed.

The allegations made against Trench Town, therefore, seemed counterintuitive, and the hurt that your remarks have caused to the people and reputation of Trench Town spurred me to do some research of my own.

I have received information from within the Jamaica Constabulary Force showing that the information you presented to Parliament in relation to Trench Town was inaccurate and overstated. In 2017, there were 60 murders and shootings in Trench Town, and not 100, as you said, representing misinformation of 66.7 per cent. And in the first nine months of 2018, there have been 40 murders and shootings, and not the 55 you alleged, thus inflating the data by 37.5 per cent.

Given the damage that your statement to Parliament has done and the pain it has caused, you would, no doubt, Prime Minister, consider it appropriate and urgent to make a public correction of the erroneous information in your statement.

I wish to be clear that the community of Trench Town does not dispute that crime and violence is a very serious and long-standing problem and would welcome sustainable social interventions to address its root causes. Indeed, Trench Town shares this characteristic with communities in your own constituency, which makes your remarks all the more unbalanced and unworthy.

I wish also to state for the record that the community has long been calling for a greater presence of security forces on the ground, and therefore welcome this aspect of the current state of emergency.

Nevertheless, there remains considerable scepticism as to its likely efficacy in providing any sustained benefits to the community in the absence of cohesive and sustained social investments for the benefit of the people.

- Mark Golding is member of parliament for St Andrew South. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com