Jaevion Nelson | Vendors’ obstruction of free flow of pedestrian, vehicular traffic
A couple weeks ago, the stalls owned and used by unapproved vendors in downtown Kingston were destroyed in a clean-up exercise by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation. Images of the exercise were circulated on January 9 which, unsurprisingly, sparked a heated debate online about the treatment of vendors and the way in which we implement actions to ensure law and order.
I want to preface this by making it absolutely clear that I fully agree with the urgent and critical need to restore law and order in the city. I also understand how difficult the installation of these stalls on sidewalks and in the roads makes it for pedestrians, motorists and duly established businesses in the area.
If you have ever been downtown (or any of the many busy commercial areas across the country like May Pen), you are acutely aware of how difficult it is to move about, given how untidy those unapproved vendors have helped to make the area. Of course, it seems to work for many who want quick and ‘easy’ access to vendors and the deals they can offer, but that certainly cannot be the norm, as the roads have become impassable.
I understand, as reported by the mayor, Delroy Williams, that in an attempt to address the situation, the municipal corporation issued notices and met with them, but that did not result in them, voluntarily removing themselves as they had hoped. The clean-up exercise was therefore a last resort.
Unapproved vending has been an issue for a very long time and the authorities, for different reasons, have been fairly accommodating (this is also part of the problem) in allowing persons to conduct their business in areas they shouldn’t, because all a wi need fi eat. However, despite the seeming consensus of accommodation, there are times when they decide to do these ‘clean-up’ exercises (sort of like sanitizing an area) which usually send vendors scurrying and result in their assets being confiscated, and sometimes destroyed. I have seen this happen several times in May Pen and downtown Kingston.
Typically, when this happens, people – vendors and buyers and others – are upset, while some praise the authorities.
I have been to a couple council meetings and seen minutes in the past and know these are things that are discussed quite often and that they try to find workable solutions that will cause little to no negative implication on the vendors and their families.
What is odd, though, is that despite the seemingly great level of understanding and the accommodation that is often, made for these unapproved vendors, destruction of their assets appears to be the norm whenever a clean-up is executed. Indeed, the authorities have a responsibility to ensure law and order and so I cannot reasonably fault them for doing their job. The continuous abdication of duties by those charged with responsibility in this country is a huge part of the current state of affairs of unlawfulness and disorder all-round.
I am keen to know what else could have been done. If there are designated areas and these vendors are aware of them, was it not possible to label the stalls and take them there, and at the same time commence the process for registration/approval?
I worry that this kind of firmness and teaching a lesson doesn’t necessarily have the kind of impact we hope it would. Too often, people leave feeling targeted and hopeless at the end of these kinds of these exercises. We have to be careful. At the end of the day, there is a general feeling among many that this kind of firmness to restore law and order is unevenly applied, and that Jamaica can never get better because the power structures and imbalances protect some people while others are held accountable.
We have to ask what the State’s role has been in all of this and what are the best ways to deal with these issues without appearing to unevenly demand and ensure compliance among all of us. The prevalence of unapproved vending on our streets, obstructing the free flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, is an indictment on the authorities.