Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Martin Henry | Dangerous peace treaties

Published:Sunday | February 25, 2018 | 12:46 AMMartin Henry
Bianca Gardener, eight-year-old honour-roll student at August Town Primary, worries for the future of herself and fellow students amid sporadic gang violence in the eastern St Andrew community.
Despite the violence plaguing his community, five-year-old Jade Pickersgill, who attends August Town Early Childhood Centre, still finds time to play with his wooden toy truck on February 19.
Venesha Phillips, councillor for the Papine division, is urging the security forces to adopt a no-holds-barred approach to crushing gang crime in the August Town community.
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We should let Bianca Gardener tell us why peace treaties among warring gangsters are wicked and worthless. 

Ms Gardener is an eight-year-old honour-roll student at August Town Primary School. She granted The Gleaner an articulate interview when the paper visited the community following the murder of trying-man correctional officer David Stewart while he was opening his shop, the injuring of two others, shooting at other people and then at the arriving police by heavily armed gangsters. 

The shooting was in the vicinity of the August Town Primary School in the middle of a Monday morning. Bianca recounts the ordeal: "We were at devotion when we heard the gunshots. The teachers told us to stay calm, and then seconds later, I saw everybody running into their classrooms. At one point, I fell on the ground while running and one of the girls said, 'Hurry and get up before the gunmen come in.' 
"Even vendors and parents from outside had to run into our classroom.

One of my classmates was crying because he left his bag outside but a lady told him the bag was the least of the problem. My best friend who was under the table with me was crying, and I told her God will not allow anything to happen to her."

Deeply concerned about her safety and the future of her education, this top-of-the-class child is pleading with her Government to put an end to violence that is wreaking havoc across Jamaica for the sake of the nation’s youth.

Eight people have been killed in August Town since the start of the year. Perhaps another peace treaty among the warring gangsters is in order. August Town has been the model community of truces and peace treaties working. 

WALK-THROUGH

Early last year, Eastern St Andrew Member of Parliament Fayval Williams (JLP) invited me to join a walk-through to celebrate a year (2016) without a murder. I declined. And I bluntly told her why. And just recently she crossed the aisle for peace and joined MP Julian Robinson (PNP) in the neighbouring constituency of SE St Andrew to walk for peace in Mountain View Avenue. 

While no murders for a year, in and of itself, was something worthy of celebration, the basis for ‘peace’ was the State abandoning its responsibility and abandoning the people of August Town to the mercy of armed gangsters who, with handshakes, had agreed to lay off violence while still retaining the means for war. I warned MP Williams that sooner rather than later the war would resume when an appropriate trigger appeared. That trigger has come.

An abdicating Government, from both sides, has been sanctioning peace treaties for a while. With the same results. Responding to the resurgence of violence in ‘peaceful’ August Town, a letter writer to the Observer, Daniel Morgan, recalled his experience with Mountain View Avenue peace treaties. “I have seen where peace deals have not worked,” he wrote. “Peace deals have been agreed on in the Mountain View area in the late 1980s, in the community of Jacques Road and McGregor Gully, and even Goodrich Lane and have not worked.

I was a resident of that area and I was in attendance when the late Member of Parliament Ryan Peralto signed the agreement. Now, 32 years later, a new feud has arisen between the same communities. The groundwork wasn't done to rid the area of the flow of guns.”

The model peace community of August Town is again at war. There is not one single example of enduring peace in any community from state-mediated peace treaties among warring gangsters. 


Venesha Phillips, PNP caretaker for Eastern St. Andrew which includes August Town, and councillor for the Papine division in the KSAMC, has come out blazing against peace treaties, their ineffectiveness, and the abdication of the state from its responsibility which they represent.

On spot after the August Town shooting last Monday morning, she told The Gleaner, “"I want to use the opportunity to call on the security minister and the prime minister, because this cannot be one for just round-table talk. We have been doing round-table talk for years now. It cannot be a process of engaging criminal elements, because that does not work! That actually furthers criminality in Jamaica.”

The councillor and aspiring MP went on: "We cannot, as leaders, continue to talk about meeting with the different groups, asking them to stop. How do you ask a criminal to engage in a ceasefire? Seriously!? That is craziness! You must treat criminals like the criminals they are. What about the guns they have and the lives they have already taken?" 

Even if some short-term results are obtained, as in August Town itself for a couple of years, we are looking at an abandonment of the rule of law, the abdication of constitutional authority by the state, and grave injustice to victims and their family and to the community at large. 

WEAK STRATEGY

Councillor Phillips labelled the peacemaking strategy flawed because it doesn't send a strong message to the criminals. Actually it does send a strong message. But it is the wrong strong message, that the State is incapable of law enforcement. That gangsters have recognised equivalent authority. That grave crimes can go unprosecuted and unpunished with a handshake and an agreement to stash away arms in storage.
"It is that approach, I believe,” an angry Ms Phillips told The Gleaner, “that has been giving support to these guys and that will not allow them to realise that we are sufficiently serious about cauterising crime. Once you meet with them, you are validating them. How do you ask victims to trust the system when the system is validating these guys? I believe the police should be pursuing them relentlessly." 
Well said. For the first time, at last. On this point, Candidate Phillips has all my votes.
And who will accept liability, moral and legal, for the lives lost, the injuries suffered, the property lost or damaged, the trauma and fear strangling people’s lives, and for the general disruption of community life, like Bianca’s education in August Town, from the resurgence of violence when bogus peace breaks down and gang war resumes.

Perhaps present circumstances prevailing in the model peace community of August Town, now back at war, will trigger a re-examination of approaches as a roiled-up Councillor Phillips is rightly demanding, for the first time at last from a political representative.


- Martin Henry is a university administrator.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.