Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Mark Wignall | The new-breed terrorist gunman

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:23 AM
Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips
Peter Bunting
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The M-16 and the better-made AK-47 assault rifles were fully on display last Sunday at Guinep Tree in May Pen as about seven gunmen spent ‘all the time in the world’, a very long 17 minutes, staging a daring, nation-chilling, daylight robbery at a Chinese-owned supermarket.

A raw fear overcame me as I watched the video. I felt terror building on all the fears that I have ever had, and I am certain that I was not alone in that feeling. I have been close to firefights between gunmen and some desperadoes in their organised response to the security forces, and at all times, as the fear built, I had a deep wish to be home.

In Tivoli Gardens, for example, the gunmen always appeared to be well trained, and they were very aware of the awe in which many inside the JCF held them. That awe was based on fear.

What I saw on the video of the May Pen incident were: one, trained gunmen filled with confidence and acting as if any dangers associated with their exit route would be ‘taken care of’; and two, those watching the video could not be faulted for thinking that the gunmen had paramilitary training.

Were they ex-soldiers or policemen? Masked and hooded, as they occasionally fired multiple volleys of high-velocity 7.62 bullets towards the police. For all of 17 minutes until they used human shields as foils in their eventual escape.

Two brave policemen were shot, but many people are left to wonder what was happening among the crew known as back-up. Why were they not shown in the video? Or is there another video that shows about four of five police cars making a hasty exit from these terrorist gunmen?

Let us face one very painful fact. There is no police division in Jamaica, no station or crew of armed policemen right here at home that are properly trained and equipped to take on six or seven organised men armed with high-powered rifles and a shotgun, just in case the police are crazy enough to engage these fearless gunmen in close combat.

It seems to me that this crew of gunmen has been operating in the western area of the island for sometime, but they have decided to extend their influence to other areas where they see the easiest pickings. Policemen know this, and they do not need additional information from any specialist intelligence arm to tell them that.

The fear of terror and the fear brought on by these gunmen did not only spring from their brazen, daylight, in-your-face robbery, but especially from the inability of the State’s security apparatus to adequately respond to such incidents.

GIVING GUNMEN A BIG GIFT

More than a few private citizens in Jamaica own drones, which can be dispatched in less than a minute. It seems that none of the police stations close to the area is in possession of one and especially someone versed in operating it. So what about a helicopter from Up Park Camp or Moneague?

Are Minister Chang and Commissioner Anderson aware that they have just given a gift to these heavily armed, well-organised band of terrorists? The gift is simply this. The streets are yours and you may rip and rob and loot and terrorise communities and their residents. We, the police, are just as scared, so do not expect us to venture too far out on a limb for Jamaican people, many of whom do not like us.

“The assault rifle entered the Jamaican underworld in the late 1970s before the police had it. The PNP forces got theirs from Cuba, and we from the JLP must have had some help from the Americans at that time,” said a JLP activist to me last Tuesday.

“The PNP has always ensured that their underworld crew get some kind a looking after so that them don’t rebel too much. Dem always try to find a way to funnel government resources to that lumpen group. That’s why under a JLP government, gunmen go hungry and angry and mad.”

“Is it possible or even likely that this country could see another political link-up with the gun as things get out of hand?” I asked him.

“I don’t think so. I think the JLP government has no other choice but to hand it over to the police and soldiers. It is going to be eggs or young ones.”

WHEN INTERNAL POLITICS WAS DANGEROUS

The run of Ronnie Thwaites in Central Kingston is thankfully ending but, unfortunately, the pain of the poor residents will remain with them for long as a new set of politicians in the PNP prepare themselves for representation there.

I do hope Raymond Pryce wins the selection. In a time like the 1970s when both inter and intra politics were deadly matters, Errol Stephenson, who was JLP councillor in the Constant Spring division from 1981 to 1984 in the North Central St Andrew constituency, has many stories to tell.

In his most intriguing book about the nasty underbelly of Jamaican politics, ‘Roots Radical, That Jamaican Son of a …..’, he writes of a time when more than two people were fighting to represent a constituency.

He writes: “… However, something happened first. Midday Wednesday, four men allegedly from Rema went to Mona Heights where Jerry lived, and one of them picked up Jerry’s four-year old daughter, who was stricken with polio, threw her on the lawn and threatened the helper that they would be coming back if he didn’t leave the constituency.

‘Upon receiving the telephone call from his helper… Jerry immediately left his job … where he was the general manager, collected his family and by four o’clock, was on one of the five flights to Miami, Florida.”

Many things in politics have changed from those turbulent times to now. But the nature of the political beast has not necessarily made a change radical enough to attract more of the younger people in the population. Either as participants in the political process or as new voters.

DR PETER PHILLIPS WILL BE MISSED

I do not readily subscribe to the belief that Central Manchester MP Peter Bunting is the best fit for PNP president. He will be challenging Phillips as a continuation of the efforts he began in the early months following the PNP narrow-loss in February 2016.

“It depends if no one else is challenging,” said a PNP MP to me last Thursday, who did not want his name called. I had asked him about the prospect of Peter Phillips surviving the challenge.

‘”As you know, I believe Phillips cannot take the PNP to another victory. If the delegates see it as disrespect to Phillips and enough MPs share the same view, they may gang up and defeat Bunting. On the other hand, if enough people see Bunting gaining steam and he can cut deals with people like Paulwell, which at this time looks like a tough one, then Phillips will be in big trouble.”

My head count still informs me that Phillips has no more than eight hardcore supporters among MPs. What I can’t quite figure out yet, and it is still early days in terms of the time needed to properly measure momentum, is the present support for Bunting.

“The PNP has still not yet found its footing since it slipped and fell in February 2016. Worse, it has fared poorly in by-elections that it ought to have won,” said my MP friend.

“The revelations coming out of Petrojam has not helped us, so I believe Bunting is doing the right thing in stirring up the PNP and getting us, at the very least, to tackle our present weaknesses.

“The PNP needs to believe in itself again.”

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com