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Party flag fury - Residents angered by political symbols lining Spanish Town community

Published:Monday | May 18, 2015 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding
People’s National Party flags line the street on Walks Road in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
Flags of the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party decorated utility poles and trees along Walks Road in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
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"Give us life-changing opportunities instead of life-losing battles."

That was the appeal of some residents of Spanish Town, St Catherine, bruised by relentless gang violence and, by their account, a chronic lack of economic opportunities.

They appealed, on the weekend, for political representatives to rein in uncontrolled functionaries whom they charge are putting "political" flags in the area and people at risk.

As rampant criminality unleashes terror in the Old Capital, scores of flags - the customary orange for the People's National Party (PNP) and green of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) - have been pinned to utility poles along Walks Road.

The fluttering flags overlook some areas overwhelmed by murders and other forms of criminal offences, including rampant extortion and turf wars.

For many trying to eke out a living amid the ongoing violence, enough is enough.

Residents of traditional strongholds of both parties accused political representatives of perpetrating tribalism that threatens to aggravate the violent gangsterism raging in Spanish Town.

"The political flags you see are not a result of community influence," asserted 'Fire', a vendor on a section of Walks Road, labelled PNP territory.

"This brand of political gimmick must stop. We will not fall for it. "

Fire told The Gleaner that an aggressive competition by a handful of political activists to affix flags on utility poles was sparked by a visit by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to G.C. Foster College about a month ago.

"They were intended to welcome the prime minister," said Fire. "However, the prime minister publicly objected to the flags when she saw them."

This was confirmed by Member of Parliament Natalie Neita-Headley, who said they would be removed.

"They were placed there when the prime minister was coming to NEC (National Executive Council) recently," said Neita-Headley. "I have asked the heads to remove them."

Neita-Headley told The Gleaner yesterday that she was off the island when the flags were put up.

"The orange ones will be down tonight (last night)," she promised.

But Kerensia Morrison, JLP councillor/caretaker for the Angels division, chastised the PNP for causing the flag competition.

"Regardless of the legal luminary, functionary or personality touring the area, political representatives would do well to be mindful of the law as it pertains to flags and find other creative means of making their political visitors feel welcome," Morrison said.

"We should never renege on the law, despite the temptation, especially when we have supporters who are passionate and competitive."

She said she had moved in February to rid the area of all green flags at the request of the police in February, although there was no political tension in the area, but this changed with Simpson Miller's visit.

Fire, the Walks Road vendor, furiously rejected suggestions that the "flagfest" was a community-sanctioned activity.

Fire's fury was also sparked by what he described as an "economic illusion" being presented to the people of poor communities by the political directorate in Jamaica.

"People here are not on the political vibes," he said.

"Opportunities are desperately needed, as most youths have education but no employment ... . Most of them went to G.C. Foster College, St Jago High School or JosÈ Marti."

He suggested that a few persons are on a frolic of their own that led to scores of unwanted flags marring the area.

"In Jamaica, one or two men feel like they have more say and can do what they want," he added.

"The community sees things from that perspective; they would love to see the flags taken down," he said.

But the people insisted that while political activism is on the decline, a lack of opportunities has been influencing a spike in criminality.

Kim, a resident of a section of Walks Road dominated by the JLP, was adamant that she would not be inking her finger in any upcoming polls.

Like Fire, Kim accused political personalities of paying a few impressionable residents to put up flags at nights.

She said this was why the flags are constantly being removed and replaced.

"Who purchases cloth for the flags when people don't have money?" she challenged.

Echoing Kim's sentiment, Greg Wedderburn also poured scorn on the flag project.

"Instead of finding ways to create opportunities, for poor youths to give them a chance in life, politicians are illegally putting up flags," he scoffed. "This is why I have lost respect for all of them."

Added Wedderburn: "No one is looking for handouts, but the politicians on both sides should be finding ways to help the poorer group to empower themselves instead of coming around every four years to do things like this, because we only see them when they want votes."

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com