Driving in danger - Latest West Kingston gang war means more risks for bus operators
The latest flare-up of gang violence in sections of west Kingston has left some private bus operators cowering even as they brave the almost daily shoot-outs to deliver a well-needed service.
For the first three months of this year, 10 persons were killed in the area, down from 13 over the corresponding period last year, while 24 shootings were recorded by the police, a 118 per cent increase over last year.
That is the area where private bus operators hit the roads usually before sunrise most days, while only a few will remain in downtown Kingston after dark.
For Maurice Freckleton, it is a challenge driving his bus through some of Kingston's most volatile communities along Spanish Town Road.
"How you mean if me 'fraid? Me 'fraid, yes, but guess what, money have to make because the bills have to pay," said Freckleton, who operates the Waterhouse to downtown Kingston route.
At 8 p.m. last Wednesday, Freckleton was seen sitting in his vehicle at the bus terminus in Waterhouse, waiting on passengers for a return trip to downtown Kingston.
He told our news team that once he reached downtown he would fill his gas tank for the other day, before waiting at the eerie west Kingston transportation centre for any straggling commuter.
"But you have to know who to stop for. Is not everybody you stop and pick up at road," said Freckleton, as he pointed to the shooting of a little girl by warring thugs in the area earlier that day.
"Is a stray shot hit her, she was going to buy food and get shot. That can happen to any of us anytime. We don't know when but we can't let certain things limit you."
Watching your back
According to Freckleton, despite competing for passengers, the bus operators look out for each other on the dangerous streets.
"Sometimes a man will say 'no, me don't like how the road feel' and we will hear him," added Freckleton, as he called for more police presence during the night-time hours.
But last Thursday, head of the West Kingston Police Division, Superintendent Howard Chambers, said it was the first that the operators' complaints had come to his ears.
According to Chambers, police units are on the streets of the community on a 24-hour basis as part of the general crime-fighting efforts.
"I have had no reports like that. The area is as usual, calm but tense. But I don't see any issues with the passengers, people are taking their taxi and their buses to anywhere they want to," he said.
Shortly after 8:40 p.m. last Wednesday, a helicopter was seen hovering in the area with its searchlight shining on Pechon Street as a dog barked in the distance.
But there was no visible police presence for the more than 60 minutes that our news team visited and the few pedestrians who remained downtown walked briskly pass the dark alleys and lanes.
Very unsafe for females
Impatiently, Marlon Walters stood among a handful of passengers, waiting on a minibus to Seaview Gardens.
"To be honest, it is a bit unsafe and it needs more policing efforts, especially because of the robberies and so on," said Walters.
"But I think it is worse for the females; a lot of the times you see the females come down here and wait, can't get anything, and just head up back to Parade to try get something to go to Three Miles," added Walters.
'Chup Chup', who has been selling clothes downtown for 20 years, said he has become immune to the gang rivalries over the years. He, too, is among the late travellers from downtown Kingston each night.
"Is a whole heap of killings me witness, and is like me used to it. Me deh right here so and a man walk up and kill a man right in front of me and walk away," said Chup Chup.
"Is nuff time me family them say them afraid things happen to me downtown and me understand what them saying, but it don't really trouble