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'Tactic to terrorise' - Cops claim brazen murders aimed at driving fear into witnesses

Published:Tuesday | September 27, 2016 | 9:00 AMLivern Barrett
Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke speaks with The Gleaner yesterday.
A screen grab of security footage of gunmen firing several shots at Khani Erskine at a gas station in St James.
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The head of the police operations in western Jamaica has expressed concern that vicious thugs in St James are targeting their rivals in the streets of the resort town to send a message to potential witnesses.

That assertion by Assistant Commissioner Warren Clarke, head of the Area One police, follows a string of brazen daylight killings in downtown Montego Bay.

The most recent daylight killing, which was caught on videotape, took place in the resort town last Thursday when 22-year-old Khani Erskine was surprised at a gas station by men travelling in a Toyota motor car and shot several times.

Two female pump attendants were shot in the attack, according to the police.

Three days before that, according to the police and eyewitnesses, a gunman crept up behind Franklyn Lawrence and placed him in a chokehold before shooting him twice in the head. The shooting took place near the intersection of Union and King streets shortly after 10 that morning.

For Clarke, these brazen killings are meant to drive fear into residents and discourage them from going to law-enforcement authorities.

"We see it as a tactic to terrorise and to put communities in fear. It's an unveiled threat to potential witnesses," said Clarke.

Since the start of the year, 199 persons have been murdered in St James.

That is 40 more than the corresponding period last year.

Yesterday, there was the usual buzz of activity in Sam Sharpe Square and along St James Street in downtown Montego Bay, even though some persons admitted that they were fearful.

A 62-year-old lifelong St James resident told The Gleaner that the crime situation was the worst he has seen.

"When we had tribal war in MoBay, it wasn't like this. MoBay tun up ... because the young boy dem leave school and dem a deal with scamming and dem no partial," he said in reference to the deadly lottery scam that has been blamed for the crime wave.

"Right now me 'fraid a MoBay. Dem youth yah no have no fear," he said, metres from the blood-soaked spot where Lawrence was killed.

While arguing that the police can do more to stem the violence, the elderly man who declined to give his name said the police alone cannot get the job done.

At the heart of the problem, according to Clarke, is the number of unemployed and "unemployable" men in several communities across the parish.

"They become ready resources for illegal activities such as lottery scamming, as well drug and firearms trafficking," said Clarke.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com