Under the Gun! - Fear and panic across the Corporate Area as gangsters run riot in several communities
From Rockfort in the east to Trench Town in the west, from Maverley in the north to Payne Land in the south, residents of sections of the Corporate Area were under the cosh last week as gangsters ran riot in the streets.
Unofficial reports put the number of persons killed at 12, with more than 15 persons, including women and children, left nursing gunshot wounds in a scary wide-scale outbreak of violence that has touched most inner-city communities.
A Sunday Gleaner probe linked the clashes to several issues, mainly related to friends who have now become foes.
The disputes stem from seemingly simple incidents, such as the supposed disrespect of a selector which has sparked the shootings in Maverley; the return of a group of young men who had been chased away from Payne Land; and the attempt by some young 'shottas' to overthrow a supposedly established don in Rockfort.
By yesterday, residents of several of these communities were bawling in fear as they urged the security forces to do more to stem the bloodletting.
But Devon Watkis, assistant police commissioner in charge of Area Four, which covers most of the Corporate Area, said many of the persons killed or injured in gun violence over the past week were connected to their attackers.
According to Watkis, the incidents were not just random shootings.
"The actors who have been killed or injured, in most instances, except for those persons who were unfortunately in their company, know one another and have been in some silly conflicts," said Watkis.
"Oftentimes, the police will never be present unless there is information, and where we have information, we have responded. We have been proactive and we are shifting the policing model to increasing preventive measures," added Watkis.
That proactive approach by the police has resulted in a ban on social events and gatherings in some communities and foot patrols supported by soldiers in almost all of the troubled areas. Several illegal firearms were also seized during operations, mainly in west Kingston and Rockfort.
According to Watkis, more police have been placed on the ground, which has yielded an increase of more than 60 per cent in terms of the number of firearms and ammunition seized.
But he argued that the efforts of the police are being frustrated as more guns keep flowing into the island.
"We have identified that there are a lot of guns in the hands of persons who have no legal or moral responsibility. Those guns are not legally acquired. As to the source, we have an idea that maybe it is the guns-for-commodity trade between Haiti and Jamaica, and Costa Rica is also coming in with an exchange of guns," said Watkis.
"We are sure that at least few (guns) came through our controlled ports. And persons who were away and returned; some deportees and some persons who went to prison, and may have hidden their weapons, they are back.
"There are several gangs in the (Corporate) Area. In fact, we number 123 gangs, and at the base of those gangs are really those who are unfiltered and available to be recruited into gangs," added Watkis.
Despite the challenges, the senior crime-fighter is seeking to assure the more than 800,000 residents of the Corporate Area that the police are committed to bringing crime under control.
"I want to express my regret for those who have passed and those who have been injured, and reassure the people that the police, certainly in Area Four, are in the space both in overt and covert presence," said Watkis.
"We want to reassure them that the system, the structure is there and we are in earnest seeking to recruit more persons that will give us more opportunity to curtail the freedom of movement of those who are bent on carrying out unlawful activities.
"I will urge all Jamaicans to continue to take all precautions that they can, but in their own space they are to also contribute to the conversation of encouraging young people to change their ways."
According to Watkis, as the police do what they can, the causative factors of crime also have to be examined and emphasis placed on preventing youngsters from venture into a life of crime.
"There is a historic hurt that runs generations and carries a certain level of cycle to it; where there were adverse childhood experiences for females and males in terms of exposure to violence and being victimised that have been unresolved.
"Or where, at a young age, their mothers and fathers' lives were taken, and these young people coming up live with the thirst for reprisal," declared Watkis.