Finally! - St James residents welcome state of emergency
Residents of several volatile communities in St James yesterday welcomed members of the security forces with open arms as the Government's latest initiative to quell the parish's rampant lawlessness started with a joint police-military operation and subsequently evolved into a public state of emergency.
"This is the best thing that could happen to Montego Bay at this time. It is like a belated Christmas gift," an elderly resident of Salt Spring told The Gleaner.
"Because of the shootings, I could not tell the last time me get fi go a night service at mi church. As night come, everybody have to just lock down because of the crime."
The operation, which started shortly after 5 a.m. and primarily targeted major hotspots such as Rose Heights, Norwood, Flankers, and Cambridge, saw members of the security forces flooding the communities with a commanding presence, searching houses, vehicles, abandoned buildings, and residents.
HERE TO ARREST SITUATION
Major Basil Jarrett, the civil military cooperation officer at the Jamaica Defence Force, who visited the various communities during the course of the day, said that the operation was launched in response to the rampant lawlessness now plaguing the parish, which had a record 335 murders last year and is off to a bloody start to the New Year.
"Well, as you can see, it is a very strong police-military presence deployed in the area since this morning," said Jarrett. "It is in response to the rampant criminality - the murder rate, the extortion, the general lawlessness in Montego Bay and other parts of St James. We are here to see if we can arrest the situation."
In Flankers, where a raging feud between the original Sparta and Up Town Sparta gangs has spawned at least four murders this year, residents were clearly thrilled to have the security forces in their community.
Many related horror stories of brazen gun battles on the streets, which have forced them to spend most of their time hiding in their homes out of fear.
"The children are traumatised. They are afraid to go to school because of the shootings and the killings," a female resident shared. "My little girl is a nervous wreck. Every time she hears a shot, she starts crying."
... High drama to nab 15-year-old 'danger man'
Based on The Gleaner's observation, the security forces searches in Flankers, Montego Bay, in St James were not entirely random as in some instances, specific buildings were targeted on Codac Street, in Red Dirt and in Hog City, where residents say are the hotbed of the violence.
Yesterday's state of emergency in the parish was deemed long overdue.
High drama unfolded on Codac Street shortly before midday when a 15-year-old boy, who has been implicated in several shootings and murders, including the recent incident in the vicinity of the Sangster International Airport, was apprehended in a building, where a search had been previously conducted but yielded nothing.
Getting to the young man was like doing an obstacle course for the lawmen as they had to climb over an unfinished roof on the three-floor building, navigate barriers, and kick in doors to reach his hiding place.
"A him a di danger man. Don't mek the boyish look fool yu," whispered a young woman as the youngster was marched out of the building. "I hope dem lost him a prison. Him nuh fit fe road."
Shortly after the teen was held, loud cries were heard coming up the road as his mother rushed to scene, crying and begging the security forces not to kill him, saying he was just young and misguided.
"Please don't kill him! A just last week dem shoot him breda on mi birthday," said the mother, crying. "Mi nah go swear fi him because me nuh know wha him a do when him nuh inna me presence, but please don't hurt him."
During the day's operation, other wanted men were arrested, and there were unconfirmed reports that an AK47 rifle was found.
While the Cambridge community was searched extensively, Ryan 'Ratty' Peterkin, who leads the notorious Ratty Gang and who is one of the prime targets for the security forces, was not among those held.
A press conference to give details of the day's operation was slated for yesterday afternoon at the western Office of the Prime Minister, but it was called off without explanation.