Thu | Oct 18, 2018

Gleaner Editors' Forum | From politics to organised crime - Dark days of political violence in August Town long gone, CAPRI research reveals

Published:Friday | September 21, 2018 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Laura Koch, CAPRI lead researcher
Fayval Williams, member of parliament for St Andrew Eastern
Venesha Phillips, People’s National Party caretaker for the constituency and councillor for the Papine division
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Politically-motivated violence that once held August Town in St Andrew under siege is a thing of the past, a report conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) is showing. Indications are that murders in the community are now as a result of organised crime.

And representatives from both sides of the political divide agree.

During a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the media house's North Street offices in Kingston yesterday, CAPRI's lead researcher on the August Town project, Laura Koch, along with other stakeholders, revealed some of the findings as to why residents have stopped killing each other over politics.

"Murders in August Town are not driven by politics anymore. During the '90s, there was a shift away from political gang violence towards organised crime," stated Koch.

"Senior University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Christopher Charles published a paper in 2004 about the political identity of criminals in Jamaica, using the case of August Town. He was writing about elections in 2002 when political violence and murders still played a very important role.

"But 14 years later [today], that is not the case anymore in August Town. The community, over the years, peacefully changed parties. Interviews revealed a consensus that politics doesn't drive murders anymore. We have observed that most of the murders in most of Jamaica now have different motives other than politics."

Not yet released to the public, the comparative case study on August Town and St James looked at what led to zero murders in 2016 in August Town.

The police have reported that the 13 murders that have occurred in the community since the start of the year were not related to any political matter.

 

GLAD TO SEE THE TRANSFORMATION

 

Fayval Williams, member of Parliament (MP) for the St Andrew Eastern constituency, where August Town falls, told journalists and editors that as a new MP, she was happy not knowing that bloody side of politics.

"I have to tell you that it was shocking to hear of some of the situations and how they happened back then. I am glad to see the transformation. I think how political representatives carry themselves, backed up with how they respond to the people, is critical. I am sure if we had gone in their faces shoving green, I probably would have got a negative reaction, and vice versa, for my opponent," she said.

People's National Party caretaker for the constituency and councillor for the Papine division, Venesha Phillips, intimated that the political bloodshed ended when loyalists realised that leaders were not warring with each other.

"Back then were the dark days of politics in Jamaica, generally. That is not exclusive to August Town. In the early '90s, coming out of the '80s, August Town would have been plagued by violence," said Phillips.

"Over time, I think both political parties would have done their bit. The shift away from political violence actually started in the latter part of the 1990s when, I believe, people started to realise that the political leaders were not at war. The citizens then found themselves at a place where they were now saying to themselves that they are family or members of one community."

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com