Wed | Jul 17, 2019

Clarendon SOS | May Pen battlefield - Commerce crippled as fear grips Clarendon capital

Published:Friday | June 7, 2019 | 12:25 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter
Soldiers patrol the streets of May Pen, Clarendon, on Thursday, June 6.
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May Pen has become a prime battleground for criminals who use the bustling commercial hub as an OK Corral to carry out brazen daylight attacks like the Hollywood-style heist near Guinep Tree two Sundays ago.

Many shoppers and sellers are avoiding the capital even as police and soldiers patrol major thoroughfares and offroads in droves. Yesterday, town officials said the crowd in May Pen was a fraction of the usual turnout.

Senior Superintendent Vendolyn Cameron-Powell, who leads the Clarendon Police Division, said that the capital has become a “soft target” for gunmen.

“What is very different in May Pen is that the conflicts in York Town, Farm, Effortville, Bucknor, Canaan Heights, Hayes ... all those communities, they play out in May Pen,” she said.

“If a conflict is in those communities, sometimes they (gunmen) cannot catch the person that they have conflict with to do them any harm. So May Pen is like a soft target to catch them,” she explained.

“Sometimes the victims are just basic vendors, cartmen, taxi men, those types of income earners who actually do business there ... . It is one of the greatest challenges right now,” she said.

Cameron-Powell told The Gleaner that in addition to boosting boots on the ground, the police have been hosting a series of meetings with business operators and communities in May Pen and its environs in an effort to heal a shell-shocked town.

“One of the worst things in a country is to have a business district and people want to treat that business district as a crime zone,” she lamented, commending investigators for an overall decrease in crime in the parish.

“There is no person killed in the parish that we can’t tell how, where, and the cause of that person’s death. We can answer all those questions. But we are short on evidence in terms of what we need for the courthouse. Tying down the ‘who’ sometimes is really a challenge because of the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil [culture],” she said.

Clarendon has this year seen a 15 per cent decline in murders to 54, down from 64 in 2018, over the comparative period January 1 to June 1. Shootings, however, have rocketed to 46 per cent, up from 32 to 47, over the corresponding period.

Winsome Witter, president of the Clarendon Chamber of Commerce, said that members of the business community are concerned about the violent trends but that they are still hopeful for change.

“When it comes down to crime fighting, we accept that the police alone can’t fight crime. It’s more about collaboration and the leadership of Clarendon to sit around the table and determine what it is we each are going to do in our different areas,” she said.

Witter described the road to restoration as long and bumpy, noting that the chamber has embarked on several initiatives to assist unattached youths.

In the meantime, Dain Cummings of Sunny Side, just outside May Pen, yesterday said that he does not linger in the capital.

“Right yah now, me just buy weh me want, hail who me fi hail, and gone. Me nuh too tarry ‘cause me no too want fi get caught up in anything. Yuh no haffi inna nutten ‘cause you can deh deh and stray shot catch you,” explained the fashion designer.

Cummings made the decision to move from a shop he rented in the tense May Pen market after the tit-for-tat bloodshed flared last November.

“Anywhere you see too many idlers and loose people, you know seh you will get mixed up deh so,” he said, explaining his decision to open a shop near his home despite a significant decrease in business.

A taxi operator who identified himself as ‘Deacon’, and who works the May Pen to Old Harbour route, said business has tanked. “Nobody not coming to May Pen too tough again. On a normal morning, I work a $10,000 or a $12,000 by, what time now? ... 12 o’clock. Now, me just a work $12,000 from the week start.”

‘Sandy’, who works as a security guard at a restaurant in May Pen and an elderly vendor who sells opposite where a blistering shoot-out took place two Sundays ago have no choice but to brave their fear.

“We have to do what we have to do. Is work we a work. We not troubling anybody. Dem know who dem a look for, but you just hope it don’t happen when you a pass,” said Sandy, a resident of Porus, Manchester.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com