Owning their peace - Police, Kingston and St James residents welcome curfew monitoring programme
When 54-year-old Erica Swaby puts on her Curfew Monitor uniform and steps out into her community of Denham Town in West Kingston, she is engulfed by a heady mixture of pride and grief.
Six years ago, two of Swaby’s four sons, ages 19 and 17, were killed by cops, following alleged involvement in criminal activities in Denham Town and its West Kingston environs. She said she watched as her third child, Stephen Scott, took his final breaths in a police jeep in 2013.
“One dead and me bury him, and within four months time dem (police) kill the next one,” reflected Swaby during a special workshop in St Ann for new curfew monitors. The programme is being funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) at approximately $2.5 million.
“One dead 12 day before him 20th birthday; and one dead July 11, and him birthday was June the ninth. It affect me wicked, enuh. It affect me until now,” she said.
“If me hear two gunshot fire now me just start tremble and start see him (Scott) a throw back inna di jeep ... . All a dat come back pon me when me hear gunshot,” continued Swaby, also recounting how her youngest son, Damar Lewis, pleaded with cops in the background as her friend urged her to “come quick” in a telephone call. Later, he turned up at hospital dead.
Despite her losses, Swaby said she carries no contempt for the police. In fact, she holds a special regard for some, especially those currently at the helm of the West Kingston Division.
She regrets, however, that she had not spent more time shielding her sons from “bad company”, which in West Kingston lurks on almost all corners filled with unattached youths.
“You have good cops and you have bad cops; and guess what, when you get involved in (bad) things then you know you agguh dead too,” she said. “If this programme was around, maybe my pickney wouldn’t dead. They would be here right next to me.
“I love boys and I would like better for the youths in West Kingston. That is why I am a part of the programme and do what I do,” said Swaby, noting that in addition to the stern tongue, children in her community need loving arms and listening ears.
JSIF organisers are hoping to extend the initiative into other zones of special operations.
Last Friday, Assistant Superintendent Noel Daley, of the Kingston Western Division, told The Sunday Gleaner that the initiative launched in October is part of a six-point community safety plan. Four of the points are aimed at protecting the well-being of children, he said.
“It’s a serious issue. I remember in last year November we went to have a meeting in Denham Town and the night before a two-year-old child got shot. If the curfew programme was up and running then, where we were able to get children off the streets, then that child would not be exposed to this level of violence,” said Daley, noting that curfew hours for children are 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends.
“Like any programme, there are some hiccups because the programme has just started. The majority of the persons are complying. There are some who refuse to comply. Some parents can’t control their children,” he said.
“Some of the business places, they are concerned because they are saying that the children are the bulk of their customers, and when they are off the street at a certain time, ‘who will buy from them’, and so on. But they are not looking at the safety of the children, they are looking at their personal gains,” he said, adding that police patrols provide watch over the monitors in the event of any problems.
Praise for West Kingston
In the meantime, Daley praised West Kingston, which was declared a ZOSO two years ago, among the most improved in the island in terms of homicides. He said the focus now is to address the social challenges which plague the communities.
Last week’s two-day workshop was also aimed at introducing representatives from Mount Salem and Barrett Town in St James to the project. Organisers plan to extend its reach into those areas.
“This programme is very important. We need to get the children off the road. It is not a want. We need to get them off the road. But you see the parents of some of the pickney them, you have to be prepared and brace yourself for anything,” said Dawn King, a representative from Mount Salem.