No more bullets, blood, ballots - Trench Town yearns for renewal as it turns back on political warfare
As violence rocked the sections of the island in the 1970s and ‘80s, several families hurriedly packed what they could carry and ditched their inner-city Kingston houses for safer communities in what was the bloodiest period on the local political landscape.
In the Corporate Area, sections of east Kingston as well as Trench Town, Rose Town and Jones Town were among areas caught up in the bloody mayhem. And while Maureen Reid was not yet a teenager, the educator still has vivid memories of the blood, bullets and ballots of the 1976 election which forced her family to flee Eighth Street in Jones Town seeking refuge in community after community.
Reid said although the ordeal was terrifying s it unfolded, it did not come as a surprise for her family as her grandmother had somewhat predicted disaster a few weeks before the 1976 election.
“My grandmother was very spiritual and could foretell things before they happened, so she began to pack up our stuff from before because she got a dream about a Winston Hill on a horse coming down West Road, and she saw a lot of fire and other things,” Reid told The Gleaner as she reflected on the period. “So she instantly declared that something bad was going to happen, and she sent me and my cousins to different places to stay with our relatives.
“We went all over the place. Some of us went to Duhaney Park, Prembroke Hall and then we all met up in St Mary and stayed there for a while. Eventually, she would come back to Kingston, but this time, she lived over by Jones Town,” she added.
Reid said the bloody mayhem caused her not to graduate and she lost contact with some friends who had lived in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)-dominated section of the area.
“I was about to leave Trench Town Primary School, but I didn’t get a chance to graduate because of the political warfare ... . Even some of my friends who were in my class could not come back to school as a result of the flare-up. I lost a whole lot of friends as a result at that time because of politics,” she reflected.
Although no one she was associated with her was shot or killed, Reid says the constant intense gunfire around them was terrifying.
“As adults, hearing gunshots are really scary, so imagine that as a child. We were afraid. There was a lot of poisoned bullets, and I remember there were nights when we were so afraid that we had to leave and go over by Charlie Smith [High School] to sleep. We just couldn’t go down beyond Seventh Street because they were JLP and where we lived was dominated by PNP (People’s National Party),” she said.
Violence reigned in the space for a few years until a truce was called in 1978, with many residents from both sides bettering their fear to overwhelmingly support a peace dance.
The unity, however, was short-lived, Reid recalled. Within months, the guns were barking again.
“The war started again, and this time it took a [greater] toll on us. By this time, I was a teenager ... . I could barely concentrate on my studies because we just use to fret because you don’t know when somebody could come and kick off yuh door,” said Reid.
Years later, residents would decide enough blood had been shed and they worked to transform the community with an emphasis on peace.
“The young people began to go back to school and persons put down their guns. Parents started to teach their children that some of what went on was done in ignorance, so there was a brand-new outlook on life,” she said.
As the island held its 18th general election two weeks ago, it was a far cry from the days of old as supporters of the JLP and PNP made merry together on election day.
Trench Town, Reid said, has also become more developed with many residents who fled the area returning to reunite families and repair the wounds.
“Once upon a time there used to be a lot of empty houses and lots but those are now occupied and it is a good look,” she said. “The place is developing slowly … . There is still work to be done, but things have been improving.”
On Sunday, Pearnel Charles Jr was installed as the minister of urban renewal, a shift in emphasis that could bring surgical attention to one of Jamaica’s developmental sores with vast potential.