Sat | Jun 15, 2019

Southside struggles - Guns bark in Central Kingston as students plead for peace

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:29 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter
Julie Eccleston, teacher, leads St Michael’s Primary students in a protest against violence on Tower Street in Kingston on May 29. Eight children were slain across Jamaica in May, Child Month.

Female residents of Southside in Central Kingston are pleading with the authorities to intervene into a gang feud that has made them and their children hostages within their homes.

But police in the area are pointing fingers back at the women who they say play active roles in the gang feud: shielding wanted men and acting as lookouts whenever crimes are being committed.

Last Wednesday, women from Charlotte Street – which runs off Tower Street – said that for months they have been subjected to nightly gunfire as men from nearby insist Charlotte Street residents hold their bounds.

“We need help down here, and we need the police. Persons are getting shot and we don’t see no investigation, nobody (arrested), and nothing at all,” bemoaned one female resident who, like many, were in the area last Wednesday.

“This is Charlotte Street, and every time this is the street that the shots are firing on. This is a family street, and man tell us that they are going to shoot us,” she continued, as another female resident chimed in.

“They are beating up women, saying that we can’t pass. They hit out our street lights, our children are scared. We need help!” interjected another woman, noting that last month, another woman was shot and her daughter injured when gunmen fired on her house.

The latest of a string of shootings occurred last Tuesday, they said, when a senior resident was reportedly shot in the mouth at his gate.

On Friday, Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, head of the Kingston East Police Division, confirmed that a long-standing rivalry between the ‘New World Order’ and the ‘Gully’ gangs and their cronies has rekindled since last November, spilling over into other police divisions.

She said the police have increased patrols in the area and that several persons have been arrested. At least two illegal guns have been seized from sections of the community.

However, witnesses and even victims are not coming forward to the police, opting instead to take matters into their own hands, she said.

“So we don’t have any statement on file to allow us to apprehend anyone but our investigators continue to do investigations based on whatever evidence that is gathered at the crimes scene,” Lindsay said.

“Another area of concern is the involvement of women. Women are actively engaged in the gang rivalry. No woman has been shot as yet and we don’t have any reports of them shooting anybody.

“But what they do is act as lookouts. We have one case that we are investigating where the woman could have been the person who lured the victim into an attack. They also watch the police and will call (the gunmen) and give feedback,” she said, noting that she has been seeking to leverage community activities in reaching out to the women.

STAGED PROTEST

Last Wednesday, as the women complained about the violence, staff and students of the nearby St Michael’s Primary School staged a protest outside the school, calling for an end to the bloodshed in Jamaica.

Many of the students come from Southside homes, and school authorities have been working double time to protect them physically and psychologically from the constant fears of their community.

“It is the ending of Child Month, and we want to show Jamaica that we are concerned about the abuse of the children. It is getting to a level now where it is affecting us psychologically,” explained principal Juliet Campbell-McPherson.

“I am concerned about how it (violence) affects the children at home. They are in the community. So when they come to school, some of them don’t get any sleep, and you can see that they are tired.

“So we want to send a message to our community,” said Campbell-McPherson, who openly invites young men, some of whom are past students, to use the school grounds as a ‘safe zone’ to work out conflicts peacefully.

Member of parliament for Central Kingston, Ronald Thwaites, listed a lack of housing and idleness as the main catalysts for violence in the area, and said he has been in dialogue with stakeholders to address those issues.

Last month, eight children were killed islandwide, the most tear-jerking being the murder of eight-month-old Roshane McPherson on McKinley Road, Manchester, on May 10.

“I’m in negotiations with the Ministry of National Security for the use of the lands across the road from the prison for a housing development and I’m pleased to say that we have the interest of Dr Horace Chang. I spoke to him up to Tuesday and we are hoping to have a visit there with the National Housing Trust,” he said.

“When you have a gang flare-up, that is the job of the police; the political representative does not have any role there. When it quiets down, and at another appropriate time, I am always available,” he said, adding that unattached youths who seriously want to better their lives through training programmes know where to find him.