Rose Heights: A volatile community back on the brink
Six years ago, Rose Heights in Montego Bay was in turmoil as marauding gunmen ran amok, slaughtering residents with impunity. In one brutal two-week span, more than a dozen persons were killed.
Tired of burying the victims of violence, Pastor Knollis King of Rose Heights Full Gospel Church decided to do something about it.
He established the Rose Heights Covenant of Peace (RHCP) and challenged residents to work with him to restore peace, order and respect.
In the early years, the organisation was resolute and uncompromising, as members would go out and apprehend known gunmen, sometimes with the knowledge and consent of their families.
"We had to do something. The community was bleeding and we had to find a way to stop it," King told The Gleaner shortly after the formation of the RHCP.
"The police are on board and residents want it to work."
Fast-forward to today. The RHCP has become a sluggish organisation and its influence on the community is steadily waned. It would appear that inactivity has caused a reverse in some of its gains.
The vigorous community activism that kept the peace and opened the door to social-intervention programmes is now fading fast. Factions with ulterior motives, who are bent on making trouble, are once again holding sway.
In fact, there is now a genuine fear that the community is again on the brink of outright war.
King, who stands unwavering in his commitment to keep Rose Heights safe and peaceful, believes lack of empowerment and funding, especially for volunteers who have been driving social-intervention programmes, are the weak link in the fight to keep order in the community.
"The group has not been empowered lately. Most of the participants were volunteers and needed to find some way to survive outside of volunteering their services to the community," said King. "We had put forward proposals to have different types of programmes that would create some financial base for members, but nothing was ever done."
However, despite their struggles, supporters of the movement still believe they have the potential to revamp and make the RHCP the catalyst for change they want it to be for Rose Heights and wider St James.
He moved to get back on track is again being spearheaded by King, who is now actively seeking to solicit the support of community stakeholders and corporate Montego Bay to revitalise the RHCP.
"We were able to turn in guns. The murder toll went down to almost zero for about three years," King told The Gleaner recently.
"There were almost no shop break-ins and, in the cases where it happened, we could solve it within 24 hours."
In a bid to help the community restore stability, the James police recently launched a curfew initiative in Rose Heights, is designed to keep children off the streets at nights and away from deviant situations.
"I like this idea (curfew) for Rose Heights and I am willing to participate wholeheartedly," said King. "We can't give up."