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Stabroek News

Guns barking in Seaforth
published: Sunday | January 14, 2007


Policemen walk over debris that was used to block the road in Seaforth, St. Thomas, in this September 2005 photograph.- File

SEAFORTH is a thriving western St. Thomas Town. With a high school, police station and library, among other civic amenities. it is one of five major towns in the parish.

Full of life is how residents describe the town, which is known mostly for its after-dark lymes on the main road that stretches from Morant Bay in the east to Cedar Valley in the west.

However, since 2005, things have not been that serene in this small town. Guns have been barking in sections of Seaforth and within the last few weeks, shootings have intensified, resulting in the crippling of afternoon commercial activities. At least seven people, including one child, were shot in a 14-day spree and residents say the war is not over.

One could feel the tension in School Lane which has its light poles decorated with green flags, signifying allegiance to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The visit by the Sunday Gleaner team elicited stares of fear and curiosity.

"Bwoy, is not the right time to be here you know, my youth," Tonyadvised the news team as they approached him.

gun ting

"A bare gun ting going on round here now," he warned. Oneiljoined in warning the team to be careful as we descended a hill.

"A down there them call School Lane. A down there nuff a the war take place," Oneil said.

School Lane is a JLP stronghold and factions within the lane have been at odds with another lane - Navar Lane - a People's National Party (PNP) stronghold, they told us. "Is politics, but is not politics," one man said.

Sounds tricky but the explanation is that School Lane has a crew - made up mainly of family members - which is involved in a long-standing feud with persons from the PNP-strong Navar and Blacksmith lanes.

"A nuh politics now, but a nuff things going on and bigga things (will) go on when election call," said Oneil, who has close ties with School Lane.

According to residents, violence plaguing the community could have started about five years ago when a well-known School Lane man, was killed, allegedly by a member of the opposing party from Navar Lane. It gradually escalated into a feud which came to a broil in October 2005 when a Navar Lane man, who it was believed may have been involved in the killing of the School Lane man was shot after a football game.

A peace dance followed that incident in the town's square but that was not enough to quench the thirst for vengeance.

There are plenty of guns there on both sides, residents say; but on one more than the other. And they are not just any guns they claim, but high powered weapons one man said he had seen himself. Most of the guns come to the community through trade with Haitians at sea, exchanging ganja for the weapons, residents report.

cause of concern

The police in Seaforth corroborate residents' report. One policeman related that sections of St. Thomas are growing ganja and and they use the advantage of being close to the sea to trade with Haitians for guns. They say sections of the Western St. Thomas constituency should be carefully watched as the country approaches the general election this year.

Police Inspector Patrick Bennett of the Seaforth police says the shootings in the community are not politically motivated. But with the warring gangs having political links, he says the police are exploring that possibility.

"We have not ruled out politics as a factor and certainly it is something we have to keep our eyes on as we approach the election," the inspector said.

turf

Both the police and residents say guns are moving into the community, particularly School, Navar and Blacksmith Lanes. But the police have been catching some of the perpetrators of the violence, arresting at least nine of the major players so far.

The Member of Parliament for the area, the JLP's James Robertson, says while the gangs are politically divided, the situation in Seaforth has absolutely nothing to do with politics.

"I refuse to say the violence is political. What you have are groups of young people fighting over turf," he says. Robertson claims the real cause is unemployment among the young people of the community, especially young men. With nothing else to do, he says, they turn to crime as an occupation.

Explained Robertson: "The two individuals of the Jamaica Labour Party, Joan Spencer and myself have nothing to gain (from political violence). We won the seat by 700 votes and this time we will win by 12 to 1,500 votes."

Not their real names.

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