Adrian Frater, News Editor
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is claiming the People's National Party's (PNP) failure to support an extension of the 2010 state of emergency has played a key role in allowing gangs to reform and crime to flourish across the island.
"Had [the PNP which now forms the Government] supported the state of emergency, which was designed to go after the gangs, they would not now be complaining that the gangs are reforming," stated Holness yesterday while visiting victims of violence in several of St James' toughest inner-city communities.
The state of emergency was established during the Bruce Golding administration when fears of a breakout of violence gripped the nation during the security forces' attempts to capture and extradite now-confessed gangster Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
Coke, who then controlled the Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston stronghold, was wanted by the United States on gun and drug-running charges.
He is currently serving a 23-year sentence in a US prison, three years after gang members from across the island reportedly converged in Tivoli Gardens to battle the security forces and prevent his capture. More than 70 persons were killed in violent confrontation as police and soldiers entered Tivoli to execute an extradition warrant for Coke on May 24.
The state of emergency, established for one month on May 23, was extended to July 23 and expanded beyond Kingston and St Andrew to include St Catherine. However, when the Golding administration attempted a further 30-day extension, it failed to gain the support of the Portia Simpson Miller-led Opposition and rejected a proposal for a 15-day extension instead.
The Opposition had complained that the Government had not held discussions on the rationale for extension ahead of the resolution being tabled in Parliament.
Yesterday, Holness was particularly critical of National Security Minister Peter Bunting, whom he accused of, at the time, acting as though Tivoli Gardens was the cause of the nation's crime problem.
"The minister (Bunting) is now reaping the consequence of his action when he decided to blame the crime problem on Tivoli Gardens," said Holness, whose St James tour came in response to the recent spate of murders and other acts of violence which have rocked St James.
Bunting was in 2010 the opposition spokesman on national security.
"Had [Bunting] supported the state of emergency, things would have been different as it was designed to disrupt the gangs across the country," Holness said.
He also expressed concern at what he said appeared to be an acceptance of crime as normal behaviour, saying such a situation was unacceptable in any civilised society.
"The Government must begin to treat the crime situation as an emergency and do something about it," said Holness. "We cannot and must not allow crime to be accepted as the norm."
Following his visit to so-called volatile communities such as Norwood, Bottom Pen and Glendevon, Holness, who was accompanied on his tour by Dr Horace Chang, the member of parliament for North West St James, held a meeting with Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke, the commanding officer for Area One.
"I am satisfied that the police are doing their best to deal with the crime problem and I am urging the citizens to support their effort," said Holness, while bemoaning the challenging situation under which they work.