Adrian Frater, News Editor
Western Bureau:Montego Bay, St James, is a study of contrasts, beautiful and deadly, with its chequered history of mayhem in the midst of major development.
The tourism mecca provides employment for many, relaxation and luxury for visitors to the island, even as it presents a positive image of Jamaica.
But above the lively white sand sea coasts, the hills of the city, where the majority of residents reside, is a litany of woes through shanty towns and shacks strewn on captured lands and a people desperate for survival opportunities.
While the spiralling crime situation remains the primary concern of some residents of Montego Bay, persons living in the misery-torn inner-city communities list issues such as unemployment, political neglect, inequality and police brutality as their major concerns.
"I blame the crime problem on the lack of legitimate opportunities being created for people from marginalised communities like this one," one youth club leader told The Sunday Gleaner, during a tour of several strife-torn areas by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness last Wednesday.
"For many, including the police, we are seen as mere irritants and not as people with the capacity to excel, once given the opportunity ... it is that negative mindset that continues to make crime an attractive option to some of our people," the youth leader argued.
In communities like Norwood, Bottom Pen and Rose Heights, deemed hotspots by the security forces, some residents dismissed the various police crime plans with contempt, arguing that these were merely to appease foreign investors and tourism interests.
"Unemployment and crime are partners so you can't address one without the other," an unemployed high-school graduate told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Every single crime plan will fail until we start having concrete plans to create employment for the inner-city youths and break the cycle of poverty into which they were born."
The sentiments expressed by the youth leader mirror recent comments by Lloyd B. Smith, the member of parliament for Central St James, in a caustic newspaper article, accusing the current Government, of which he is a part, of neglecting Montego Bay.
"The bottom line is that Montego Bay needs a major social intervention with an economic underpinning, and the sooner the better," Smith wrote.
"Urban decay is everywhere, and amidst the decay there reigns much decadence and hopelessness."
According to Smith: "Piecemeal interventions by government and the police have been mere Band-Aids that hide a festering sore that stinks to the high heaven and, like a cancer, is fast devouring the body of the victim."
Like the inner-city residents who see the anti-crime measures as more about insulating the tourism corridor from crime, Smith questioned the State's sincerity in addressing the issue: "As an aggrieved messenger, I know that I may well suffer the consequences of my utterances, but let the chips fall where they may, enough is enough.
"For too long there have been two Montego Bays, one for the tourist and one for the residents - this is what has influenced the planning and development of my beloved city," Smith stated.
"Abject poverty is juxtaposed with opulence - a recipe for anarchy and ultimately social upheavals, which the powers that be continue to take for granted."
In the aftermath of the most recent flare-up of violence, including a horrifying period in which five persons were murdered within 24 hours, Superintendent Egbert Parkins, the commanding officer for the St James Police Division, made an urgent plea for residents to partner with the police in the battle against lawlessness.
"We are calling on the public to assist the police, by telling us what they know about criminal activities," Parkins said, during a press conference called to address the ongoing mayhem. "We must not allow the criminals to continue to flourish or we will all suffer."
Based on the latest police statistics, 158 persons have been murdered in St James since the start of the year. However, according to one inner-city resident, the situation is not surprising and will continue until avenues of legitimate endeavours are opened up for the youths in those areas.
"If yu born come se yu parent tiefing light and water and doing illegal things to survive on a piece of land that they have also captured, what do you expect?" the young man reasoned. "Youths like those will naturally grow thinking it is okay to thief ... didn't you grow up hearing that children live what they learn?"
Holness, however, pleaded with the residents not to accept crime as a part of their daily reality, while urging the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration to address the problem.
"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."