Cops and gangsters meet face-to-face in an attempt to end the violence in Central Kingston
Corey Robinson, Staff Reporter
Bitter enemies from warring gangs crossed paths inside the Kingston Central Police Station last Wednesday but, despite the tension, there was no disrespect among them, and the cops who facilitated the meeting, with Superintendent Victor Hamilton at point, remained at ease throughout.
Central Kingston has prime position on the list of troubled divisions where murder is literally a dime a dozen. Last year, more than 40 persons were killed in what is one of the smaller police divisions. Since January, the division has recorded five killings, with gang war accounting for the majority.
On any other day, a meeting of these foes with a long history of violence could easily have ended in bloodletting, but not Wednesday. It was a day of peace for the long-time rivals, and the cops were not interested in arresting any of the approximately 30 confessed gangsters.
Sustainable peace plan
The cops and the thugs knocked heads to devise a sustainable peace plan for the division which has been the theatre of many violent incidents in the past decade.
"Everyone here volunteered to come. It is important that we meet and talk. And just like last week, everyone is free to talk openly," said Hamilton as he started the meeting.
This was the second staging of the peace talks, and the initial feedback was that the first meeting was a success as no major clashes were reported in the division.
Hamilton continued his introduction, lifting his voice over an empty row of seats, a demarcation between the cops and the thugs, many of whom fit the stereotypical 'shotta' description with handkerchiefs tied around their necks, bleached faces, unkempt hair, cut jeans, slippers and hooded overalls.
Others, however, especially the older men, were attired in expensive clothing and shoes. They appeared more seasoned in the criminal underworld with the youngsters, with a swipe of the thumb greeting them upon entering the room.
Hamilton addressed these 'elders' directly on critical matters, especially issues that are long-standing. They sat at the extreme back of the meeting room and were less quick to talk.
The gangsters, some of whom were at times listed as persons of interest in investigations by the police, represented Cloverly Road, Fleet Street, Tower Street, George's Lane, Southside and Parade Gardens, Rum Lane, 'Tel-Aviv', among other communities. The youngest among
them is 16 while the oldest is about 36 years old.
Theirs are disheartening stories: about parents and loved ones who have been murdered, about being shot at six times, about other attacks, and about bubbling strife with rivals bent on taking set on certain 'sides'.
The discussion seems like therapy for many of the men, and for Hamilton it offers insights into the feuds that threaten the safety of the residents under his protection.
"How I see it, we don't have any politics war again, you know. What we have is a vibes war. Some man and some man just have certain vibes going, certain tension. And that is what we want to deal with when we meet. We want to iron out some of the tension and work towards life," said Hamilton.
He quickly addressed those sceptical about the effectiveness of the meetings. "Listen, man, if we have peace for two weeks, we can have it for three, and if we have it for three, we can have it for a month, and two months. We have to make them believe."
He told the gangsters about the Government's plans to develop downtown Kingston, and encouraged them that they needed to buy into the idea if they expect corporate Jamaica to feel comfortable setting up shop in central Kingston and offering them jobs or support with their endeavours.
Many seemed to buy into Hamilton's vision, but some countered by alleging that some policemen under his command were not very professional when patrolling their communities.
The issue provoked expletives from one expressive youngster, who related how he was "disrespected" by a group of policemen recently.
Hamilton reacted with surprise and assured the youngster that he would take care of it.
"The thing is, I meet with you but I may have to communicate better with my police," he said.
The meeting ended with one thug suggesting that meetings such as this one be held weekly, and not only at the police station but also in the communities.
He argued that they would allow the warring factions to be better sensitised about plans to keep the peace.
Another man complained that men from a certain section of the community, especially one man described as a known troublemaker, were not present, and that they needed to understand what was happening.
That was noted by the police, who promised to extend a healthier invitation to those persons.
A deal was also brokered between Hamilton and the men regarding the hosting of street dances and parties.
The superintendent promised to respond favourably to such requests provided that there is sustained peace, the events are held on weekends, they do not disturb neighbours or children studying, and that no child is allowed to attend these events.
Plans were also made to host a get-together and football match between the police and the men come Wednesday.