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Editorial: Losing West Kingston

Published:Sunday | August 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The police and the policymakers have lost the plot in West Kingston to whose rampant criminal violence the authorities seem to have no answer and where they are rapidly surrendering the confidence and respect of residents, which they appeared to have gone some way towards clawing back after decades of estrangement and distrust.

The grave fear, if not immediate danger, is that the community, and more specifically, the enclave of Tivoli Gardens, is falling back to operating almost like an autonomous territory within the state of Jamaica like when the criminal strongman Christopher Coke effectively ran things there.

Should anyone believe that we are being alarmist, we suggest they reflect on the two police officers murdered in that area in the past month and last week's shooting death in the Denham Town community of 15-year Jazianne Cole, the victim of the bullets of gang members who apparently believe they can engage in public gunfights with impunity. Perhaps a dozen other people have been killed in the area so far this year. Others have been injured in scores of shooting incidents.




There is a context to West Kingston and Tivoli Gardens in the psychology of crime management in Jamaica. Perceived as the ultimate of Jamaica's garrisons, it was, until 2010, largely off-limits to normal police operations and under the control of the Coke clan, of which Christopher Coke was the don.

Much appeared to change in May of that year when the security forces, seeking to enforce an arrest order for Christopher Coke's extradition to the United States, dislodged his private militia in a bloody episode that is now the subject of a commission of enquiry. At least 76 people died.

The upshot of the West Kingston/Tivoli Gardens incursion was a dramatic decline of crime, especially murders, in Jamaica. Homicides fell by more than a third over the next four years, including by 16 per cent in 2014. But at a per capita rate of around 40 per 100,000 and 1,000 killings a year, Jamaica still has among the world's worst murder rates.

The gains are being eroded. On the current trajectory, there will be more than 20 per cent more murders in 2015 than there were last year. A good part of that increase is concentrated in western Jamaica, where cybercriminals extort mainly vulnerable old people in the United States then fight among themselves over the spoils.

But West Kingston is contributing more than a fair share to the mayhem. The shock of 2010 that put criminal gangs on the defensive has worn off. While they were fired less often, the events of West Kingston/Tivoli Gardens, and their aftermath, removed only a few of the guns from the hands of criminals.

More critically, whatever the authorities have failed to do has left space for former Coke cohorts and other would-be successors to return. They are now, the anecdotal evidence suggests, in a fight for his legacy. Jazianne Cole is among its victims. Critically, West Kingston/Tivoli Gardens has lost its demonstration effect.

Among the tools employed by the police in 2010 was the special powers they enjoyed in a limited state of emergency, which was rescinded before security forces wished because of a lack of will and absence of consensus among political leaders. A short-term, targeted, and effectively monitored state of emergency may be required again in the community.