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Traumatised - Hurt by 2010 incursion, youngsters now behind west Kingston violence

Published:Monday | May 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Disorder and acts of violence have become the order of the day in west Kingston.

With almost daily shootings and murders, worried residents are now blaming youngsters who were mere children at the time of the May 2010 incursion by the security forces aimed at capturing Christopher 'Dudus' Coke and the subsequent absence of strong leadership in the area since his extradition.

Official reports put the death toll of the events at 69 people, with at least 35 wounded and more than 500 arrested.

"With the death and incarceration of some of the older guys who used to keep the order, a lot of youths who were underage during the incursion have now stepped up to try to claim territory," said 22-year-old Denham Town resident Allan Powell, who has produced the documentary Children of the Incursion, which explores the psychosocial impact the incursion had on the children who lived through the ordeal.

"Imagine hearing constant gunshots for two, three days straight and having to be confined to your house, not even able to look through the window? It was depressing," added Powell, who told our news team that during the operation he felt the sting of a bullet grazing the right side of his cheek inside his high-rise home.

"I cried out for my mother when I saw the blood running from my face. She couldn't even take me to the hospital because of the curfew and gunfire, so she used some first-aid supplies to dress it," said Powell while touching the still apparent scar.

He added: "The children throughout western Kingston have remained traumatised since then. Many of them still pee themselves or hide and run in their own homes as soon as they hear gunfire."

"Massive" and "intense" were the words used by child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Ganesh Shetty, to describe the trauma experienced by the children in 2010. Shetty, who worked extensively with more than 200 of these children, said that he was not surprised by the path of violence that some of them had taken. He added that it was especially difficult for children of west Kingston who were continually exposed to daily trauma prior to, and after, the incursion.

... They'll feel they have nothing to lose

"Yes, they're still suffering," declared Dr Ganesh Shetty. "PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can be chronic, especially if there's ongoing exposure to trigger it. When you have a life-threatening trauma, your survival system is engaged. At some point, the children who suffer from PTSD, who can't focus or succeed in school and who are continually exposed to violence, will experience an emotional shutdown. They will, in turn, become numb and incapable of feeling good, bad or in-between, and will develop a sense of foreshortened future and a belief that they have nothing to lose."

Shetty, who puts the figure of children suffering from PTSD at about 70,000 islandwide, said that it was not the sole responsibility of the Government to minimise children's exposure to such trauma but the part of every stakeholder, including parents, teachers, pastors and guidance counsellors.

"Many parents of the children are traumatised also. They themselves need help also, as they were hiding under the bed with the child as well. We need an army of professionals to assist, as well as a system of constant care."