Early lockdown - State of emergency tightens grip on St James
Hopeful that the state of public emergency will ultimately restore law and order, business operators in St James, including the operators of informal street-side stalls, said that they were quite happy to comply with a directive from the security forces to close early, although it would affect their income.
"If dis is what it a guh tek fe bring back law, order, and peace to St James, mi ready fi support it," said a Norwood-based shopkeeper. "Besides, when shot a fire, yu still haffi lock up. When di shotta dem lock yu down, it come wid gunshot, but when soldiers and police lock yu down, it come with security."
Yesterday, the Police High Command announced that as part of its overall drive to ensure that the threat to public safety is contained, there will be changes to the opening hours of businesses across the parish.
Under the state of public emergency, which is now on in St James, some rights have been suspended and the security forces have been given extraordinary powers.
The adjusted hours, which will affect both formal and informal businesses as well as community activities, are:
- community recreational areas closed by 6 p.m.
- cookshops, dry goods, and haber-dasheries closed by 7 p.m.
- spirit licence premises closed by 9 p.m.
- service stations closed by 10 p.m.
- clubs and fast-food outlets closed by midnight
While noting that the new provisions would show respect for the human rights of all citizens, authorities said that failure to adhere to the restrictions outlined would result in violators being prosecuted.
WE HAVE TO BE CAREFUL
While welcoming the state of public emergency, which took effect on Thursday, some business leaders in St James, especially in Montego Bay, are worried that their commercial viability could be affected by activities such as the curtailment of social activities alongside the early closure of businesses.
"We have to be careful that we don't throw out the baby with the bath water. While we do support the state of emergency, we have to be cognisant of the fact that we have a lot of tourists, who pay a lot of money to come on vacation, and they will want to enjoy themselves," said Robert Russell, chief executive officer of the city's entertainment hub, the Pier One Complex.
While noting that special consideration such as extra patrols could be given to venues like Pier One, which has been fairly safe amid the rampant lawlessness across the parish, Russell said that he is prepared to live with whatever the authorities settle on.
"It would be a great loss to us in terms of revenue if we are to close at midnight. However, it is not all about us. It is ultimately about making Montego Bay safe for all our citizens and the visitors who come here. Personally, I just want to see the crime situation fixed," he said.
... Bordering parishes blocking displaced gangsters
With the state of public emergency now in full force in St James and the security forces tightening their grip on several volatile communities, to include Norwood, where they have set up a military-style camp on the community's playing field, the police in neighbouring parishes are tightening their borders to support the effort.
"We would have preferred if the camp was not on the playing field, but the inconvenience is going to bring peace eventually. We will accept it," said a Norwood resident. "I have never been this happy to see police and soldiers here in Norwood."
And with expectations high that the under-siege gangsters will be trying to flee from St James to neighbouring parishes, several commanding officers have announced that they intend to block their entry.
"We understand that with the pressure on in St James, the displaced criminals are probably looking to find safe havens in other parishes, but we are tightening our border to keep them out," said Superintendent Sharon Beeput, the commanding officer for Hanover. "We are fully supportive of what is happening in St James, and we are fully prepared to support what they are doing."
In St Elizabeth, where several displaced lottery scammers from St James have put down roots, the parish's Police High Command is also taking steps to seal its borders from these unwelcome criminals.
In a statement yesterday, the St Elizabeth police announced that special patrols had been instituted in communities such as Elderslie, Ginger Hill, Pisgah, Arcadia, and Ipswich, which are close to the St James-St Elizabeth border.