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Deadly grip - PM says gangs, dons making country unsafe as he announces South St Andrew SOE

Published:Monday | July 8, 2019 | 12:20 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Andrew Holness
Andrew Holness

Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday said that an epidemic of violence was sweeping the country as he announced yet another state of emergency (SOE) to curb crime, which he attributed to gangs and dons taking control of communities.

At Jamaica House yesterday, where he announced that the troubled St Andrew South Police Division had been put under an SOE, Holness said that the communities in the area are being choked by gangs.

“In St Andrew South, the main cause of death is gang-related. It would probably be a little bit more than 70 per cent of deaths caused by gangs in St Andrew South,” the prime minister disclosed.

From January 1 to June 29 this year, there were 94 murders in the division, up from 79 for the corresponding period last year.

Police sources told The Gleaner yesterday that gangs in the police division were awash with cash to satisfy their insatiable appetite for guns and also used to fuel turf wars amid clashes over spoils from criminal activities.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is that some of the illegal activities they support – the gambling, the parties, some shops, buses and so on – you might think you do that and there is no consequence. The result of that, I can tell you, is that people are putting cash in the hands of criminals. The money flows right back to them because they are the operators behind some of these things.

“What you have happening is that a gang of 12 or 15 men and women have millions of cash so they are able to buy guns and terrorise the community and it is getting so bad that it is just out of control,” an officer lamented as he painted a grim picture of the police division yesterday.

As Holness announced the initiative yesterday, he said that the crime situation affecting parts of the country – mostly slums and informal communities – had spiralled out of control, and normal policing would not prove an effective response.

“Violence is at epidemic proportions in Jamaica. It ought to be treated in the same way we treat any other epidemics, which is to put in place special measures to arrest it. The main cause of violence death in Jamaica [are] dons, gangs and guns, or deaths related to criminal activities,” Holness stated.

On April 30, Holness had declared an SOE across three western parishes – St James, Westmoreland and Hanover – to bring crime under control in the region. Despite the initiative, murders have continued to climb in St James, according to police data up to June 29. While Westmoreland has seen a reduction from 72 to 51 murders since 2019, and Hanover’s figures have dropped from 30 to 18, St James has recorded a 33.3 per cent increase year-on-year. The parish has recorded 68 homicides up to June 29. The country has also tallied 675 murders overall, compared to 671 last year.

In defending the use of SOEs as a crime-fighting strategy, the prime minister reasoned that it was the only measure that has yielded a significant decline in murders. He argued that for other crime-reduction measures to be effective, the police would have to bring violence down to manageable levels.

“For the preventatives strategies to work – which are more long-term, they take a lot of time to come to fruition – ... the police, the army, the Ministry of National Security, … they need a breathing space,” Holness said.