Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Wilson: Crime problem in August Town needs long-term strategy

Published:Saturday | July 11, 2020 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Kenneth Wilson comments on some of the challenges facing the residents of August Town during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on crime and socio-economic factors driving gang violence in the eastern St Andrew community, where a zone of special operations was declared on Wednesday.
Members of the security forces at a zone of special operations (ZOSO) checkpoint in August Town in St Andrew on Thursday. A ZOSO was declared in the violence-torn community on Wednesday by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

There has not been a shortage of social-intervention programmes in crime-plagued August Town over the last two decades, but stakeholders who have been involved in the peace-building efforts in the eastern St Andrew community say a sustainable plan to tackle crime remains elusive.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a zone of special operations (ZOSO) for the community on Wednesday on the basis that seven major gangs have created an environment of fear and anxiety for residents. But while stakeholders have welcomed the increased police presence that is a feature of ZOSOs, they are hoping the social-intervention aspect of the project will be long-term to guarantee lasting transformation.

Speaking during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Thursday, founder of the August Town Peace Builders, Kenneth Wilson, lamented that the need for the sustainability of these projects had been underestimated.

“People are kind of frustrated and fed up on the corners, the youth and everybody, because you come with a project, and your project lasts for a couple months. What August Town really needs is a long-term strategy, not something that is going to last for five years and 10 years. You need to target at least 15 years because it is a shift that you have to make in the community,” he said.

Director of research at the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), Diana Thorburn, shared a similar sentiment. CAPRI had conducted extensive study which explored the fact that interventions introduced over the years have not succeeded in changing the community’s propensity towards violence.

“One year and two years are not going to change anything,” she said in reference to the general timeline these interventions often last.

She said that the reality is that both those who receive the interventions and those who have to undergo the requisite training to carry out the interventions are tired.

“So many of them are fed up with being in these interventions,” she said.

Councillor for the Papine division and PNP caretaker for St Andrew Eastern, Venesha Phillips, said she is concerned about how the social-intervention committee is constructed as it does not reflect a bipartisan structure.

The PNP caretaker said she was happy for the presence of the security forces in the community but wanted answers about the long-term solution to stem crime.

“We start things when we hear noise, and so to quell the noise in the room, we tend to come up with something. I think ZOSO just happened at a time when everybody was saying we need a solution, and so it was not thought out,” she said.

Eastern St Andrew Member of Parliament Fayval Williams said there are several active organisations in the community that will continue to work. Their interventions, she said, have generally been interrupted. She believes the situation will be different under the ZOSO.

“Right now, you are going to have the support, the strong support, the continued support, at least for a while, of the joint security forces that will allow August Town and the communities that make up the greater August Town, you will allow them a space in which to rebuild,” she said.