Under the gun
• Old Capital struggles to break free from history of deadly turf wars, bloodstained streets • Hands-on intervention essential to keep gangsters in check, says peacekeeper
On August 14, 2010, the nation awoke to a bloodbath in Tredegar Park, Spanish Town, St Catherine. Eight people, among them an 11-year-old girl, lay bloody and lifeless – the aftermath of a dozen men storming several homes in a predawn attack. The...
On August 14, 2010, the nation awoke to a bloodbath in Tredegar Park, Spanish Town, St Catherine.
Eight people, among them an 11-year-old girl, lay bloody and lifeless – the aftermath of a dozen men storming several homes in a predawn attack.
The grief coated residents' faces, death filled the air, and members of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) – then in its eighth year of operation – made one of its first sojourns into the Old Capital.
Their job was to engage gangsters, broker peace among them, influence youths in the community to keep that dialogue and steer them to positive alternatives than a life of crime. It was an alternate approach to the use of force to reduce violence in Jamaica.
“It worked,” Milton Tomlinson, former president of the PMI, told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.
“We went in there and over time, we really got the place in order. From there, we moved into about 10 other communities in Spanish Town, including Homestead.”
Despite several challenges, including heavy extortion in the town, over the years, many violent situations were averted due to PMI's intervention on the ground, he said.
In Homestead, for example, there were three PMI workers, a police liaison and several youth programmes to occupy idle hands.
GOV'T FUNDING PULLED
That is, until National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang pulled government funding of the programme in 2019, forcing the PMI to close shutters months later. Among the reasons posited was that alliances between the initiative and gangsters compromised the intervention.
Today, several communities across Spanish Town are inflamed, the streets are stained with blood, gangsters are demanding the deaths of each other's mothers, and victims like Donald Williams – who lost his children's mother to a hail of bullets there last week – are boiling for justice, one way or the other.
Up to June 16, the St Catherine North Police Division, in which Spanish Town falls, recorded 70 murders, a 45.8 per cent increase over last year's 48 murders for the corresponding period.
The recent flare-up forced Prime Minister Andrew Holness to declare a state of emergency for the entire parish of St Catherine on Friday.
“It was when we pulled out of Homestead you hear all kinds of things start happening. When we were there, we jumped on the things them quick and fast,” the former PMI boss said.
“We had people on the ground who knew when things were brewing. So we just go and talk to the producers,” he said, referring to persons caught up in potentially explosive conflicts.
Now, Tomlinson is amused at ongoing debates over whether the police should be meeting with warring gangsters to broker peace. That was the role of the PMI, he argued.
“We were able to have dialogue with the man them as it relates to the homicides. I personally met with 'Blackman' more than once,” he said, referencing the incarcerated reputed leader of the One Don faction of the Clansman gang, Andre Bryan, whose ongoing court case has spotlighted allegations of web of deception, organised crime, contract killings and police corruption.
“I hear the police grappling with whether they should meet with man or not. That is not something for the police to do. I met with Blackman and other key players in the space. We went from Tredegar Park come right around,” continued Tomlinson.
PICTURE OF ANARCHY
Media headlines of Spanish Town and its suburbs create a picture of anarchy from as far back as 2004, with law-abiding citizens scurrying for cover. Fear often cripples the usually bustling Old Capital, turning it into a ghost town.
The death of Oliver 'Bubba' Smith, then notorious leader of the One Order Gang, forced the lockdown of business places in Spanish Town as gunshots erupted in Tawes Pen and Ellerslie in 2004.
So, too, did the death of then Clansman Gang leader Donovan 'Bulbie' Bennett a year later, who was reportedly heavily shielded by political representatives.
Over the years, the lull in violent flare-ups has been short-lived. Now the town, steeped in Jamaican culture and history, is gripped by violence once again with a slew of shootings and killings in recent days.
Last Tuesday, for example, emergency workers at the Spanish Town Hospital responded to at least eight gunshot victims. Three of them died before the end of the day.
“These are all persons from Spanish Town, but I believe one came in from Old Harbour,” stated the hospital's chief executive officer, Jacqueline Ellis, noting the strain on the health facility's staff and resources.
“It is definitely a rush because a lot of the times we see more than one gunshot wound coming in at the same time,” she said. “And it is very hard to treat these gunshot wounds. Once they come in, we have to treat them and the non-emergency cases will have to wait.”
By all indications, without intervention on the ground, the security forces will have their hands full as reprisals continue to brew, some have noted.
FEAR FOR MOTHERS
Like the bereaved at Tredegar Park many years ago, the grief poured from Donald Williams' mouth last week. This time, however, with a more revengeful tone.
Less than 24 hours after gunmen shot and killed his fiancée Nekeisha Pottinger last Thursday night, it was too early to think of anything but dishing out justice to her killers.
Funeral expenses, for example – however they will come for the hard-pressed family – is on a back burner for now.
Pottinger was reportedly among a list of mothers warring gangsters wanted dead in the community.
“I am going to try and move my youth them but, I am going to stay because I have to deal with this,” offered Williams.
In her dying words, Pottinger appealed to him to keep a cool head.
In the meantime, his son, who was shot last year, is currently in police custody in connection with the murder of another gangster's mother in the community. For now, that is convenient for residents and police investigators alike.
“I know how him stay. He won't take it like me. I'm more reserved,” reflected Williams, who vowed years ago to leave badness alone. “He won't take it so.”