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Bloodshed on the border: Women, children murdered across enemy lines

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter

Marvalyn Lawrence grieves for her slain son Omar Barrett. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

IT CAN happen anywhere, at any-time. Bloodshed along the borderline - the boundary that separates two gangs, or groups with different political ideals. It is an invisible line that the opponents know they should not cross. A breach of this unwritten code spells death.

Superintendent of Police Delroy Hewitt, in charge of the St Andrew South Division, described the borderline as "a demilitarised line where nobody (from either side) is supposed to cross".

A few steps in the wrong direction, an innocent venture on to neighbouring streets can transition one into the afterlife.

This is the reality in many of Jamaica's inner-city communities where thugs impose lines of demarcation, separating turf.

Jamaica's bloody borderline culture is deeply rooted in politics, but gang warfare, which includes fights over turf and spoils, has made the lives of the innocent a living hell.

"It is an awful way to live," says the superintendent in whose division several bloody borderlines have been drawn.

Despite last year's record-setting tally for the most homicides in a calendar year, women and children are now the bullseye, too.

The bloodstained Osbourne Thomas Drive in Whitfield Town, Kingston 13, speaks in solemn tones of the changing times. Omar Barrett was killed there. Hoodlums pumped six shots into his body during the wee hours of January 23. Barrett was just 13 years old.

youngest of 14

An avid football lover, Omar was the youngest of Marvalyn Lawrence's 14 children. They lived on Sunlight Street, walking distance from where he was brutally gunned down, because he dared to cross the border set by thugs.

"Me nuh inna nuh war, so why dem had to kill him?" Lawrence wailed as she recounted her tragic loss to The Gleaner on Monday. She said Omar was returning home from a wake with friends when gunmen attacked in the volatile Maxfield Avenue community. A report from the Constabulary Communi-cation Network said the attack took place about 3 a.m.

While a grief-stricken mother still asks why, Horace Levy, senior member of the Peace Management Initiative, told The Sunday Gleaner that the street code that governed the treatment of the elderly, women and children had been rewritten in several communities.

"The process of criminalisation, which has been taking place, has led to the maxim 'if you can't ketch qwaku, you ketch him shut'. You catch anybody who is associated with your enemy," he explained.

He continued: "It's criminal. It's not defensible in any way. It's wrong to target innocent people, and especially children and women. That, therefore, impacts on borders."

However, Levy pointed out that not every warring community exploited this type of indiscriminate targeting of 'qwaku's shut'. "Some groups are worse than others," he said.

Hewitt agrees. "That is the big change. Women and children could go anywhere, (but now) they kill anybody - old, young, women, children, anybody.

"It is a changing culture of violence, and we have gone past the total lack of respect for human life. Dem nuh business a who. As long as you come from point 'A' and you find yourself in point 'B', you go there at your own risk. A so the thing go."

bloody borderlines

Hewitt's division spans several bloody borderlines, including Whitfield Town, where Omar was murdered.

"They have war and they have demarcation lines, and everybody knows it. (Take for example) Burke Road. The men from the bottom part of Burke Road and the men from the top are fighting, so the people from the bottom, if they want to even go to Maxfield Avenue, they can't walk and go straight up to Maxfield Avenue 'cause it is possible that people will attack them from up there, and vice versa," he said.

"I have experience with the entire Kingston and St Andrew, and that is what entails in Kingston and St Andrew. You name (the community) - Rema, Jungle, Red Hills Road, the whole place."

Head of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green, believes that the number of borderlines is on the decline.

"(Borderlines) used to be a lot more prevalent, but they don't seem so prevalent these days," he said.

However, Green told our news team that borderline conflicts were best addressed by the divisional commanders and their charges on the ground. "They know where these supposed borderlines may be, and they can make sure that there is effective policing there to deal with it."

BORDERLINES set by thugs

St Andrew South

Majesty Gardens - Is divided into 'top' and 'bottom'. Men from 'top' are at war with men from 'bottom'. The residents from 'top' don't 'stray' to the 'bottom', and vice versa.

Penwood Road - The people from the 'bottom' part of Penwood Road at Lyrics Corner do not go further than Unity Lane, and the residents from the 'top' segment of Penwood Road do not venture beyond Unity Lane.

There is also a borderline on Burke Road where the community stays divided.

Upper Waltham Park Road - The residents from the top do not venture to the bottom half of the road, and vice versa.

Residents from Delamere Avenue (Waltham Park area) do not cross and go over to the cemetery side, and vice versa.

Seaview Gardens - Persons from White Sea Drive do not go over to Black Sea Drive, and vice versa.

Greenwhich Town - Sixth and Seventh streets residents don't go to Third and Fourth streets, and vice versa.

The Maverley/ Drewsland war has been raging for years.

St James

Norwood/Glendevon: - Bottom Pen and Hendon are at odds. Residents do not venture between the communities. - Gulf and Dallas, also in St James, have a similar arrangement.

Flankers: - Central and Brown's avenues remain locked in a conflict.

Granville: - Gut Bottom and Fuller, Namprel and Pitfour Captureland are at war,

St Catherine

Big Lane and Little Lane residents remain at war.

China Town and Zambia are locked in a running battle.

Compound and Twickenham Park housing scheme have seen many deaths on account of the strife.