The other side of downtown
Martin Baxter, Gleaner Writer
DOWNTOWN KINGSTON has long been considered the breeding ground for deviance, with crime, violence and extortion all norms accepted as part of daily living.
However, the reality of life in downtown Kingston differs vastly from the perceptions Jamaicans have of the country's capital.
At a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum with Kingston-based business interests, it became apparent that, in their eyes, downtown is safer to carry out business and socialise than Kingston's prominent 'uptown' areas.
"I spend most of my time there [downtown]," said Charles Williams of Williams Furniture and Fixtures.
"I went home one night, forgot to lock my shop! Drive away, come the next morning, take out my key and try to open the shop. There's another lock on it you know? Trying to open, I realise that the key can't fit it and one of the guys say, 'Mr Williams, boy, you go way last night and left the shop open you know and we put on a lock pon it'. I started to fret now because mi a seh, boy I'm going to go in and see if any machines left! When I went in, not even the nails on the bench they remove. Can you imagine, tears come to my eye!"
Jacqueline Cole, a former GraceKennedy employee and president of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association, said she has never faced any problems while working in and around the city.
Despite never becoming a victim of crime or violence, Cole added that the fear remained, and challenged the role the media play in creating negative perceptions of safety downtown. These perceptions have partly been created by confusion over Kingston's geographical boundaries, says Bernard Williams of Care Furniture Limited.
"A lot of people don't really know downtown, they probably describe downtown anywhere below probably Cross Roads/Half-Way Tree and when something happen, it's like the shooting the other day at Norman Lane, people were saying it's downtown and it's not downtown," explained Williams, who added: "For the past couple of years, the only shooting we have in downtown was the incursion in Tivoli Gardens, we haven't had any."
The notion that downtown Kingston is also an area rife with extortion rackets at all levels was dissected by Professor Rosalea Hamilton president of the Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Alliance.
"So I think that there is a reality that if you are a big business you can afford to pay extortion and survive. The reality is that for the kind of extortion I hear is out there, it would simply kill small businesses, many of them are just on the edge."
Williams, who has been doing business in Kingston for 40 years, said no one has ever tried to extort money from him.
"I know all these so-called bad men before they become bad men and all of them come up to the latest two, 'Zekes' and 'Dudus', and none of them ever, or the agent ever come to me about extortion."