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Football kicks the gun

St Mary seacoast town now hopeful that crime will vanish following intervention of sports initiative to ease tension

BY H G HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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THE people of the seacoast town of Annotto Bay say they have broken ranks with the gun — the weapon used to kill many of their numbers in recent years.

And the unique way in which the foundation was laid for the burial scheme of the destructive tool remains one of the main items of discussion among citizens of that section of the north-eastern parish of St Mary.

Official police statistics show that eight people have been murdered in the parish's most densely populated town since the beginning of 2018. Scores have been attacked, injured, robbed, among other acts of criminal indiscretion stemming from gang clashes and the struggle to survive. The police, too, have had to make their presence felt by eliminating criminal suspects — three in one infamous incident — whom they argued were more than menacing to the town.

So on August 5, and Independence Day, August 6, a firm and solemn pledge was made by some that the guns which have terrorised those who live in the town will be idle — at least for now.

That followed a new initiative launched by a group called the Friends of Annotto Bay, whose shots on goal over both days with the successful staging of a 17-team, six-a-side football competition brought back the flavour of unity and a hope for continued civility.

Now, the bar of hope has been raised that no more blood will be shed.

“Elder, we nah lick no more shot. Everything jus nice now. A football mek we come together again an' we ago mek sure say the peace continue,” one young man whom some of the residents fingered as a gangster told the Jamaica Observer away from the earshot of scores who had gathered at the populous Gibraltar Heights in the town for a follow-up peace breakfast and gesture of appreciation last Wednesday.

“No more gun nah fire, all a we… a jus peace we a say,” the young man went on while others put away sanitary plates temporarily storing Jamaican rundown, cornmeal dumplings, festival, boiled bananas, ackee and corned pork, and cocoa or chocolate tea, made even more serious by the availability of Sky Vodka and Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum.

Annotto Bay, regarded as the number two town of St Mary in terms of local importance, behind the capital Port Maria, is the political head of the St Mary South Eastern constituency which has Dr Norman Dunn as its suited servant at Gordon House — the seat of Jamaica's House of political representatives.

The town has been under gun pressure for several months, following a spike that began about three years ago.

Single, double and triple murders; plus those whom the police have sent to their maker on suspicion of being killers themselves have stained the community that serves as the main link between Kingston and Portland.

And then the Friends of Annotto Bay decided that they had had enough and need to do something. Football is one sport that has made the town proud so they decided to go that route.

Two men who have no biological relation though they share the same surname — Williams — led the move. Wyatt, a former crime fighter who served the Jamaica Constabulary Force before he emigrated to the United States; and Rohan — who runs businesses in the town — compared notes while they were thousands of miles apart and came up with the formula that could stem the flow of blood. They organised the six-a-side football competition over the two days that brought out over an estimated 6,000 eyes, including some of the suspected 'shottas', and then and there verbal undertakings for a securing peace were forged.

Wyatt Williams, known globally as “Spur” and Rohan Williams, or “Bob” as everyone calls him, have invested time, energy, money, and commitment to the cause, which they hope will have a long-lasting effect on the town and its environs.

One of the sections of the town that carries a stigma of gun crimes and violence is known as Wrong Turn, located in close proximity to the Annotto Bay Primary School. The frequent sound of gunshots in that area often sends messages to those on the outside to stay out, and those in, to find a safe shelter.

But the youth of the area have vowed that the gunshots of the past will remain as part of a history class. They have even turned the name Wrong Turn around to Right Turn, and firmly maintain that there will be no turning back.

“Kriston “Ziggy” Maylor, one of the more respected young men in Wrong Turn, sees brighter days ahead for peace in the area.

“Before now, you used to have a lot of crime, murders, robbery… all kinda things, and the police used to terrorise we at times. We see where we can feel free to stay on the road till 10 o'clock at night, because before that by 6:00 overbody come off the road,” said Maylor, who was quick to reveal that he was not an enforcer and had never been arrested before, although admitting that he smokes his ganja “more time”.

“We see the changes that football is making, because it is a game that everyone loves. Right now the group a youth them inna dem crew — people like May Back, Street Sweeper Crew, Young Money — trying also to focus on music, dancing and dem things too.

“We a talk to all the youth dem fi put down dem gun and go get some HEART training instead — we are working for that. Right now, idleness leading them to crime, but we can correct that,” said Maylor, who also bemoaned that the area has been stigmatised, telling the story of a young man from Annotto Bay who could not collect money at a Western Union outlet outside of the parish because of the address shown on his identification card.

Bob Williams is ready to start celebrating that the work that he and the Friends have put in on the road to achieving peace and less gun play will pay off.

“The youth, as they reach a certain age, they want a gun. That has to change. Down by Wrong Turn, where I have a business, there have been about three triple murders between 2014 and last year. Much of the crime is not committed by people from here, but people in Annotto Bay support those who come from outside to do wrong things,” Bob Williams told the Sunday Observer.

“One man who police held in Kingston with two guns was on the run for two years, and he was in Annotto Bay for most of the time getting support from the youth of the area.”

Not even parties can keep in Annotto Bay now because of the gun, but with football we intend for all that to change,” Williams said.

His comments were drowned in a sea of unsolicited support by those having breakfast and spirits with the comments by one young man: “As of today this is Right Turn. No more gunshot around here,” which ushered in the chant: “One Love, One Love, No More Guns,” over and over again.

“The youth them say them will put away them guns, but we want them to turn dem in to the police too. And that has to be done from all sides,” Bob Williams poked in.

“The factors that have contributed to the rapid rise in gun use include the fight for 'donship', he quickly suggested.

“Everybody can afford guns now. Many of the youth from Annotto Bay go to Haiti by boat to acquire guns. You have man in Annotto Bay who know the route to Haiti like the back of their hands, and Annotto Bay is closer to the Haitian coast than St Elizabeth, where we hear of so many incidents between Jamaica and Haiti,” Bob Williams stated.

One well known citizen of Annotto Bay, who residents say was heavily involved in the guns-for-drugs trade, spent time in the French-speaking country on gun-related charges. He returned to Jamaica but is facing health challenges after he got injured during a violent incident in the town.

Other residents mentioned the aliases of alleged guns-for-drugs practitioners whom they said need to be interrogated by the police if there is any semblance of hope that the supply of guns from that northerly source will be cut off.

Community policing officer for St Mary, Corporal Kevron Miller, while admitting that he and other police personnel had heard of the Annotto Bay to Haiti link, said that the police had never caught anyone involved in the Haiti-Jamaica guns trade.

“We would have heard stuff, and told of names, but no one has been held in connection to that,” Corporal Miller said.

Corporal Miller is one of those working to return the town of Annotto Bay to a semblance of order. The young law enforcer pointed to the strong “positivity” that emerged from the staging of the Independence football series that is expected to lay the foundation for better things to come.

“The togetherness that we saw at that event is enough for me to think that corporate Jamaica should come on board and tackle the monster of crime through such a medium,” said the man who also lives in the town.

“We want a structure to keep this active, because it cannot function without a proper structure. We have the Gibraltar Heights Citizens Association and more groups, we can get the citizens more involved. This will result in greater reduction of criminal activity in Annotto Bay. But the people are too tight-lipped,” said Miller, who manages the Annotto Bay netball team. “We don't want it to seem that the police alone can tackle crime. We are in the community on a daily basis; we play dominoes, baseball, etc. If we have the right approach we can get this town to be back to where people come, enjoy themselves, do business, and raise families,” Corporal Miller continued.

Spur Williams maintained that close monitoring of the behaviour of the youth was necessary. He also wants the community to be less stigmatised.

“We are going to ensure that there is active football so that the youth can keep occupied. By December we will have another two-day festival [like] that we had the other day, but in between there will be activities going on,” said Williams, who took over 100 footballs with him from his New York base which represents donations from the USA, Canada and Dubai.

“The good thing is that no politics is involved, and our theme was 'United we stand, divided we fall.' We invited politicians to the event, some came, others did not. But the broader picture now is that the youth of the area also need to do some professional things with their lives. They have four, five, six subjects and more, and the minute they look a job and say they are from Annotto Bay they get turned down.

“For too long, everytime something negative happens in Annotto Bay it becomes a worldwide story. We want everyone from Jamaica and overseas to feel comfortable coming to Annotto Bay. The gang thing is not going to work around here. The citizens are tired of the crime and violence. We are striving to bring Annotto Bay back to where it used to be, and we are asking everyone to join the fight and assist the youth, and if the Government can recruit some of the youth to join the army and the police force then that would be a great move,” Wyatt Williams said.

Member of Parliament Dr Dunn pleaded during the recent festivities for the blood to stop flowing. “We don't want violence in Annotto Bay anymore. We have to make a difference and take a stance. Nineteen persons have died in recent times and we don't want that to continue,” Dunn said.

Oh! Remember there was a football competition. It was won by English, a team from Iterboreale, with a 2-0 victory over Gibraltar in the final. Railway placed third.

Car Wash Raves took the most disciplined award, Fort George the best dressed team, and Craig Leighton was the most valuable player.

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