'Criminals are going to turn on you'

'Criminals are going to turn on you'

Senior cop urges August Town residents to speak up to maintain peace

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, July 30, 2020

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THE police have urged residents of August Town to report what they know, warning that the criminals responsible for the recent upsurge of violence in the St Andrew community have no qualms about turning the gun on members of their own family.

The appeal came as residents — during a meeting staged by the Greater August Town Community Development Council (CDC) with the security forces — called for police and soldiers to remain in the area for a prolonged period.

According to the residents, while the perpetrators of the violence that led to a zone of special operations (ZOSO) being declared in the community have fled, August Town is renowned for criminals who wait for years before striking again.

“[The ZOSO] has to be here long enough to transform the cultural behaviours of this community. It is not something that is going to happen in any short space of time.

“If we are not able to get citizens in each of the five districts to do what is needed to make this work, we are going to be in for problems again, because August Town has demonstrated that an individual will wait up to three years to enact revenge,” one community representative said. “It is a reality that exists inside this space, that if we do not get the citizens involved, we are in for future problems.”

Another resident warned that unless there is a social component to facilitate healing among different factions in the community, any gains made would be again lost.

“What drives the violence here is the constant need for revenge, and that is something that is not an overnight cure. This community has demonstrated that it has the capacity to wait, so it will have to be a deep-rooted response, [as there are] persons from a particular corner who have lost loved ones and blame one side of the community. It is a constant thing, it will not just go away. Unless we fix that element of August Town, we will not be successful,” he noted further.

“Just recently a young man from Bedward Gardens, one of his parents was killed by men from Jungle 12, and his thing is that he 'must kill a Junglist'. These things are said and it's not a joke, and many are growing with this thing... We have to design a programme that will focus on these issues over an extended period of time, or else,” he warned.

Head of St Andrew Central, Senior Superintendent of Police Jacqueline Coombs, responding to the residents' pleas, told them that part of the solution would depend on them breaking the code of silence. She said 62 people have been detained since the ZOSO was declared on July 8, but all have been released.

“If there is anything you want to share with us... you are enjoying peace, quiet and tranquillity — play your part in making this a continued state, because from what I am seeing from quite a number of the houses, don't believe bullets can't pierce concrete, they can, and worse board.

“I am challenging all of you who are here to help us maintain this peace. This is not time to take sides. When you go to your bed at nights, you want to know you will not wake up and find yourself in another realm,” SSP Coombs said.

“You know family members are involved in this. I am going to ask you to do one of the hardest things that anybody can ask of a relative to do to the persons who live in their households that they know is involved.

“The information here is telling us that they have started to turn on their own families, so it is a case of who is next, and we have seen it,” she warned.

“Whether you are stepchild to the individual, distant cousin... I have seen it. It is to your own detriment [to not speak up]... If you fail to do so, they are going to gather for your funeral just like everybody else. That is not what you want here. I have seen it happen, I never knew it was difficult for people to stand up for the right thing, I cannot believe it. They are going to turn on you,” she added.

Confirming the residents' claims that criminals have been known to “wait long” to exact vengeance for events that go as far back as “seven years”, Coombs said: “A lot of the challenges that exist is people wanting to exact reprisal because nobody has been arrested and charged for the crimes committed, and so the cycle will continue because they don't feel that the police are in a position to arrest and charge anybody.

“Persons would have also witnessed these incidents of crime and they will not come forward and say anything, and there is no healing. Every meeting in this area I challenge you to come forward. I have said, 'Come and talk to me', time and time again; come and speak in a way that we can collect a statement. If that is the case, I am also going to offer you other avenues of protection. Are you willing to go into the witness protection programme if at any point in time you feel you can no longer live in your community?” she asked the residents.

She told them that is has been done before.

“There have been instances where we have relocated persons beyond the shores of Jamaica. We have done it, but you need to tell us. We can rely as much as possible on forensics, but sometimes we need a little bit more to help us break the cycle,” she said.

The senior superintendent of police said she welcomed the ZOSO declaration by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, as “prior to the zone being declared, we had a very rough couple of days.

“...And so, at the time we had about nine murders in August Town... What I will tell you is that we want you to get through this, we want you to reclaim your community,” she said.

In the meantime, SSP Coombs said the ZOSO was in the second of the three-phased operation.

“We did the clear, we went in, we held a space we tried to keep the area sterile. Right now we are in the hold phase, we are required to continue our operations. We will continue to be at the vehicular checkpoints. From time to time we will get information and we will conduct targeted operations, not necessarily in August Town. The next phase is the build phase, where we will engage the Jamaica Social Investment Fund. They will be in the area to assist with the developmental activities,” she said.

Member of Parliament for St Andrew Eastern Fayval Williams, noting that “residents are breathing a sigh of relief”, said based on the length of a needs' list already submitted by people from the African Gardens area of August Town, “you can see the ZOSO will be here for sometime”.

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