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Death Postponed: I felt they would kill us all, says Dr Collie

JLP candidate sweated buckets on a bar floor as gunshots rang out

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 15, 2012    

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This is the 21st in a series of close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of them in prominent positions of the society.

FOR Dr Charlton Collie the most chilling moment of his life occured two weeks before the general election of October 16, 2002, an incident that will remain etched in his mind forever.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate for Central Kingston found himself perspiring profusely as shots from high-powered weapons rang out along Gold Street in the volatile Southside (Parade Gardens) section of the constituency.

"I went to check (Rosalee) Rosie Hamilton, my councillor down at Rae Town, who had called me and told me that the list had come out for presiding officers, workers and others," the Seaforth, St Thomas-born Dr Collie told the Jamaica Observer.

"So I told Rosie that I would check her now to make sure that we didn't have too many PNP activists on the list.

"I went down there around 7 o'clock, along with the campaign's secretary at the time, an American woman and lawyer from Miami, who took a month off her job to help us. My brother Derrick also made the trip," Dr Collie said.

About 30 minutes into the night's proceedings, gunshots disrupted the stillness of the early night.

"While we were going through the list, we heard some gunshots. Men across East Queen Street Baptist Church just started firing at us and everybody in the bar just went flat.

"We felt that at any time, the men would just come in the bar and kill all of us. They had seen my car, which was parked right outside the bar, and it looked like we spent some time in there. They gathered their troops and came across.

"For about 15 to 20 minutes it was non-stop gunfire and they were not firing handguns, they were firing M-16 and AK47 weapons. I had never before been so frightened in my life and I felt that I would not have made it out there alive.

"I just expected the men to come into the bar and shoot us all. I was just sweating, sweating, sweating like never before. Everybody in the area thought that we had been shot dead," Dr Collie recalled.

Even after policemen based at the nearby Gold Street station intervened and started firing back at the men, the assault continued.

Soon, men loyal to the JLP took up arms and began 'answering' the others firing from the East Queen Street Baptist Church end. That confrontation in the vicinity of the Bartley building at the corner of East Queen Street and Gold Street fizzled when police reinforcements arrived.

The experience proved too much for the American lawyer, who never returned to the area.

"The poor girl never went back down there," Dr Collie stated. "It was unfortunate, because she loved politics so much."

Dr Collie, a consultant physician, pulmonologist and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, said that although the experience was traumatic, it would not have been prudent to pull out of the election at the time as it was too close to the polls.

The lead-up to the electioneering in the area had been characterised by sporadic violence, with Dr Collie being involved in an earlier close call in March 2002, as he drove to a meeting along Hitchens Street, now Weeville Gordon Street.

A meeting with PNP representative Victor Cummings, that had been arranged to discuss occurrences in the constituency almost didn't materialise when the JLP candidate's car was shot at by men believed to be from the other side of the political divide.

"As I turned onto the street heading to St Matthews Church, I heard 'bap, bap, bap, bap' ... gunshots from the area of Robert Street. I heard about six gunshots and it sounded like they were using handguns. I had to rush into the churchyard," he said.

The excitement did not end in that election campaign, as five years later, drama unfolded on Nomination Day 2007.

"We usually nominate at Alpha School, so after nomination we walked up into Allman Town and went back down through Spoilers (PNP stronghold situated between Text Lane and East Street) and on to Southside.

"I got nominated first and (Ronnie) Thwaites after. When we reached down to Text Lane and Pryce Lane, we heard that South was tearing away with gunshots, so we drove to my office on Tower Street and found out that there was a standoff between the police and a gang called World Order.

"The police were firing from one side and the men on the other side and no side was giving in. There was a particular youth down there, who was said to be have committed some murders and who had a recent dispute with some youth from Tel Aviv (between Maiden Lane and George's Lane) .

"The police said they saw the youth running across South Camp Road and they started tearing shots at him. World Order was his refuge, so it became a shoot-out.

The men were claiming that the police were attacking them and the police were saying otherwise. I was sweating because there were two sets of guns on either side, but it was quelled later on."

Dr Collie admitted that he always had a good relationship with Thwaites, one which has remained cordial. But the outstanding Kingston College graduate will not feature again in another contest with the Roman Catholic deacon and Jamaica Rhodes Scholar, nor any other PNP representative in that seat.

"I will never go back to Central Kingston. No, no, no. I have paid my dues. It proved to be a rough, rough seat. I am looking for another seat.

"Inner-city politics is a serious thing, but it was interesting while it lasted. I have gone through a lot. A man looked at me one day along George's Lane in Tel Aviv and said 'dutty, nasty Labourite... me kill all Labourite you know, because a dem kill mi mother, mi bredda and mi sister', and that shook me up, because some of these guys are serious," said Dr Collie.

"On another occasion, I was on Rum Lane above Spoilers, walking with between 16 and 20 policemen when a woman came out and said, 'wi nuh want nuh sore foot doctor down yah.' That's how the politics is played," Dr Collie said.

Apart from the fierceness of politicking in the inner city, the expectations were too high, Dr Collie argued.

"I tried to help out people from all over the constituency while I was in there. I had a fairly big office along Tower Street and I had a roomful of medicine that I got as gifts. So I used to go there once or twice weekly, see patients and give them medicine.

"People from all over including Tel Aviv and Spoilers used to come to the office for treatment. But what I found interesting is that you would be offering free medicine and free health care, but a man would look on you after you have looked after him and tell you that his children cannot go to school tomorrow and wanted money.

"That man doesn't even realise the value of what he just got in terms of the treatment and the medicine. Still, it was interesting while it lasted," Dr Collie said.

Dr Collie, who had initially sought to represent in St Mary South East, having won the internal constituency election in early 2001, was replaced by Tarn Peralto in that seat for the 2002 vote, as some officers of the party thought that he was not making the rounds often enough.

That decision proved disastrous for the party, as several JLP supporters opted not to vote in the election, resulting in a narrow victory for the PNP's Harry Douglas over Peralto by 385 votes.

Peralto turned the tables in 2007, defeating Douglas by 34 votes, but was not allowed to run last December, as his performance was seen by party political watchers as poor.

He was replaced by former Mayor of Port Maria Richard Creary at the last minute, with Creary going down to the PNP's Dr Winston Green.

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