Parking lot hustlers say they are not extortionists
BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
MEN who have been accused by the police of supporting criminal activities through money earned from motorists after assisting in parking have said that they are not extortionists, neither do they pay over money to 'dons'.
Instead, they said, they were only trying to make a living.
"A three youth mi have and is out here so mi come help some people to get money to survive," 29-year-old Dwayne, one of a number of men seen directing parking on Darling Street in front of the Coronation market, said recently.
"Is from the incursion mi deh here so a try earn a little bread," he said. "The people get to rate me more and even some of them yard I can go," he continued.
Dwayne said that because of where he comes from - Tivoli Gardens - no one wants to employ him. With children to support, the eldest of whom will be entering basic school come September, he has no choice but to 'hustle'.
"I never have any father to give me nothing from mi born until now, so mi a try to be a father for my youth dem," Dwayne said. "It's only my mother I know. So I am trying my best to feed my youth dem."
Dwayne said that he is willing to work with the police as they try to regularise the parks and would appreciate getting a job if and when things are handed over to the proper authority.
"But if they just going to let us just leave so - mi nuh know how that would go because we nuh have nothing else to go do. I don't think anything bad of the police, but they have to just deal with the thing in a decent manner. What we are doing here is protecting the people them same way. We not going to be here and make a car get tief or nothing, and is regular they see we same one hold thief and bring them come give them at the station - regular!' he said.
He said oftentimes the police would cart them off to the station to be processed, then let them go because they were not found with anything.
"We not doing nothing wrong right here so," Dwayne told the Sunday Observer. "Most of these vehicles leave open and is because of us. They (motorists) know us. So when people get to know you they trust you. I have all number where some people call me before they come market and tell me to keep a space or so. They know that we try to take care of their things and when they come back they see them things same way, nothing nuh missing," Dwayne said.
He said that he is a tiler but because he is not certified he only gets a day's work once in a while, which is not enough to feed his family.
He said that he can make up to $1,700 per day when business is good as he cannot pressure motorists to pay him if they don't have it to give.
"The police them know us, too, you know, because they take us up more than 10 times and go process we. So is not like they don't know we, and most police know that we all right. Is just some new police will come and behave a way," he said.
Another worker known to motorists as "Blacks", but who gave his name as Ricardo, while denying claims of being an extortionist, admitted to unscrupulous characters sent there by "persons who want to exalt themselves" who in fact disrespect motorists when they refuse to give them money.
"You have some unscrupulous character that coming to mash up the ting and prevent the real youth them from doing their hustling," Blacks said. "For instance, two more man come in, but those two youths will come and you say respect the people them, yet still man telling the people to go do things with them mother and disrespect the people them whenever they not giving them a ting," he explained.
"A person will come market with $1,000 and the money done in the market on food - which is what the money must done on. So nothing nuh wrong. Next week you might come back and you might have a little change can give me, but it's not a problem to me either way, because when you don't give me anything, the next man that going to park up where you a drive out from might give me all twice or three times that amount that you would have given me," he said.
"I don't charge anybody. I tell them any money they have, any money I will take, all dollar coin and red money. So if I was an extortionist I would not be collecting these something yah," he said dipping into his pocket and taking out a handful of silver and brown coins. "I couldn't be an extortionist and take this from people," he emphasised.
The 43-year-old said that there are in fact men who will send others on the streets to collect money and take to them, which is where the problem lies.
"Some of those unscrupulous characters coming in and disrespecting the people have some other type of characters boosting them up, and they have a problem with me because I am not paying 'dons' nothing. I work for myself," he noted.
Blacks, who said he is married with five children, like Dwayne, explained that his West Kingston address also prevents him from being employed. He said that he is a professional steel man, initially trained by soldiers, and has been certified by HEART Trust but has problems collecting his certificate.
"So right now this is what I have to live off," Blacks said.
He said that on some days he can make up to $3,500, and has been an unofficial parking attendant since shortly after the incursion in Tivoli Gardens. He claimed to be the first to start in the business while others followed suit.
Today, he said, there are approximately 50 men on the west end alone making a living from parking.
He, too, admits that shoppers' safety is his first priority.
"I try to build that character and let the others know that when persons come, even if they have nothing to give, it should be nuff respect same way. We don't just park, we protect," he said.
According to Blacks, the area is divided up and attendants are allotted various spots in which to work.
He said that the only father he ever knew all is life is the man he grew up knowing as stepdad - retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Keith "Trinity" Gardner.
Sean, 25, a past student of the Central Branch All-Age School said that he has been at his trade since age 17 and whatever he earns is to support himself and his mother. His father died two years ago.
"Is just this alone me hustle off," he said. "I come out every Thursday and Saturday, but when the police out here we cannot come."
Presently, the youngster is pursuing two CXC subjects at the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), formerly JAMAL, so he can get a job at the power plant.
"If is never this I don't know how I would survive sometimes," the soft-spoken Sean said. "I help to take care of my mother because only sometimes she get a little day's work. More time I'm out here, I help the country people in the market and on Saturdays they will give me a little food and give me a money. Nuff time mi meet good people out here and they give me a little ting," he said.
He said that on a Saturday he can make up to $3,000.
"Mi a tell you the truth, if the police move us I don't know what I will do. Even though they try to stop us I still go in the market and if mi see mi people them I will help them out with their bags and they will still give me a little change.
In the parking lot on the east side of downtown Kingston, next door the Kingston Parish Church, a number of boys were seen moving towards vehicles and guiding drivers to orderly parking. None was older than 25.
"I was planning to turn a solider but because of the tattoo [on his wrist] mi get turn down," 22-year-old Kemarley told the Sunday Observer. "So mi just give up that dream and over here so a do a little hustling," he said.
Kemarley, who lives in the garrison community of Tel-Aviv, said that he has been working for over 12 years after being introduced to the park by his uncle, who was killed some years ago in the same park.
He said that if they are forced out of the park he will try his hand at cooking - something he believes he is good at.
The youngster explained that he started attending HEART/NTA to further his skills but because of violence in his area he had to drop out. He said that bad men in the community would trail him when he left for school and out of fear for his life he gave it up.
"When we collect money is just ours, we don't give it to anybody. We not extortionists. Is not no don ting, is just the youth them over here a try eat a little food," Kemarley explained.
"If people come in here and say them 'frass' we make them go on 'cause we nuh give them nutten to put in them pocket. So anything they give we, we give thanks for it still. We not 'badding' up anybody for their things, but nobody can't come bruck nobody car. None of that can't go on in here so," he, too, declared.
He said that people would sometime give them up to $500, while others would offer $100 or $150.
"But if they say they have $50 we take it same way. We not demanding anything," he said.
Andre, 25, said the park being taken over by the police would affect him in a big way.
"We not working otherwise, and most of the youth them you see out here so don't reach 25 and if they come here so a day time and hustle a two bills ($200) or three bills ($300) they can go on the road and buy themselves something to eat," he said. "So instead of sitting down and a pree to do some robbery or run up and down with gun you deh here so a park two car and a wash two car and still you can put a dollar in you pocket. If 10 people come and say they don't have nuh money we can't war with nuh body. You just know say is so it go. The main thing is not even to direct parking; is to protect a person vehicle, to see to it that nobody not brucking in a person car.
"Normally those things would happen - not by us, but by other people same way. Every youth that come out here and hustle is their money they hustle. They don't have to pay over no money to nobody," he said.
He, too, claimed to be trained in welding, auto mechanic work, plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry, but is not certified.
Andre has three children, the eldest of whom will be starting high school in September, while the youngest will be going into basic school.
"If we never deh here so we would be on the street side sitting down, or a smoke a spiff for police to come antagonise we - or a do some idleness, because certain place that you go you can't get a work if you don't have certain subjects, and mi nuh have certain subjects. Mi nuh dunce but mi nuh have nuh papers to prove it.
"The other day mi go try deal with a wholesale work and they tell me say mi have to have subjects. If you have to have subjects to lift bag a rice and bag of flour, then it stay a way," he said. "If you fi go back to school it ago take a time. So if the police can do it in a way where they give we the privilege to sort out certain things that certain things don't happen it would be much better for us."
Marlon, 21, a past student of Norman Manley High School, has a similar story. He never knew is father, and has been caring for himself since he was in school. He said that because of the hustling he has been able to purchase his own television set, fan, clothes, among other items.
"Is out here so make me have what me have since mi turn a man," he said.