intelligence BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter ?firstname.lastname@example.org
“We the leaders and representatives of the various corner or sections of August Town, in spite of our differences of various kinds, do hereby formally agree to put an end to all disputes and conflicts for a period of five years, and to set out the rules that will govern the conduct of this agreement.” — August Town Peace Treaty, 2008
THAT was the declaration offering hope of an end to gang violence that had claimed countless lives in August Town over many years.
On the day it was signed — August 24, 2008 — by gangsters, at the University of the West Indies Bowl in Mona, many of the residents, though hopeful, harboured some scepticism about the truce.
Their doubt was difficult to dismiss, as just a month before, six persons, including a one-year-old child, were slaughtered by gunmen bent on eradicating their rivals and anyone who stood in their way.
Surprisingly, though, the peace constructed and nurtured by the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) held for the most part, until last November when a string of shootings started. But two Saturdays ago the peace was completely shattered by a brutally murderous attack on the community by gunmen.
When the killers left, the bulletriddled bodies of two men — Rohan Simpson and his friend Moses Francis — were sprawled on the second floor of a house in ‘Vietnam’, one of several notorious ‘corners’ in August Town.
This time, however, it wasn’t the brazenness of the more than 12 heavily armed thugs who stormed the community which gained the ire of ‘Vietnam’ residents. Instead, the residents blamed the security forces, who they said failed to acknowledge intelligence that could have prevented the gruesome murders.
“If we had had the full cooperation of the police, you guys (reporters) would not be here today. From January we have been talking to the police because the men are on the hillside down at the bottom there, and we have been telling the police to go for them,” said Kenneth Wilson, a resident of the community.
“The police said that they are not trained. So we said ‘get who are trained, get the military and go down there for the man dem’. That was from January, till now, and each time the man dem come up dem kill two or three people. Is only one time dem come here and dem don’t kill nobody, and it is because a girl see dem and shout out. And that girl still got shot,” continued Wilson.
‘Vietnam’ corner is situated deep in August Town. It is next to African Gardens, and continues eastward towards the Hope River, which runs in the valley of the forested Long and Dallas mountains. On foot, and in less than three hours, one can navigate the rocky river banks to the neighbouring Harbour View and Rockfort communities, residents said.
In fact, this is the regular getaway route for the hoodlums, who residents said have migrated from the community to set up camp in the bushy area. What’s worse, they added, is that some of the thugs, many of whom are between 16 and 25 years old, are being sent regular meals, especially Sunday dinners, by relatives.
This practice is not a surprise for some residents, as the latest episode of violence, they claim, stemmed from a feud between two families. The murders committed two Saturdays ago are the latest in a tangled web of homicides since November, they explained.
“This thing is not like a gang from up the road ‘warring’ with another down the road. One set of family decide that they want to remove a youth from the community who don’t even business with them,” Wilson explained.
“All he has been telling them is that some deeds that they did they should not have done them, and that some of the men that they are carrying into the community should not have returned, because they were once enemies and they killed his family,” Wilson continued, identifying the youth he made reference to as 39-year-old Simpson, otherwise called ‘Troy’, one of the victims of the July 23 attack.
“And because de man a talk for him rights, they organised with some youths to kill the man,” Wilson continued, adding that he understood that Simpson had made an oath not to get involved in the feud even though it had recently claimed his brother’s life.
“When them kill him (Simpson’s) brother, Mr Knight and all ah di police dem come down here and beg him not to get involved in the foolishness. The youth hold him own and still them (police) never protect the youth,” fumed Wilson.
The Mr Knight he referred to is Senior Superintendent of Police Derrick ‘Cowboy’ Knight, who is in charge of the St Andrew Central Police Division.
Another resident of the community told the Jamaica Observer that Simpson’s death was ordered from overseas, and that his killers had made three earlier attempts on his life.
Last Tuesday, residents recounted the previous Saturday’s vicious attack, detailing movie-like scenes as people fled from the gunmen, who shot off the locks to the doors of some houses. According to many people claiming to be eyewitnesses, the killers opened fire in several sections of the community in an attempt to distract police before moving to Vietnam.
There, they said, the attack started with a scream: “Troy, dem a come!”
The warning dissipated in a crackle of gunshots and screams as residents fled. Most persons ran into nearby lanes. Simpson, however, ran into a house owned by 61-year-old Audrey Williams, a premises he visited frequently.
Gunshots chipped the concrete walls behind him as he climbed the 13 steps to the house, his attackers close in tow.
Upstairs, at least two other men, one of them Simpson’s good friend Francis, hid in one of three rooms. The gunmen first sprayed Francis with bullets before turning their weapons on the unidentified man. He, however, escaped by jumping through a window onto the zinc roof of a neighbouring house, residents said.
Simpson, having realised he was cornered, locked himself in one of the rooms, using furniture to block the door. But the bloodthirsty gunmen used strength and bullets to force their way in where they peppered his body with AK-47 rifle bullets, leaving his face almost unrecognisable, one resident recanted.
Downstairs, Williams and another man who had taken refuge in her house, used their bodies to prevent the gunmen from pushing open the front door. As the elderly woman tried to bolt the door, the thugs shot off its lock. Bullets hit the woman in her left breast and the man in his hand.
It seemed, though, that the criminals realised Simpson had already been killed, therefore they didn’t bother to enter although they had flung the door open after Williams was shot.
“I just said ‘Father God, if is here you want me dead, then so be it,” Williams recounted, adding that she used a towel to prevent blood from spewing from her wound as she awaited her fate, all the while praying.
The gunmen then escaped, firing wildly as they retreated to their hideaway. The killings followed the shooting deaths of 23-year-old Devon Harris and 19-year-old Onieff Bennett earlier that Saturday morning. Their deaths, residents said, were also linked to the ongoing rivalry.
On Tuesday, Wilson said the police were more reactive than proactive.
“It’s like a football match; if you continue to play defensive you will always come under pressure, and that is what the man dem (police) are doing,” he said.
“This containment strategy cannot work; you have to move from containment to apprehension, and dem in authority think they know, but they don’t know.
“Everything the police know they get from people. So why is it that this that they are implementing now; they never did before? If they had done this from January, then those persons’ lives would have been spared,” Wilson argued, pointing to contingents of police and soldiers, as well as a Jamaica Defence Force helicopter that had been hovering over the community since the killings.
Wilson’s sentiments were shared by a group of women who sat near the ill-fated spot discussing the murders. According to them, since November at least six persons had been murdered and a similar number of persons injured. Three sisters had also lost the fathers of their children to gun violence since November, they said.
The women accused the police of using the peace treaty to cover up reports of killings.
On Friday, the Sunday Observer sought reactions to the residents’ claims from Senior Superintendent Knight. However, this newspaper’s efforts were futile, therefore the residents’ accusations were put to Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, who heads the constabulary’s operations portfolio.
“Our view is that peace treaties are signed when there is a declared war, I don’t know of any war being declared in August Town,” Hinds said, adding that he has never recognised the August Town peace treaty.
He argued that a peace treaty does not augur well in a democratic society such as Jamaica.
“I am not supportive of any such thing as a peace treaty; if citizens have differences that they are trying to resolve, it is a different thing from a peace treaty,” he continued.
As it relates to the allegation that the police failed to act on information offered to them, Hinds responded: “I can’t comment on that. I know that there have been curfews in August Town for some time and we would have conducted several operations in the area.
“The police employ many operational tactics and the police on the ground would decide which operational tactic is best to resolve an issue,” he said, declining to discuss further these strategies. He said that divulging such information would render them redundant.
Last Tuesday, Bishop Herro Blair, head of the PMI, said that though the peace had been broken, all is not lost for August Town.
“It is only a pity that we were not proactive. If we were proactive maybe our ears would be more on the ground and we could have prevented those murders,” said Blair. “This used to be an area where there was a murder, like, every week, and there has been a lull. But you know, the heart of man is like that, so you are going to have uprisings,” he said.