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Death Postponed: Six gunshots couldn't stop 'Rosie' Hamilton

Former councillor continues race of life through pain

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

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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This is the 29th in a series of close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of whom are prominent members of the society

ROSALIE Marie Hamilton is not the type of woman who would roll over and play dead when backed into a corner.

That attitude is what has kept the former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor alive, following two attempts to cut short her work on earth.

Businesswoman Hamilton, 55, known popularly as "Rosie", has several stories to tell. But none bring a wave of memories and emotional challenges like the times she was shot by men intent on killing her, thwarted, she believes, by spiritual intervention and sheer willpower.

The troubles of the former student of Holy Family Primary, Calabar Primary, Convent of Mercy (Alpha Academy) and Jamaica Commercial Institute began on the eventful night of December 1, 1995, after she attended a round robin party in the Waltham Park area of South West St Andrew.

She saw gunmen shoot a man dead at point blank range and had it not been for her quick thinking and rapid action, she might have ended up another statistic, among the hundreds killed by gunmen annually.

"I went to the round robin with this taxi guy, because I did not have a car at the time. The guy dropped a patron in the Waltham area and then stopped by his house.

"I was sitting in the car looking straight ahead of me and then I saw a shadow to my right and one to my left. Three men just stood up, then waited until the taxi driver came out of the yard, stick him up with a gun and told him to give them what he had," Hamilton stated.

"The taxi guy took out everything out of his pocket and gave to them. He had on a lot of chains and rings and they took that off too and then they told him to lie down on the ground.

"They then came to the car and asked me where I came from, but knowing that the area is a PNP (People's National Party) area, I told them that I was from up the road.

"They said 'come outta di car, come outta di car and lie down,' so I said what you want me to lie down for? If you talking, talk, what is the problem?

"Next they went under a streetlight close by and check up everything they had... all the money. On their way coming back to us they said 'oonu know a dead time now'."

Hamilton felt then that her entire world was crumbling.

The gunmen put the taxi driver to lie on the sidewalk, placed the gun at his ear and shot him once — a blow that spun the cabbie over, his lifeless body resting at the side of the road as if it had little value.

Thinking that she had mere seconds to live, Hamilton sprung into action.

"The next thing they did was push the gun over in my face, at which point I grabbed at the gun, because only one of the three had a gun. The gunman went back and 'boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! But my face was turned to one side, that's how I got shot on one side, and I started to bawl out and they ran away," she said.

She had been shot five times, with two of the bullets penetrating her head. The wounds could have been worse had her head not been turned sideways at the time of impact.

"I ran into the yard that the taxi man was in and told the man's mother, who came out, what had happened, because they had heard the shots.

"I took off the blouse that I had on and tied up my head, went across the road... a car was there, beat down the gate and a man came out and helped me to lift the taxi man into the car and took him to the hospital, but he died when we got there," she said.

"Two of the shots did not lodge deep. Dr Jephthah Ford did the surgery when I came out of hospital. He cut inside of my ear and removed one bullet, because he didn't want to scar my face.

"The second bullet wound became infected, so Dr Irvine at University Hospital had to do major surgery in 2004 to take out another was lodged close to my spine," she added.

That bullet had entered near her ear and went down. The others grazed her face.

Police later killed one of the three gunmen, who was positively identified by Hamilton, but to the best of her knowledge, the two others are still at large.

Although that incident was a shocking experience, what happened 12 years later made it pale in comparison .

As is customary in the lead-up to any election in the Kingston Central constituency, tensions between JLP and PNP supporters rise.

Things were far from cozy between perennial foes Southside — Rosie's base and a JLP stronghold — and Tel Aviv further south which has always been fiercely loyal to the PNP.

Hamilton, who served as councillor for the JLP dominated the Rae Town division of the Kingston & St Andrew Corporation for eight unbroken years up to earlier this year when she lost narrowly to the PNP's Ann Marie Morrison, was caught off guard by a bullet fired by a man whom she had grown up with.

The incident occurred across from her Capricorn headquarters, a drinking lounge along Gold Street, and triggered related activities that led to a flare-up of violence in the wider community.

"It was Sunday, November 27, 2007 and I had just come out of a car along Gold Street, opened the bar and called my niece to creme (relax) my hair," she reflected.

"I was preparing for a JLP public meeting that night because it was close to the local government election.

"I went across the road and she was putting the creme in my hair. So when she finished, the creme was burning me, but I was trying to make it process, so I continued to sit down there. And then I heard 'blow!'.

"I held up my head and felt that I got a hit in my chest, so I was wondering to myself, who fling that stone and lick me in my chest. So when I looked at my chest, I saw a big hole.

"When I looked down the road, I saw the guy like he was going to point the gun at me again and some guys run out and ran after him down the road. She had been shot by a man from Tel Aviv, someone whom she said she least expected to attack her, as they had got on well over the years.

"So I told the people on the scene that I got shot and they put me in a car and took me to hospital," she said.

The bullet, which is still lodged inside, entered her right breast and travelled in a straight line across the chest.

"The first time I got shot, it was five bullets I got. But I never felt the type of pain and agony that I felt with the one shot that I got on Gold Street.

"The shots that I got first were all head injuries, but they were not as penetrative, but the chest wound was more dangerous," she said.

By the time she got to hospital, the news that she had been shot had flown around the politicial circles and several members of her party the JLP came.

"I remember lying in the waiting area and two doctors came — a male and female. The male said to me 'Ms Hamilton, we have to cut you both sides to put in a tube, because you are having internal bleeding and that will be dangerous for you.

"I lay down and the female doctor came and used the raw knife and cut me. I turned to her and said 'Doc, it hurts, I am feeling pain', and she said to me 'so wha you expect me fi do'.

"I turned to the male doctor and said 'Doc, it's unbearable, I can't take the pain', and he said 'all right' and told the female doctor to leave me alone.

He injected the area and did the surgery. The bullet was so close to my heart that the doctor said it would be more dangerous trying to remove it.

So she lives with this reminder of that brush with the Grim Reaper still embedded in her flesh, causing her considerable pain.

"I still feel pain every day, but the doctor said to me 'Ms Hamilton, you have something to give God thanks for — life. So just go about daily, feeling the pain, because you have life'. So I just try to live with it," Hamilton said resignedly.

She even found it within her to forgive her shooter, whom she believes was just a pawn.

"It was a straight political incident," Hamilton said.

"I had never had a problem with the guy, so seeing him come up the road, I wouldn't expect him to do that. We know that Tel Aviv people support the PNP and they know we are JLP, but I have never had a problem with him, so seeing him I never thought that he would do it. But it was some other guys down Tel Aviv who sent him to do it," she said.

Police arrested two other men who had accompanied the shooter, but Hamilton, who pressed charges initially, later dropped the case.

"I never bothered to take it any further," she admitted.

"The man who shot me is still around the place. He saw me one day and said 'Mums, wha happen? But I never answered him. I forgive him, but I will never forget what he did.

"It's like these people are not conscious of what they do sometimes. People just use them, because he is up and down walking on the street. Suppose I was a vindictive or wicked person?

Not long after she had begun her slow journey to recovery from this harrowing incident, Hamilton had to go against doctor's order and discharge herself from hospital, feeling compelled to act as peacemaker after things threatened to get out of hand in her community as a result of her shooting.

The people of Southside were adamant that action should be taken against those from Tel Aviv who attacked their heroine, a situation that was only eased when Hamilton, armed with two bags of intravenous fluids, commonly called drips, made a public appeal for the 'war' to stop, despite the physical pain that she was feeling.

Hamilton, who lost to Central Kingston Member of Parliament and education minister Ronald Thwaites in the December 2011 general election, is now concerned about what she calls the "bad war" between men from Southside and Tel Aviv.

This time though there is no political mixup, as the fights are all over the 'control' of turf.

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