MONTEGO BAY, St James -- The historic Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay was a sea of black between mid-morning and noon yesterday as scores of placard-bearing protesters braved the sweltering heat to denounce acts of violence in the society.
The message from each of the speakers during the almost two-hour-long protest in the town's centre, was clear-- "time to stop violence in the society".
Buoyed by the huge gathering, Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris said that judging from the turnout it was clear that acts of violence in the parish of St James will not be allowed to continue.
"The number of persons here this morning (yesterday) is a clear indicator that the people of the parish of St James will not allow what has been happening over the years, and particularly this week, to continue," he emphasised.
Harris was referring to the numbers of heinous crimes that have been committed in the parish in recent years, and the robbery and rape of five females, among them an eight-year-old child, in the Irwin Point community on Monday night.
He argued that the time has come "when we will no longer allow the criminals who do not want to see the parish flourish, to stop".
"I know persons in high places who are fuelling the crime and violence in this parish and I am going to make an appeal to them at this time: Stop it now! Stop it now! In the name of Jesus, stop it!" Harris stressed.
He urged the protesters to ensure that St James becomes a place "to live, raise our families, to do business and enjoy ourselves".
According to the mayor, St James has lost more than $2 billion worth of investments over the last few years due to the high level of criminality in the parish.
Minister of National Security Peter Bunting reminded the gathering that the parish is leading the rest of the country as far as violent crimes are concerned.
"Everyone should be ashamed of this," Bunting said, adding that additional resources have recently been assigned to the parish.
He urged the protesters to take a stance against violent crimes in the society.
Women's Inc representative, Elise Thomas, urged the protesters not to condone wrong doings. "Do not shield your children; do not wash the bloody clothes; don't hide them under the bed," said a passionate Thomas, to thunderous applause. We needed to put a stop to this. We have had enough," she emphasised.
And Parish co-ordinator for the Victim Support Unit in Montego Bay, Debbian Dalley noted that there have been many cases of rape in the parish in recent years.
"It's not just Monday night alone, it has been happening all along... it time for us to wake, it has to stop. We must not condone it, we need to report it," said Dalley, passionately.
Meanwhile, Head of Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) Superintendent Gladys Brown-Campbell, in her address, called on the Government to establish a DNA database and to amend the Sexual Offences Act to allow for mandatory sentencing of persons who commit rape with guns, knives and cutlasses.
"When you rape using violence with objects like knives there should be a mandatory sentence for that individual," Brown-Campbell said.
She assured the protesters that the police will ensure that the perpetrators of Monday night's bizarre act will be brought to justice, speedily.
"We are working to ensure that our women and children are protected from these viscous guys. No longer should we put up with these kinds of attacks and atrocities. Too long we have remained in silence and we should not remain silent anymore," she argued.
President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry Davon Crump, Deputy Speaker of the House and Member of Parliament Lloyd B Smith, as well as a representative from the Child Development Agency also addressed the gathering.
Several other business places, whose employees were not in attendance at Sam Sharpe Square yesterday, also joined in the protest.
A section of the large crowd in Sharpe Square, St James, yesterday. (Photos: Aceion Cunningham)
Protestor Agatha Peterkin hold a placard with a message pleading for the children.