August Town exhales

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August Town exhales

Residents of violence-ravaged community applaud PM's decision to declare the area a ZOSO

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 09, 2020

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AFTER more than a month of almost daily gunfire, residents of August Town breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as scores of police and soldiers moved into the space where gunmen have been operating with seeming impunity.

The eastern St Andrew community was declared a zone of special operations (ZOSO) by Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday and residents, those not too scared to speak, almost uniformly told the Jamaica Observer that while they were disappointed that it took so long for the State to act, they were happy that it finally happened.

“Mi nah go lie to you, when me wake up this morning and see the police and soldiers me feel very good. To wake up out of mi bed and see the ZOSO that we a bawl for so long to help lower the crime in August Town, mi feel good,” said a woman who gave her name only as “Sam”.

“Nothing at all nah go on in the community because of the idiot people them who a keep up them foolishness and a that we want done, because we want back wi community. Right now the Government give wi 11 o'clock fi curfew and we have fi a go a wi bed all six o'clock and seven o'clock and it unfair to the law-abiding residents in the community, so mi glad for the ZOSO,” added Sam, who operates a small shop in Hermitage, a section of the community.

A fellow Hermitage resident, whose 18-year-old son was murdered in the community in January, was more than happy to welcome the members of the security forces.

“If the Government sees a way to find these people and stop dem from hurting other people who not involved in a dem thing … I have no problem with that. [My son] go look fi him grandmother on her birthday. Him go fi help her out in di yard and di present she get was a dead grandchild,” said the still-hurting father.

Member of Parliament for St Andrew Eastern, the Jamaica Labour Party's Fayval Williams, joined her constituents in welcoming the decision to declare the area a ZOSO.

“August Town has been waiting for this for some time now. If you recall it has been well over a year that I had written to the prime minister for this to be declared. As you are well aware there are many gangs operating in August Town and they create mayhem for the law-abiding citizens,” said Williams.

“So putting in an operation such as this, in which the joint security forces come in and they clear, hold, build, we are delighted for this to happen in August Town where they can begin to work with all institutions that are here… to begin the rebuilding of August Town,” added Williams.

The MP noted that several organisations have embarked on social intervention programmes in August Town but these have been stymied because of the violence.

“So this will give them an opportunity to cement themselves in the community and really build the community,” declared Williams.

In the meantime, councillor for the Papine Division, which includes August Town, the People's National Party's Venesha Phillips, said while the decision to declare the area a ZOSO has come late it is still welcomed.

“I am happy that intervention is finally coming after two years of my begging and pleading. I observe that some listening has happened because I see that the security forces are being laid out with an appreciation of what I have been pointing out about the corners in the community that to leave them out would be counter-productive.

“But there are some major gaps that I am concerned about that I have pointed out to the police, because if those gaps are not plugged quickly it would mean that some of the perpetrators would be leaving the space,” said Phillips.

She noted that the orgy of violence in the community has had a major impact on the children in particular.

“We have children who have done very well in the recent PEP. Our children are going to the prominent high schools, so just imagine those who did not have the strength of focus to carry them through the turmoil and what would have been their performance in PEP if they didn't have to deal with being under their beds at nights,” added Phillips.

In announcing the August Town ZOSO yesterday, Holness noted that the community had been assessed as a significant contributor to the level of crime in the St Andrew Central Police Division and had long been designated a hot spot in the area.

“Based on the assessment there is an urgent need for intervention. The presence of major gangs in the community, as well as a number of other less organised gangs, has over the years contributed to the level of crime. Additionally, the criminal activities of these gangs are not only restricted to the geographical boundaries of the community but have negatively affected other areas,” said Holness.

He was supported by Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson who noted that August Town, which is only 4.7 square kilometres, has no fewer than seven heavily armed gangs engaged in active conflict disrupting the lives, and livelihood, of the residents and hijacking any social intervention programmes.

“Since the start of the year seven residents of the community have been murdered and a further 14 people have been shot and injured. All of the murders and shootings in August Town have been attributed to gangs and everyone who has been murdered in the community has died by the gun,” said Anderson.

“Another reality is that the gunmen from August Town often carry out their violent activities in other policing sub-divisions. In the neighbouring Papine station area there have been seven murders and three shootings which are not unrelated to what happens in August Town,” added Anderson as he noted that other violent crimes are down in the community.

Fitsroy Randall contributed to this story.


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