A ZOSO will help us play again
Rose Gardens residents appeal to PM for expansion of security measures in Kingston Central
Kingston Central fire victim Paulette Finlayson (second left) pleads to Prime Minister Andrew Holness for quick assistance after fire ravaged multiple adjoining dwellings on James Street and Smith Lane early Monday morning. Holness was touring the site Tuesday afternoon. (Photos: Jason Cross)

RESIDENTS of Rose Gardens in Kingston Central, popularly referred to as Spoiler, pleaded to Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday to extend the zone of special operations (ZOSO) in another section of the constituency to include their community.

Holness was touring the community where a massive fire ravaged multiple adjoining premises on James Street and Smith Lane Monday morning, leaving over 30 people, including children, homeless. It is a widely believed among residents that the fire was set just after 4:00 am by gunmen who then opened fire on people trying to escape the blaze. The police have, however, said they have no such evidence of gunfire or arson, but would continue to investigate.

The residents told Holness that due to constant violence in the community, stemming from an ongoing gang feud, it has been a long time since they last had the luxury of playing sports or hosting entertainment events. One young man jealously pointed to Parade Gardens, another community in Kingston Central, which was declared a ZOSO by the prime minister in January. He said since the ZOSO was established they have been enjoying regular sporting activities.

"I am an ex-footballer. I used to play for the Central Kingston Football Club as a defender. I used to play on these same streets. I used to play ball on Beeston Street, Wildman Street, Rum Lane, and I used to go everywhere in central Kingston go play ball. I can't tell you when last a ball roll around here. But down in the communities where the ZOSO is I understand that football play regular pon a Sunday. Mi want peace, so we can play some ball," the male resident said.

He further said he believes Spoilers can return to the days when people were proud to call themselves residents of that community.

"I actually believe that the community can come back. I born and grow in Spoilers. I have been living here all my life. Growing up here I see the nice, the bitter, and the sweet. Most definitely I would love to see generations after me to come and actually say that it is a nice community to be a part of. We agree that crime is something that cannot be stopped by just one thing, but I believe the ZOSO can be a start in Rose Gardens."

As the prime minister listened to the complaints of residents, there were chants from a few women of, "We want ZOSO."

One clearly frustrated woman told Holness that the violence has caused her to be traumatised.

"... You know how long me nuh walk pon Wildman Street and me live Spoilers. Mi can't get fi go inna round robin again and mi can't mek nuh money. The teenagers are afraid to walk. One time violence used to gwaan but we could go anywhere. Now we can't go anywhere. We have to hitch up in house. We can't work with that."

The recommendation for the ZOSO in Parade Gardens to be expanded to include Rose Gardens has been a constant cry from many stakeholders, including People's National Party caretaker for the Kingston Central constituency Imani Duncan-Price. Her most recent appeal came on Monday on the heels of the alleged firebombing. She bemoaned that the people had to run from the burning houses, leaving their assets and important documents, such as passports, birth certificates, and car titles, behind just to save their lives.

"They are in such fear because they have been told that it is not over. It is time to expand the ZOSO to include Spoilers, which was hot from last year, to protect people's lives and property. These are hard-working Jamaicans who have lost everything," she said.

As he stood facing the people who were burnt out on Monday, the prime minister said he would consider expanding the ZOSO, but made it clear that resources were limited.

"We will be taking a second look at the zone of special operations here to see how best we can expand it given the resources that are here. You will understand, however, that right across Jamaica there are communities in conflict which are calling for the same thing and are competing for the resources. That is a challenge. There are many communitites like this where conflict has become so intense that people just can't enjoy peace and the freedom that peace brings. We have put in a security intervention and it is giving peace, but the challenge is, if you move that security intervention, will the peace still exist? The ZOSO is not a permanent answer. It is there to give space for peace to emerge, for community leaders to emerge, for wardens of the peace and the environment and people who will ensure that people are going to school, for community to re-emerge."

An option proposed by Holness was to start by redeveloping the entire block that was burnt out on Monday and eventually expanding the redevelopment to other sections of the community.

"What we want to do is take this entire block and redevelop it so that people can have better quality of housing and maybe that will change their outlook and perspective. That is what we are going to do here. We have already mobilised the social housing programme to look at the entirety of the area to see how we can develop it. Whatever immediate social intervention we can give to help the people with food and clothing, we will help. Definitely we will help with back-to-school for the kids who are displaced."

Prime Minister Andrew Holness assures this female fire victim of l Kingston Central on Tuesday afternoon that help is coming for her and and other people who were displaced by a blaze early Monday morning.
BY JASON CROSS Observer staff reporter crossj@jamaicaobserver.com

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