MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Opposition's vote against extending the states of emergency (SOEs) currently in force in seven police divisions across the island has been met with disappointment and anger by stakeholders in western Jamaica.
“I believe that the lack of support for the extension of the SOE is reckless, and it is the reckless endangerment of lives of Jamaican citizens who they are responsible for protecting. Through their refusal to support the extension of the SOE they have put Jamaicans' lives in jeopardy,” Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce Crime and Safety Committee Chairman Mark Kerr-Jarrett said yesterday.
The SOEs were declared in St James, Westmoreland and Hanover, in rural Jamaica, and four police divisions in Kingston and St Andrew on November 14 by the Government and needed endorsement from the Parliament to continue beyond tomorrow when the proclamations from the governor general are scheduled to expire.
On Tuesday this week, the Government used its majority, voting 46 to 2 to pass the resolutions for an extension.
However, on Thursday in the Senate, the Opposition blocked passage of the resolutions as its three legislators who remained for the late-night vote did not give their support. The vote was 13 in favour and 3 against. Five Opposition senators were absent.
Yesterday, Kerr-Jarrett, who is also a businessman in this western parish, shared that, with violence plaguing the seven police divisions in which the SOEs are now in force, the extensive security measures provided by the anti-crime strategy are needed.
“Right now, we all know that the SOE is the only tool in the toolbox that the security forces have to contain the record levels of homicides that we are now experiencing. We need the SOE on an extended basis to give the Government the time that is needed to amend all of the necessary legislation that is before them,” Kerr-Jarrett told the Jamaica Observer.
The businessman could not hide his disappointment with the Opposition senators' vote.
“I don't even have words to describe how I feel about what happened last night [Thursday night], it was very reckless and opportunistic,” he said.
He added that, for members of the security forces, the Opposition senators' decision was a slap in the face.
“The security forces and their members have been further endangered. Their service, loyalty and commitment have been squandered by what the Opposition did last night,” Kerr-Jarrett argued.
He said that, with the discontinuation of the SOEs, this upcoming Christmas holiday will be “very tense” as Jamaicans will be living in fear for their lives.
“I think that it is going to be very, very tense, and I don't think that people will have the feeling of security and safety to enjoy it how they deserve to. I think everybody was looking forward to a little liberty to enjoy Christmas and the season with their families and now they have been robbed of that opportunity,” said Kerr-Jarrett.
In Westmoreland, Custos Rev Canon Hartley Perrin shared that, though he is not surprised by the Opposition's stance, he is alarmed by their lack of support for the extension of the SOEs, coupled with no forthcoming recommendations on how they believe the issue of crime across the island should be tackled.
“I'm not absolutely surprised because they had indicated a long time ago that they were not in favour of the SOEs across Jamaica, and that has been the People's National Party's position for quite a while now. I understand that they are standing on some kind of principle, and I can sympathise, because I do know the potential danger with states of emergency,” said the custos.
“But, when we have a crisis — such as the one that is overwhelming us, particularly in this parish of Westmoreland — then we need to hear, if not the state of emergency, what would be the recommendation? Certainly it cannot be business as usual, because people are dying and people are scared,” Perrin continued.
With a staggering 1,309 murders recorded across the island as of yesterday, Custos Perrin said that Jamaica is experiencing “war”.
This, he said, is a clear indication that the SOEs, which he believes is the one “tool” that members of the security forces can utilise to curb crime, are needed.
“You know, we are in wartime, like literal wartime. And if we are in wartime it means that the State has to fight back, because the criminals are taking it to the citizens, they are taking it to the police, and they are not discriminating. So, if this is all the State has in its power to use as its tool, then the State has to use that,” Perrin told the Observer.
“Right now, when guys are walking around with guns shooting indiscriminately, something has to be done to let them realise that 'Listen, you can't just walk around, shoot people and walk away because you are likely to be caught.' So, if not the state of emergency, what else is there at our disposal that can be used? Because it cannot be business as usual, something has to be done,” the custos appealed.
At the same time, a female resident of Morass district in Hartford, Westmoreland, where the killing of a young man and the injuring of three others, including a toddler, took place on Thursday night, said the abrupt ending of the SOE will do nothing but destroy the protection they once had from the security forces.
“Mi feel bad because, with this gone now, mi know that wi haffi go lookout,” the woman said.
President of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce Moses Chybar argued that even though the SOE cannot be a stand-alone tool, statistics have shown that crime has reduced whenever the SOE is in place. He said the SOE is needed during the Christmas.
“It is unfortunate that we are not going to have the SOE now. I think it would have helped to curtail the crime now, especially moving into the Christmas season where the SOE would help to keep it under control,” he said.
Supermarket employee Keble Williams said that after the SOE ends gangsters will come out of hiding.
“With the end of the SOE, crime will be stepping up. The police and the soldiers did kinda slow it down, and with it now coming to end, everybody a go come out,” argued Williams.