Spanish Town residents sad SOE ending
Members of a joint police/military team search a vehicle on Burke Road in Spanish Town, St Catherine, on June 17. (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

ST Catherine residents who said the state of emergency (SOE) in the parish was effective in keeping criminals and bloodshed at bay over the two-week period are eager to know what is next in terms of keeping gangsters under control when the SOE expires Friday.

On Tuesday, June 14, internal gang conflicts resulted in the killing of three people and wounding of others in a gun battle in the busy Spanish Town Market district. Following the incident that sparked public outrage, security forces imposed a curfew in sections of the parish, and the Government announced the SOE the following day.

On Sunday, several crime-sick residents called for a massive operation in the old capital to deal with the violence to which they have been subjected to for years. Now, to their dismay, the lesser version of such – the SOE – has expired.

A 25-year-old man, who likened the lifting of the SOE as leaving a toddler unattended, said he would be shocked if there are no flare-ups.

“When the police pack up and leave we know what happens next. Think logically; it is like you’re telling a baby not to turn on the TV but yet still you leave the TV remote right in the crib. So what is the child going to do? They must turn on the TV. How can the parish be described as a national emergency and the solution was just a couple weeks of the SOE? That doesn’t make any sense and it will never make any sense, but these are the people leading the country,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

The man admitted, however, that the SOE returned some level of order following the triple murder.

“It would be a lie to say we haven’t seen any changes because of the SOE. But what I am complaining about is the fact that now there is nothing. Everything that was achieved because of the SOE is now basically being left to be reversed. We need something long-term and more efficient. I don’t know if there will be a flare-up because the SOE ends, but if it happens I will not be surprised,” he said.

“I really don’t get it, but this is what always happens and we see that this happens in other parishes. Something happens with criminals and then they say the criminals are too brazen or crime is out of control, and then they impose SOE and when things start to cool down, as you blink, the SOE is finished and you’re right back at square one.”

Another resident described the SOE as “inconsequential”.

“At the core of the problem is ineffective policing, a weak justice system, and corruption. When criminals watch so many accused in the Klansman trial walk off scot-free, what is the incentive to stop what they are doing?” the 43-year-old woman lamented.

“The matter came under a bit of control, but I don’t think any long- term strategic gains were made. I expect to see a flare-up in crime, but I don’t necessarily blame it on the SOEs being removed. After all, they can’t be there forever. Flare-ups will occur because of active, well-organised criminal elements who will continue to have internal conflicts and turf claims.”

A 19-year-old man told the Observer that there has been a reduction in the level of “violence or outrageous killings” in Spanish Town since the implementation of SOE, but contended that it cannot be left at that.

“There is a sense of security felt among the residents with the security forces being present, but people are still fearful of going out, especially with the end of the SOE,” he said.

“I believe it has done its job in quelling the outrageous killings and violence in the short space of time. People tend to go about their businesses with less fear, being that the security forces were present.

“At least maintain police presence in the parish, he added, since the SOE has to go,” said the young man.

“I don’t expect to see a flare-up of crime again, but I am still fearful of that happening. The security forces should continue patrolling the streets and continue doing their jobs in the crime-affected communities within Spanish Town.”

And a 32-year-old woman told the Observer she was disappointed that the SOE was short-lived.

“They should’ve extended it for at least two more weeks. Yes, we have seen improvement in the crime prevention, but I don’t think we have reached a point where we can say yes, enough has been done to get back comfortable. If I were a criminal, this would be the moment I was waiting for to come back out and do what I have to do,” she said.

She urged the Government to not be misguided and leave the parish bare.

“I see a flare-up coming again, as is always the case with Spanish Town. That is how it has always been, on and off with the gang thing. One minute they are cooling off and the next minute it is madness again. We are used to this pattern, and it a go stay this way until the Government break it,” she argued.

However, a 19-year-old man said the SOE was a means to an end.

“Though I commend the Government for taking relatively swift action, there needs to be some thought and innovative crime strategy. However, all of that depends on many factors, such as community cooperation, resources, assistance from the Opposition, et cetera. They were successful in some areas. Granted, more success may have happened, but the strategy towards that was not clear to the general public,” he said.

“The most I have seen personally is the checkpoints and the release of soldiers, but no major operations or seizures, based on my knowledge.

The man said the continuation of gang-related crimes is expected.

“That is inevitable… citizens should be aware. However, I don’t believe such brazen acts such as the market street incident will be repeated soon, but that may be underestimating the criminals.”

Romardo Lyons

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