VENDORS who trade in and around Coronation Market in downtown Kingston are fearful and even more as the Christmas season approaches.
According to the vendors, gang feuds many of them have had to take cover under stalls, while shoppers have been forced to scamper to safety as feuding gangsters trade bullets in the city's normally busy commercial district.
The Kingston Western police have reassured the fearful vendors that violent crimes will not be cause for worry this season as they will be increasing security with assistance from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Transport Authority.
The frustrated vendors told the Jamaica Observer that the tension started in September this year after three people were murdered in a week.
Just before 8:00 am on September 10, two men — 28-year-old Ackeem Wilson and 41-year-old Kevin Mitchell — were murdered on Darling Street, meters away from the entrance of the market, in a drive-by shooting. Hours later, a male vendor was shot multiple times in West Parade.
Six days prior, a male vendor was shot inside the market. The Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) Corporate Communication Unit (CCU), which confirmed the shooting, said the victim was hospitalised in serious condition.
“We don't just need security a Christmastime. We have a lot of things going on in the market that make coming out to earn wi honest bread look small. If mi never have family a depend pon me I would give up the market. It is that bad in her,” one vendor told the Observer.
Another added, “To be honest, we see the police around the market area a lot, especially since week. We see them especially on Darling Street, so we know that they are working. The issue is the youths who a mash up the place and a mash up business. The entire year hard because nuff people fraid a town. Wi nuh want dat again inna di likkle Christmas.”
A third vendor said, “A regular thing fi when Christmastime reach bwoy just ride up pon bicycle and tell yuh fi empty yuh bag… empty yuh bag a money. That is market fi yuh. A nuff time mi shop get rob and mi start from scratch. So we would love it if we could see more police in the place with us.”
Senior Superintendent of Police Michael Phipps, commanding officer for the Kingston Western Police Division, said the vendors and shoppers can expect just that. Phipps told the Observer that, with Christmas fast approaching, increased activities within the market district are expected and will be tackled head-on.
“We'll have to increase our numbers and we will do this with the shoppers and vendors and the general transient population alike. We want to allow for them to traverse the space in a much safer way. The operational activities that we will be embarking on will be geared mainly towards preventing especially violent crimes and property crimes. We don't want no shootings and no murders, and we don't want nobody being robbed,” he said.
Phipps added that public order is also important in achieving this.
“We want to know that the sidewalks and so on are not overrun by persons who will do vending in the streets and so on. We want to know that persons will be able to walk in peace and no improper parking and such.”
Yesterday, the Observer highlighted the plight of owners and operators of businesses in downtown Kingston who are said to be preparing to take the Government to court because of a lack of order within the densely populated commercial area.
Despite reassurance from Phipps, one vendor remained adamant that more needs to be done. The vendor, who lost her brother to violence in the area last March, told the Observer that vendors and shoppers alike have been operating in fear for the longest while. She said, despite police presence, criminals sometimes do not falter in launching their attacks.
Her brother, 52-year-old Owen Coleman of Kellits, Clarendon, was a vendor at Coronation Market for more than 30 years. His body was found with the head bashed in inside the market on Friday, March 26, about 4:30 am.
“Mi see him the night before. Him walk right pass me. Owen did a walk up and dung and a buy goods fi sell back. Him sell off weh him carry from country, and did a buy back goods fi sell. And people tell me that dem see him early that morning inna di market. A somebody call me and tell me what happened. Mi haffi just gwaan work wid wah gwaan. Mi haffi just do weh me haffi do,” she said.
The father of a 14-year-old boy, Coleman was discovered in a pool of blood. The CCU said an investigation is ongoing surrounding the circumstances of Coleman's death.
His sister added: “Him come and him sell inna di market. Him sell pak choi, lettuce, cabbage, and all a dat. Him have a stall right beside me. A farming him do a country. Him have him farm a Clarendon, and him grow him goods and then him come a market pon weekend come sell. Him normally sell off and go back home pon Saturday.”
As at November 27, a total of 101 people have been murdered in the Kingston Western division, a 14.8 per cent increase over the same period last year.
There has also been a five per cent increase in shootings, with 106 recorded since the start of the year.
Following the flare-up three months ago, Phipps said there were “some nine different deployments at different points with work taking place within the zone”.
He added: “In terms of resources, we will have added numbers. Numbers will come from elsewhere to augment what we already have in the particular space. The JDF will support us and the Transport Authority will support us as well. I can assure the public that they will see increased numbers in the space. They will see mobile patrol in uniform and some in plain clothes.”