Martin Henry | Mountain View Avenue: War and peace and an abdicating state
Violence will resume in the lulled Jacques Road-Goodwich Lane conflict as soon as work is restarted on the National Housing Trust construction site in the area.
Control of the construction site was the cause of the upsurge of gang warfare in the area through December before a truce was negotiated on December 28. Even on Christmas Day, two people were shot and injured.
That conflict between former friends in two lanes in a tight geographic space has added five deaths to the 1,616 murders that the police have recorded across the country for last year.
We have short memories, the law has a short arm, and an abundance of ignorance and unwarranted hope is guiding peacemaking. The young warriors making war - and making peace with lavish state support - are too young to have any personal knowledge of the 1970s violence attached to the McGregor Gully project in the same area, violence that climbed the social ladder and claimed the life of Edward 'Ted' O'Gilvie, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Construction, home for lunch at his Lydia Drive home in Havendale on June 16, 1977. At the time, I lived just up the road in the rented small side of a house with a brother and his family.
O'Gilvie, at the time of his death, had been conducting an audit of a housing project in McGregor Gully. Since that time, the Mountain View Avenue area has been the scene of numerous gang flare-ups.
Unable - or more likely unwilling - to exercise control of a longstanding trouble spot, the police are now in the habit of advising travellers to avoid the area when there is a flare-up of violence.
We are now in recovery mode from the shock of the New Year's Day blockade of the Palisadoes Road, the one road leading to and from the Norman Manley International Airport, by indisciplined party fans, with the police failing to anticipate this and completely losing control.
Mountain View Avenue is the major arterial corridor out of and into the city from the airport. The alternative downtown route generates its own fears for safe passage. The state does not have firm control over either. And, indeed, not over a large number of communities right across the country. So the urge to abdicate state responsibility and mediate truces among warring gangsters is particularly attractive to achieve a temporary lull in violence - one which fools those who can be fooled that something durable is being achieved.
Construction sites - danger zones
Construction sites have been lightning rods for violence associated with securing work and with extortion. The fact that this site is operated by the state housing agency but community gangs still feel that they can control it to the advantage of their side if they can outshoot and outmurder the other side shouts loudly about our condition.
While going about our lawful business, we were delayed on Mountain View Avenue on Thursday, December 28, by the peace tour, but thankfully, not for the kind of delay times that happened on the airport road over Christmas.
The police were at the table; constituency MP Julian Robinson was at the table; neighbouring MP Fayval Williams, who is presiding over a tenuous peace in August Town was at the table; Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams was present. The Church was there. So was the Peace Management Initiative, for private peace talks after the public walk.
Conspicuously absent from the peace meeting, which by definition was to broker the cessation of war between the State and an enemy of the State, were our minister of defence, who is prime minister and head of government, and our minister of national security, both bearing the weight of responsibility within the Government for the security and peace of the Jamaican State.
Who among leaders present will accept responsibility for the abrogation of the rule of law and of the legitimate claims of justice, the suspension of the authority of the State, and for the negative consequences which must inevitably follow? This is a much, much larger governance issue than the Palisadoes Road cock-up.
The voice of a PMI spokesman is very instructive if we stop to listen carefully. Comparing Mountain View Avenue to August Town ,which went a year without a murder after peace engagements, the spokesman said, "I am sure we have gone three to four years without a homicide in the community. It's just since 2017 that Mountain View has been seeing homicides and flare-ups.
"This just goes to show that constant initiatives are needed in communities because over time, you need to re-engage. Mountain View's [problem] is the lack of engagement. Talking about formula and peace, you have to look to Mountain View for that example. [However], we need engagement. I am calling out to the authorities to give us the resources to engage the community."
To give the PMI resources to engage the community versus all the machinery of the Government of the State in ministries, departments and agencies?
MP Robinson is adamant that it is only a few men in the area who are instigating the violence. He knows. Citizens who should be under the protection of the Jamaican State are traumatised, desperate, and war weary. They have marched for peace and have their own stories to tell. The media have filtered to us some of the horror stories of the pain and tribulation from the conflict engulfing them. They are desperate for peace. They are hoping against hope that this time, this time, things will be different.
Their State and their Government have more or less abandoned them, including the security forces pledged "to serve to protect, to assure". We must listen very carefully to the commanding officer for the East Kingston Police Division, which has responsibility for the area, Deputy Superintendent Robert Walker: "Things have been going very good. We did our own little police walk-through on Sunday in the day. [Tuesday night,] the East Kingston Extravaganza went on. That was a multiactivity event, with football and netball in the day, and then we finished with a party. And the same players [from the opposing sides], who shook hands recently, were there. The new year has started positively. We are taking them (the gangsters) at their word because so far, it is holding up. We have to give them [props for that]," The Gleaner reported DSP Walker as saying. The police reduced to refereeing games and hosting parties?
The peace talks were private as the Jamaican Government did business with 'area leaders'. The questions of these leaders representing whom, appointed how, accountable for what, accountable to whom, need not trouble us.
WHAT WAS AGREED UPON?
So, perhaps, other important questions were addressed and resolved: Will the five murders and several injuries from shootings be investigated and arrests made? Or has peace killed prosecution? Where are the guns, and will they be handed over to an independent peace tribunal like the PMI, if not to the police? Who are the violence producers to whom the MP so strongly alluded? How will the thirst for reprisals be peacefully quenched?
If the warring communities disarm, what firm guarantees from the State and Government will they have for their security and safety? And if they don't disarm, what guarantees do they have for the peace holding, especially when construction is resumed on the NHT site? Or is the Government acknowledging defeat and abandoning housing construction in the area as it has law enforcement?
In the interest of their own safety and security, what cooperation are the citizens of the war zone prepared to give to the security forces? This is definitely not a question that area leaders could be asked in our 'informa fi ded' culture. And what guarantees can the Government and its security machinery provide for airtight confidentiality?
To the extent that temporary peace truces, with their false assurances, false premises, and unjustified hope, indicate the incapacity and abdication of my State and its Government, I hang my head in shame at each one.
ON THE PASSING OF JANICE BUDD
My former Brown's Town Community College student, Janice Budd, has left us at the tender age of 49.
Janice and her younger sister, Camille, came to college from the cane belt of Trelawny, their father being a supervisor at the Long Pond Sugar Estate.
In my first job after university, I was not that much older than my students, although she came in closer to the end of a six-year stint.
She was a good advanced-level student in the pre-university programmme, and even then, a good writer. I would like to believe that our classes in general studies from The Sunday Gleaner, and general studies in the sciences (she was arts) for the A' level general paper - classes which emphasised thinking, research and writing skills - had something, even a little bit, to do with her subsequent prowess as a journalist.
I have tracked with pride her progress across jobs in media and corporate communications. We last met a few years ago at an Observer forum with National Integrity Action, which she chaired as a senior editor at the paper.
Her passing is a big loss and another close-up reminder of the brevity, fragility, and uncertainty of life. Condolences to family and immediate colleagues.