What’s Happening in Jamaica: July 29/30, 2017


Things have been rather overwhelming lately – which is why I have skipped a week. Perhaps it is the weather. Our yard is burning up before our eyes, with even the bravest of plants flinching in the heat. Some places have had rain, but we’re in Kingston’s rain shadow. We just watch the rain clouds pass us by. The dogs are too hot to sleep. They just stand, staring at me as if to say: “What is this?” At 8 or 9 in the evening, we are still in the 30° range of temperatures.

And Parliament has gone on holiday until September, leaving several issues dangling in mid-air – including long-awaited legislation on pensions, building codes, road traffic…etc. Come back early, please! There is work to be done. 

Here’s a lovely piece of street art done by @paigezombie for the Collection MoDA – a creative marketplace, which will take place in Kingston from November 11-12. You can see this on Windward Road near the JUTC bus depot.

There are some big issues on the table, with the Emancipation/Independence Day holidays a few days away. It’s Jamaica 55, but sadly the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission has had to cancel an Emancipation Dance in Granville St. James, because of the violence. Nevertheless, much energy has surrounded the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference – not only the big meeting in downtown Kingston (unbearable traffic!) but numerous projects, visits and “Days of Service” across the island. These included a Save Our Children symposium organised by Eve for Life at The Mico University College.

Youth advocate Emprezz Golding chaired Eve for Life’s symposium “Protect the Children.” Eve is getting good support from the Jamaican diaspora in Florida. (Photo: Twitter)

The People’s National Party (PNP) is not having the best of times. Since Portia Simpson Miller retired, a gradual meltdown has taken place over who her successor should be in the broken-down South West St. Andrew constituency over which the former Prime Minister has presided for over four decades. At  least, my conclusion is that the constituency is “broken down.” But don’t take my word for it; you can go there and see for yourself. The former Member of Parliament has not made things any easier by endorsing the former Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke, who is not very popular among party members – just when Audrey Smith-Facey (#OurAudrey) seemed set to be the representative.

Residents of the Maxfield Avenue area in Kingston staging a protest over the absence of street lights in the community three years ago. This is the SW St. Andrew constituency.

Well, after a flood of fairly negative comments from almost every PNP member and supporter on social media – not really very desirable from the PR point of view – the National Executive Council decided to hold a selection meeting this coming Sunday. Apparently Councillor Karl Blake (who was shot and his assistant killed by Who Knows not long ago) is also running (or not?) while our former Prime Minister is busy stirring the pot. You can read all the gory details in my article for Global Voices here. 

Here’s Damion Crawford campaigning for Audrey Facey-Smith in South West St. Andrew. (Photo: Twitter)

So while the PNP is attempting to “spin” things, the police are also on a PR binge at the moment, with dramatic stories emerging almost daily. They’re trying to show the Jamaican people what they’re up against. Sixteen gangs on motorbikes are responsible for 77 murders in Westmoreland, says one policeman. Savannah-la-Mar is a small town, and yet the police talk about all these gangs with fancy names like Venomous Viper as if they live on a different planet. Is it quite impossible to have informers or to infiltrate these gangs, rather than chasing them round in circles and having “alleged shootouts”? Then we had the dramatic story of 40 gunmen descending on Denham Town Police Station, one day. Yes, forty! As a result, one window was broken. Hmm.

The Zones of Special Operations legislation having been thrashed out and signed into law (yes, that was quick!) the police have now received more funds (J$2.57 billion, no less) to help them administer it. Commissioner Quallo is quite reticent; the police will tackle one or two communities to start with and “stabilise” them, he says, following which the social services will start to do their work in these areas. Everyone is wondering where the first zones will be. Meanwhile, a lot of training is going on – of 280 police to start with – including human rights training with Jamaicans for Justice and a panel discussion with the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) chief. The JFJ training is a very good thing! The Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the National Security Council on July 20. The photograph showed no smiling faces.

And the police are still in trouble: Corporal Roger Davis and Constable Ricardo Foster were charged with kidnapping and attempting to extort two million dollars. They kidnapped not only one man in Trelawny, but subsequently his wife, too. They are out on J$600,000 bail. Another policeman was sentenced to life last week for murdering his teenage girlfriend and trying to frame someone else for the crime. Meanwhile, the National Security Minister says he needs 3,000 police officers and is even planning to employ retired police officers and private security guards to boost police numbers. Is this such a great idea? Let’s not be in too much of a hurry to increase the police force, Minister. No scraping the bottom of the barrel, please.

Human trafficking raid: Jamaica has not been making great strides in combating human trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report. However, a raid on the somewhat notorious “Back Road” in Port Henderson yielded results, with at least two under-age girls among those rounded up.

Big arms seizure: The JCF made a big seizure of fifteen high-powered weapons and some 4,000 rounds of ammunition (4,000!!) at Kingston Wharves. Very good, and they have been seizing a lot of guns and ammunition lately. But…

What a gwaan? At the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA)? There is still something definitely amiss, despite a supposed shakeup and a new head. The Minister of National Security had an urgent meeting with the FLA on Friday to get some kind of explanation as to why a somewhat dubious character, who had been refused a firearm license previously, eventually received one. CEO Shane Dalling assures the public that licensed firearm holders are “constantly under review.” However, 100 or so licences are now currently being investigated. Corruption is an insidious creature and we need to watch this one closely.

“Keep Portland sterile”: An odd choice of words, but this is what Assistant Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey wants. And he doesn’t want squatting in the parish either; it has seen a 29 percent reduction in major crimes so far this year. Meanwhile I guess the birth rate will plummet? (That was a joke…)

The cheerful EGC Chairman Michael Lee-Chin (left) gives the five in four sign with fellow members Adam Stewart (centre) and Nigel Clarke. Mr. Lee Chin suggested at the launch of the EGG’s Third Report that Jamaica has been mired in apathy.

EPOC is pretty optimistic: The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) expects the upcoming review by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be quite positive; a team will be here in September. EPOC is commending the Government for its “fiscal discipline”… but what about growth (“5 in 4”)? The Economic Growth Council (EGC)  in its 3rd Report to the Nation, (broadcast on Facebook live on Thursday) is also not happy about some missed deadlines, including the Public Procurement Act. I am not seeing a copy online yet but EGC head Michael Lee Chin’s comments are on the Facebook page. He still sounds optimistic… “Confidence is returning… The table is set” for growth, he says.

EPOC Co-Chair Keith Duncan briefing the press last week. (Photo: EPOC/Twitter)

Hospitals are struggling on several levels with security issues. There were three attacks on patients and staff recently at Spanish Town Hospital, for example. Kingston Public Hospital, located in a volatile area of the city, is overwhelmed with emergency cases every day. J$700 million may seem like a lot for security for hospitals island wide, but it may not be enough. Staff are nervous, and the nurses still don’t have their own transport to take them to and from work late at night, according to the Nurses Association. They often have to walk and stand at bus stops at late hours in rather dangerous areas. Stress!

KUDOS!

Neville Charlton (far right, in green) and other volunteers at the Caribbean Volunteer Exchange in Kingston. (Photo: Positive Organisation)

The Positive Organisation is a fantastic group of young volunteers, founded and led by Neville Charlton. It is already five years old! And now it has its own website. Very nice. Keep up the good work, youth!

Dr. Henry Lowe, you’re a marvel! His cannabis-based drug used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia has been granted “orphan drug” approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. I believe there is much more in the works, in terms of natural remedies that are being developed by Dr. Lowe and others. I wrote all about this breakthrough for Global Voices here

Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries JC Hutchinson (2nd left), hands bee-keeping box to Nicole Johnston of the St Elizabeth Bee Farmers Association on July 27 at Bodles Research Station in St Catherine. Others from left are Percival Shaw, Acting Principal Director at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, and Dr Lisa Myers-Morgan, Principal Research Director at Bodles.

The bees… So glad to see Government support for bee-keeping programs. The Environmental Foundation of Jamaica recently gave several grants under the Forest Conservation Fund to community organisations, as an alternative livelihood for farmers and fishers.

The Office of the Prime Minister has launched a Jamaica House Petition Portal, a bit like the White House petition page – if that still exists in Trumpland. I think this is great, although it will be quite a tall order to collect 30,000 signatures in 30 days…Take a look here 

I have LOTS more kudos for people… but will try to address these in separate blog posts!

The crime goes on. Two communities in west Kingston (Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town) that used to live together reasonably comfortably are now feuding, with the police apparently in the middle of it all. I am so sad for all the families of these Jamaicans who have lost their lives in the past two weeks. As you can see, the parish of St. James continues to have too many murders. My condolences to all.

Phillip Knight, 28, and Andrew Thomas were shot dead while leaving a restaurant in Broadleaf, Manchester. The police believe there were lotto scam connections. (Talking of the lottery scam, an alleged mastermind, Lavrick Willcocks just pleaded guilty to conspiracy in North Dakota. Plea bargain?)

Patrick Scott, 46, was shot dead at his house in Morant District, Clarendon.

How can this happen in the town of May Pen, Clarendon? A mentally ill man was beaten and chopped to death by a mob. He was known as “Sam.”

There is strife between “criminal elements” in the districts of Farm and Bucknor, near May Pen, Clarendon. 21-year-old Aldane McCalla and 22-year-old Romario Evans, both of Bucknor, were shot dead.

25-year-old Mario Chow was shot dead at his home in Olympic Way, Kingston in the middle of the night.

Kevin Smith was shot dead when on his way to visit his girlfriend in Duhaney Park, Kingston.

An unidentified man was shot and killed by the police on Darling Street, Kingston.

30-year-old farmer Ranique Nash was shot dead in his car in Orange District, St. James

Damion Thorpe, 32, was shot dead by a fellow passenger in a taxi in Cambridge, St. James

40-year old  Nicholas Reid was shot dead in a shop in Granville, St. James.

24-year-old Tavon Davis was shot dead on Hart Street, Montego Bay, St. James.

Sadan Mullings was shot dead by the police in an alleged shootout in Westmoreland. He was responsible for at least 20 murders, the police say. Well, he will not be tried for any of them now. One policeman was shot but was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Garfield Francis, 34, of Belvedere District and Kenton Cassel, 32 of Cave Road were shot dead in a car in Lambs River, Westmoreland.

36 year old Devon Atkinson and an unidentified man were shot dead in St. James.

Businessman Winston Chu (a supermarket owner in Montego Bay) was shot dead in Westgate Hills, St. James.

Construction worker Delroy Nicholson, 41, was stabbed to death in a knife fight (allegedly with his stepson) in Boscobel View, St. Mary.

Taxi driver Nicholas Fowler, 34, was stabbed to death in Brown’s Town, St. Ann, allegedly during a dispute with a motorcyclist.

Wheelchair-bound 30-year-old Oberie Forrester (who had reportedly survived two previous gun attacks) was shot dead in Falmouth, Trelawny.

In the market town of Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth, there was a tragic incident when Warrenton Barham, a former politician, got involved in an argument with Lotoya Williamson, 25, in front of his business place and shot her dead. The police then shot Mr. Barham dead.

 


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