TWO days after the start of the new academic year some schools in Waterhouse and Olympic Gardens, St Andrew, were forced to send home students following gang violence which led to the murder of six people — four on Tuesday and two on Sunday.
When the Jamaica Observer visited the area on Wednesday residents were upset that the murders interrupted what was to be a smooth first week of school in both communities.
“It mek di school dem haffi lock. Dem haffi send weh di pickney dem,” an irate man told the Observer.
One woman explained that the schools had to be closed to prevent children getting caught in any further ensuing violence that could have unfolded.
“Anything can gwaan so dem nuh really want the children to be caught up in it. In the area, you have Balcombe Drive Primary and Junior High School, Tower Hill Missionary Basic School, St Patrick’s Primary School, Penwood High School, and others.
“Schools weren’t in session for nearly two years and now the children get to come back, it have to lock back because of the whole incident that take place in the community. People are living in fear because nobody knows the hour or the minute. We cannot walk comfortably. It is just a setback for everybody and nobody knows who is who,” she said.
Two of the murders on Tuesday occurred outside a shop on Welcome Avenue in Waterhouse. Dead are Jermaine Morgan and Andre Clarke. The other two murders on Tuesday, which claimed the lives of Andy Leighton Christian and another man, occurred at McDonald Place in Olympic Gardens. Prior to both incidents, there was a double murder in an area called Compound in Olympic Gardens on Sunday.
A shopkeeper told the Observer that the disruption of the students’ studies and the people’s lives is a result of gang conflict. He said the recent flare-up may be connected to the uneven distribution of work and contracts for certain projects in the communities.
“Mi feel a way still, fi tell you the truth. It look like a likkle gang thing. Is like some local contract a run and some work supposed to go on. When dem thing deh a gwaan and certain people nuh involve it cause problem. Contract a run but it need fi share properly. Dem must give each area a piece of the work instead of giving one set a man,” he said.
Another man made a similar claim that gangsters were at odds over contracts.
“Di way how the bigger heads set the thing, food will be giving away over one side and me nuh get none. One man up deh so get whole heap a money and one man round deh so nuh get no money so it cause tension,” he claimed.
The situation prompted Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is also the Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Central where the murders took place; Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang; and Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson to visit the affected areas Wednesday afternoon.
Holness decried the murders in his constituency and pledged to roll out programmes that will see cameras installed at various points to catch criminals red-handed.
“We cannot allow such heinous crimes to be committed and the perpetrators face no consequences. This is my constituency and I love the people here. They are like my family. I take it personally and so I am going to be ensuring that the necessary resources are brought to bear on this apparent gang conflict and that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” the prime minister said.
Moreover, the St Andrew South police have imposed curfews in both communities from 8:00 pm on Tuesday until 8:00 pm Thursday.
Senior superintendent of police in charge of the St Andrew South Division Kirk Ricketts told the Observer that the police will continue to implement curfews in the affected areas until the communities return to normal. He gave assurances that cops have been identifying people believed to be the main drivers of the violence and that they will be going after them.
“The presence in the space is both police and military and we intend to keep this presence as long as is necessary to get this area back to a sense of normalcy. Our initial intention is to contain the upsurge and then we will move at the individuals believed to be responsible. We have been getting good support from residents who don’t agree with what is happening. They have been giving us useful information,” Ricketts said.
“Residents are going to go through a period where we have curfews. We are going to ask them to continue to support the police and the military as we strive to bring back normalcy. I don’t know about the issue with contracts. What I know is that a number of persons are impacting the space and are people we know to be involved in gang-type activities,” Ricketts added.