Rockfort business community mobilises against violence

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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ONGOING gang violence involving neighbouring communities in the Mountain View and Rockfort areas of east Kingston has brought some business operators in that region to a resolve for collective action in securing their establishments and community.

This follows last Sunday's gun battle between police and gunmen from Jarrett Lane in the Mountain View Avenue area.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, one business operator lamented that “patronage has fallen dramatically”.

“The violence in Rockfort is having a negative impact on business. The situation right now is very tense. People are not stopping by to patronise business as they normally do. Some businesses are closed,” he said.

Another resident who used to operate a stall in one side of the community bemoaned the loss of her livelihood.

“Mi business mash up because nobody nah cross di road”, she said, outlining that a shop riddled with bullet holes was once frequented by customers from both sides of the community, but is now a mere shell.

“We are feeling the brunt of it just as the residents, and we are planning to do something about it,” reported the business operator, who is also an active member of the Rockfort Development Committee.

He described the state of affairs in Rockfort as “dismal”, and is calling on the security forces to do more.

“We have not felt the results of police presence, and we have indicated to the new superintendent that we are organising ourselves into a group to meet with him to discuss the security issues in the community,” the businessman said.

Head of the East Kingston Police Division, Superintendent Victor Hamilton addressed some of the concerns raised by members of the business community.

“I am open to speaking with anybody who can help the police with suggestions to foster good relations and to work with them for the safety and security of their community,” Supt Hamilton stated.

The call to action was described as the baby stage, with some business owners and residents making plans to move collectively.

“The last beacon of hope in the community is what remains of business in Rockfort. The objective is to organise the business community so that we speak through one voice, so that we can agitate for better collective security, and to just promote Rockfort as a place where business is viable and can be done peacefully,” one added.

Reports in last Tuesday's Observer are that police intervened when gunmen from Jarrett Lane marched towards Oliver Road to exact an attack on a procession of people, including alleged gangsters from that side of the community who were returning from a funeral.

According to one eyewitness, she was at home when she was alerted by the approach of what she approximated to be between 30 and 35 men all holding guns. Upon the arrival of the police, she described what sounded to her like almost three hours of gunfire.

The article quoted the eyewitness entering a plea for the security forces to do more.

“Wi cyaa live like dis no more. We need some assistance. The police cyaa help we,” the eyewitness said. “If it reach di stage where we need ZOSO, we haffi guh accept it because, if di police cyaa help we, wah we a guh do?”

However, Superintendent Hamilton said that the community is not at the stage that it should be turned into a zone of special operation. “We don't reach there, not yet. If they don't stand up to say enough is enough, then the zone of special operation nah guh do it. It's not like we have fighting out of control everyday.”

When prodded about the lengthy stand off on Sunday, Superintendent Hamilton admitted that the police were outnumbered.

“When you have five policemen who are called to secure persons, we not expecting that we will be surrounded by 20, 30 men,” the veteran law enforcer said.

Superintendent Hamilton added that the feud between gang members from both communities has protracted for years, with residents being distrustful of each other and unwilling to say who the perpetrators are.

“This has been happening for the past 10 years and there are no leaders from both communities who are willing to stand up,” Supt Hamilton noted.

The eyewitness reported that she had not given any information to police out of fear for her life.

Meanwhile, community groups like the Rockfort Development Committee, and now members of the business community, are making a concerted effort to engage residents and the police to find solutions for this senseless cycle of violence.

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