‘We hate the soldier dem’
Irate Tivoli residents protest alleged beatings by security forces
TIVOLI GARDENS residents have accused members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) of physical abuse and of threatening to shoot indiscriminately at young men in the community.
The residents’ attempt to use debris and abandoned vehicles to block a section of Spanish Town Road on Wednesday were thwarted by the swift action of the police, whose presence, alongside a heavy contingent of JDF personnel, kept the protest peaceful though tense.
Distressed resident Stacey-Ann Harrison alleged that her 17-year-old son was dragged from her house minutes after midnight and beaten by soldiers.
“We hate the soldier dem. They have no respect and no manners towards the people,” shouted Harrison.
She alleged that the commander on the ground gave a “shoot” command at anyone who moved and that she felt helpless as blows rained down on her child.
“I was coming out the house with my little baby, who has a heart problem, and I was shocked when the commander said anything move, shoot. Even if a dog move, shoot,” she recounted.
Homeless resident George Edwards said that he, too, was beaten by soldiers while demanding to be told where “the guns were being hid”.
“I was kicked and punched multiple times as the soldiers were irate,” said Edwards, who has been living there for three years.
The fury behind Wednesday’s demonstration stemmed from a fierce firefight between gunmen and the security forces in sections of the community, namely Lizard Town, Courts, and Java, on Monday night. The nearby Rae Rae Market was burnt to the ground, allegedly by the gunmen, as a diversionary tactic.
In its wake, irate residents are complaining about the treatment meted out to them.
Kingston Western Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie, who visited the community yesterday, told The Gleaner that residents had described the Monday gun battle as frightening.
McKenzie confirmed that he received reports that some members of the security forces had taken a heavy-handed approach to residents of Tivoli Gardens. He said that he had raised the concerns with the Police High Command.
“Whatever negative people might have about West Kingston and the people of Tivoli Gardens in particular, the majority of people here are lawabiding, decent people,” said McKenzie.
“I would not deny that there are some among the residents who would do anything against the law and have been doing that, but the majority obey the law.”
Monday night’s crossfire erupted when a team of police and soldiers entered the community to shut down a nine-night that drew more than 300 people.
The police reported that when they attempted to disperse the crowd, they were fired upon by gunmen from Lizard Town.
One cop said what she saw was mainly youngsters - about 13 to 19 years old - and that “some of them couldn’t even manage guns”.
Stacey-Ann Harrison is emotional as she makes allegations of abuse to Superintendent Leighton Gray (second left) and Kingston Western Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie during a protest along Spanish Town Road on Wednesday.