Storm and stress in Rock­fort

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Mark Wig­nall is a political and pub­lic-affairs com­men­ta­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and ob­serve­

THE DRIVE up­wards along Oliver Road is slow and laboured. Res­i­dents have long in­stalled on the as­phalted road­way ‘sleep­ing po­lice­men’ about every 30 or so feet. There are many young men and boys hang­ing about, and some among a nest of bi­cy­cles are very an­i­mated but quite watch­ful of the car.

I drive all the way to the top, tak­ing my di­rec­tion cues from the lady be­side me. Af­ter a few turns, I drop her off and won­der if I will be able to re­trace my steps cor­rectly. Once I am back on Wind­ward Road, I breathe a sigh of re­lief.

It’s the re­lease of a thick ten­sion that is more trep­i­da­tion than raw fear. But one senses that the so­cial space and what­ever peace is hold­ing op­er­ate on a knife edge.

Two weeks ago when I drove into a sec­tion of vi­o­lence-plagued Rock­fort, it was a far cry from the gen­tle air of tran­quil­lity that res­i­dents took for granted in the com­mu­nity where I was born more than 60 years ago.

“It start over scam­ming. Some boy mek some mad money and dem buy guns. Di guy dem from Jar­rett Lane seh a dem con­trol tings pon Oliver Road. We pon Oliver Road haffi block di road from po­lice and di gun­man dem from Jar­rett Lane side,” a young man told me.

“But aren’t the po­lice your pro­tec­tors? Why block dem?”

“One time, the po­lice come inna di area and wi haffi a de­fend wi­self from gun­man and po­lice at di same time. Di po­lice a come from di south, and di gun­man dem from west out by Jar­rett Lane side. And some odder gang join up wid Jar­rett Lane man dem.

“Di po­lice come wid trac­tor and pull di road­block dem, but as dem leave, wi pack it back tighter. Is only we can pro­tect wi­self,” he said.

He added: “An­other war a fight be­tween Barnes Road and Cor­ner Lane over turf. Me hear seh dat in­volve fight­ing fi ex­tor­tion turf.” He pro­vides me the name of a well-known dance­hall DJ who, he says, some sus­pect is in­volved. “One a di man dem from Barnes Road just turn him­self in to the po­lice be­cause him name did a call.”

Jour­nal­ist Des­mond Richards draws a bead on the eco­nomic re­al­i­ties fac­ing the area. “The over­rid­ing duty of govern­ment is to pro­vide se­cu­rity for the cit­i­zenry. Think of it. When things are peace­ful, dances are held. The soup man makes money. The ven­dor roast­ing chicken back, the bars, the lit­tle girl sell­ing juice, they all make money. Then the war comes, and all of that dis­ap­pears. It is tragic in many ways, but, of course, the worst of it is in the shoot­ings and loss of lives.”


Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Phillip Paulwell keeps ex­cit­ing and well-at­tended par­ties, and he is a great dancer. At his par­ties and on the political podium.

He now needs to repli­cate that fancy foot­work in solv­ing the vi­o­lence in Rock­fort. His con­stituency stretches all the way to Port Royal, that well-known, his­tor­i­cally rich but de­vel­op­men­tally starved vil­lage lo­cated at the tip of a fin­ger-thin stretch of land be­yond the Pal­isa­does road.

“Wi not into di gun ting in Port Royal. Every now an den two man fight, but fist to fist,” said a res­i­dent, who I have known for more than 30 years. “And, of course, di usual do­mes­tic tiffs. But we don’t have a vi­o­lence prob­lem in Port Royal.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Rock­fort was grow­ing as a lower-mid­dle-class en­clave. With­out try­ing to de­fine what brought the vi­o­lence to the fear­ful level it is in 2017, the fact is that the com­mu­nity has re­gressed into an in­ner-city pow­der keg but with­out the zinc fences. Prop­erty val­ues there are not worth spit even though there are still some quite at­trac­tive houses in many parts of the com­mu­nity.

“Paulwell come up here di odder day. I tink there was some talk bout a po­lice post. Mi not so sure if dat can work out how Paulwell want it to,” said the young man. “Di best move would be to solve di gang war. A dat wi want.”

Ac­cord­ing to Richards, “Ja­maicans, as you know, are nat­u­ral at busi­ness. They do not need any­one to tell them how to make money. Once the Govern­ment, any govern­ment, solves the se­cu­rity prob­lem, the peo­ple will take care of their eco­nomic mat­ters. We are re­silient and hardly ever take no for an an­swer.”

It does ap­pear that Rock­fort may have a lower un­em­ploy­ment rate than, say, a bona fide gar­ri­son like South West St An­drew, where 60 per cent un­em­ploy­ment among young peo­ple is the tragedy we take for granted.


“Dur­ing school time when shot a lick, di kids dem can’t come out early fi go school. Most who get caught up in a sec­tion of the war go school late every day, and some peo­ple who have rel­a­tives move out tem­po­rar­ily un­til di war die down,” said the young man.

The prob­lem with that is, “Once di peo­ple move out, some a di gang boy dem bruk inna dem empty house and tek out dem fan, dem TV, dem stove. If yuh tek too long fi come back, by di time yu reach, peo­ple a live inna yu house weh di gun­man tek over and rent out.”

Then this: “Di po­lice help a fam­ily move out dur­ing war. Two weeks later, man tek over dem house, and when dem come back, gun­man pull gun pon dem a run dem from dem own house.

“A woman who live nearby de­cide seh she can’t tek di stress any­more so she gwine move. But yu know weh shi do be­fore she move? She bun dung har own house just so di gun­man dem can’t get it.”

It is not so much the choice of route trav­elled to de­fine how Rock­fort moved from sleepy, peace­ful com­mu­nity to war zone, but the times are im­pa­tient of minds, skills, and ac­tion to ren­der the vi­o­lence null and void.


In the tur­bu­lent and hor­rif­i­cally vi­o­lent months lead­ing up to the Oc­to­ber 1980 gen­eral elec­tion, I had a friend liv­ing in one of the lanes that stretched from Moun­tain View Av­enue to Rock­fort. One day, a few gun­men ap­proached him as he parked his taxi in his yard.

They gave him a ‘long gun’ and taught him to fire it. “Any­time yu hear we fire up so, you buss it down ya so.”

In fear, he took the gun, and at about eight in the evenings, he climbed a bushy mango tree and waited on the sound of gun­fire. “One day me hear shot a buss and me let off some up inna di air. A pure mango leaf a fly inna di night sky.”

The day af­ter the elec­tion, the gun­men re­turned for their weapon of death.

The re­al­ity of those days was de­fined as pit­ting JLP guns against PNP guns. Now that we have ‘grown’ in knowl­edge and wis­dom and the gun­fights are so dis­parate and sense­less, the so­lu­tion this time around can­not sim­ply be the end­ing of an elec­tion cam­paign.

The word ‘in­tractable’ is a scary one when ap­plied to gang war­fare. It im­plies a stub­born­ness of the sys­tem to ac­cept com­mu­nity so­lu­tions. For sure, we know that if this coun­try is to claim that it har­bours as­pi­ra­tions of be­com­ing the place to live, work, and raise fam­i­lies by 2030, we have to im­me­di­ately re­verse the neg­a­tives of vi­o­lence tak­ing place in too many com­mu­ni­ties across this coun­try.

The zones of spe­cial op­er­a­tions ini­tia­tive is be­gin­ning to in­vite much cyn­i­cism be­cause we have tried so many things in the past. What is there about it this time that will bring about the much-needed so­lu­tions?


Po­lice and mil­i­tary per­son­nel go house to house in search of crim­i­nals and con­tra­band dur­ing a cur­few im­posed on sec­tions of Moun­tain View Av­enue last Fri­day.

Res­i­dents have blocked Oliver Road, com­plain­ing that crim­i­nal fac­tions in Rock­fort, east Kingston, are at war.


A pock­marked wall on Oliver Road, east Kingston, where thugs have been ex­chang­ing gun­fire.

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