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  • Armed police question men on the street in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica.

    Armed police question men on the street in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 October 2018
Opinion

The police divisions had recorded a combined total of 485 murders and shootings in 2017.

The State of Public Emergency (SOE) in parts of the Jamaican capital Kingston has been extended for another three months until January 2019, after the Senate approved the Emergency Powers #3 (Continuance) Resolution 2018 on Oct. 5.

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The state of emergency had been declared in sections of Kingston Central, Kingston Western and St. Andrew South Police Divisions on Sept. 23 by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Addressing the Senate, Leader of Government Business and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson-Smith said the enhanced measures will allow security forces to bring the high levels of violence under control while making the movement of weapons within the specific communities more difficult.

“We must support the security forces who have been and who will continue [enhancing] the law within the provisions of the law to the benefit of our citizens. The security forces have been doing well.  You hear the feedback from the communities, and we have to commend them and recognize that what is happening is that as they continue to bring down murders, they will continue to bring up and build the trust,” she said.

According to Johnson-Smith, the police divisions in the outlined areas had recorded a combined total of 485 murders and shootings in 2017. The extension of the emergency was based on the advice of police officials according to the minister.

“This will work together with the five-pillar crime strategy, which is underway and which is making progress across the island as reflected in the serious crime indices. These tools, together with the increased activities under Crime Stop and the Get the Guns campaign, are yielding fruit. We have to use every tool available to us within the law, and we are committed to so doing,” she said.

She also expressed concerns over the use of children by gangs as “as perpetrators and involving them in gang activities” and requested for concerned people to leave children out of the violence.

Jamaica has seen a series of states of emergency declared in various parts of the country since January. The emergency protocols were invoked in Montego Bay in late January due to an increase in murders and violence with a record 335 deaths in 2017. The PM declared that the security forces would have extraordinary powers in the area during the public emergency and some rights will be suspended, a strategy that has been widely criticized.

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The country's opposition, the People's National Party (PNP), has lent "qualified support" to the plans while Amnesty International has criticized Jamaican authorities for the number of unlawful killings by police, maltreatment, and the intimidation of victim's families.

Fitz Jackson, PNP shadow minister of national security, said he supported the government in the effort to reduce crime but "will await the regulations governing the operations of the state of emergency, which are required to be placed before the Parliament."

In January, another area of the country, St. James, was put under a state of emergency and it resulted in the indiscriminate detention of several people without charges. Arlene Harrison Henry, the nation’s public defender called for an end to the emergency in St. James in April as she believed it had failed to achieve its targets and was a means of detaining young people unlawfully.

"Dealing with mothers has been particularly painful. You have mothers who send their sons to shop because she is cooking, and on his way to the shop, he gets picked up by the police," Henry said.

She condemned what she called the mass detention of males between the ages of 17 and 30 while disclosing figures, which showed 1,774 people had been taken into custody.  

“I am not sure what the exercise is about, except to bring the weight of the State against this particular group of citizens. It is wrong. We don't expect that only the 55 wanted persons would be in custody, but how did you get to 1,774?" the public defender said.

Despite these criticisms, the country Senate approved another emergency order in July for an additional three months. 

The constitution provides that a period for a state of emergency can be declared by proclamation if the governor-general is satisfied that the action should be taken, or if threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger public safety.

At present, the country's tourist capital Montego Bay, St James, and the old capital of Spanish Town and its environs are under emergency orders.

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