Michael Nattoo – Staff Reporter
Despite the well-intentioned pleas for an extension, the decision to end the current State of Public Emergency in St. James will take effect tomorrow, January 31, and already, citizens and business owners alike are panicking.
St. James, highly regarded as the tourism mecca of the region, gained the unenviable reputation of being Jamaica’s most murderous parish in 2017, after a staggering 335 murders were recorded. The following year, 2018, St. James continued its murderous trek as just two weeks in, the parish recorded 12 murders, forcing the government to consider implementing a measure they thought was far too extreme – a State of Public Emergency. The government had delayed its implementation due to various calls from stakeholders, particularly those in the tourism industry, who insisted that such a measure would negatively impact St. James’ tourism product. As pressure from the public mounted, however, a State of Emergency was declared in St. James on January 18, 2018, by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Now, a few legal hiccups (alleged human rights violations, extensive detainment etc.), a reasonable decline in violent crimes, and a few extensions later, all in the span of a year, there are concerns that St. James will revert to its murderous ways, which have Reverend Peter Burnett, Chairman of the St. James Ministers’ Fraternal, reasonably perplexed. “The untimely and unfortunate ending of the current State of Emergency in St. James… is drawing near,” Burnett wrote to the Western Mirror. “It is still my prayer that the representatives of the people will agree to extend the State of Emergency beyond January 31… and I’m hopeful because prayers are being offered up to God for wisdom and courage for our political representatives and leaders of the security forces.”
Burnett is not alone in his wishes for an extension, as one business owner, who spoke to the Western Mirror on condition of anonymity, explained that he too hopes the political representatives hear the cry of the people. “Listen, though I haven’t been making as much money because I have to be closing early because of the State of Emergency, I think that’s a small price to pay for my life. In early 2018, right down the road from here – almost next door, they killed one of my friends, a fellow business owner, and I was thinking of just closing up shop permanently and move away with my family, but since the State of Emergency was declared, a sense of calm returned, and I haven’t felt this safe in years. So, I am really hoping they extend it, at least until they can find a reasonable replacement,” the business owner shared.
A number of businesses have suffered as a result of the imposed and enforced early closing hours, but there were also many who benefitted. According to one female bar operator, “I feel safe because of the patrols and soldiers coming to check. Dem always wait till mi lock up before dem leave, and sometimes dem walk wid mi go a mi gate, and mi love dat. Mi feel safe.”
Despite having over a hundred murders in 2018 while the State of Emergency was active, residents still reported feeling considerably safer when compared to times prior to the SOE’s implementation. It is because of that why Mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Homer Davis, recently implored members of government to let good sense prevail, so as to allow an additional extension beyond tomorrow.
In the event that the extension is not granted, however, there are reassurances by Minister of Security, Dr. Horace Chang and Prime Minister Andrew Holness, that St. James will not go back to its former crime-ridden days. Though they may lose some of their powers, their presence will remain, the men assured of the security forces.