According to new reports, for some residents of Montego Bay (St James) it is the smell of blood which will be their lasting memory of last week, for others it will be the sound of gunfire and the acrid smell of gun smoke, still others will never forget the haunting cries of persons who had their friends and relatives killed by marauding gunmen.
The presence of members of the security forces has improved significantly in the parish of St James following a bloody week in which 15 murders were recorded up to Friday night (September 23).
Struggling to cope, Montego Bay residents called for a state of emergency, increased police presence, draconian measures to deal with criminals, but up to Friday night the killings continued despite claims from National Security Minister Robert Montague Friday morning that additional deployment of police and soldiers to the area had contained the crime.
The latest wave of violence now besieging the parish has catapulted the murder tally to 192 since the start of the year, which represents an increase of 37 more than the 155 reported over the corresponding period last year.
Commander of the St James police division Senior Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth disclosed that the recent surge in murders and shootings is fuelled mainly by reprisal attacks involving rival gangsters, as well as bitter fallouts from players involved in the lucrative lotto scam, which is deeply rooted in the parish.
“The police are not helpless. The police are doing the best they can,” Police Commissioner Carl Williams told reporters hours after three persons were killed in the western city despite the increased police and military presence.
“It was really a difficult week for us. Right now, we are trying to put a lid on the violence. We are pursuing the instigators and the persons who are the shooters, those who are in any way in support of the violence right now,” added Williams.
He listed Mount Salem, Norwood, Glendevon, Flankers, Barry Town and the Montego Bay town centre among the areas where police and military presence have been concentrated.
According to Williams, curfews are one strategy being used by the cops to deal with the Montego Bay violence, but he would not comment on calls for a state of emergency.
This followed the killing of Robert James, 35, and Kemoy Nelson who were peppered with bullets outside their gate in Mount Salem about 8:30 last Friday night.
The police say they were standing on the roadway when two men aboard a motorcycle drove up and the pillion rider opened fire. James and Nelson, were taken to the Cornwall Regional Hospital where they were pronounced dead.
That incident came less than two hours after police had started processing a scene on Church Street where 21-year-old Keith Morgan was attacked and stabbed to death.
He was reportedly chased by an attacker into a taxi where he sought refuge. The attacker broke one of the windows to the vehicle to get to Morgan and stabbed him multiple times as he cowered in the vehicle.
Those killings were added to a string of others, including that of Bobby Clarke of Norwood, who was chased by gunmen travelling in two motor cars and peppered with bullets on the Ironshore main road about 11 a.m. last Thursday.
According to bewildered eyewitnesses, just before noon, the driver of a black Toyota Corolla was shot and killed by men aboard a car which drove up and blocked his path.
Less than two hours later, the gunmen were at it again, with four persons shot during a drive-by shooting at a mini-mart in Norwood. At 5 p.m., another shooting was reported at a gas station on the Sun Valley Road in Glendevon.
In that incident, three persons were shot with one succumbing to his injuries.
On Tuesday, the driver of a bus, loaded with students, was cut down in a hail of bullets fired by a gunman along the busy Creek Street in Montego Bay. As the shooter peppered the bus with bullets, frightened students were sent scampering for cover, but two of them were shot and injured.
Later that same day, students were pinned down in their classrooms at the Glendevon Primary School, as rival factions were engaged in a fierce gun battle near the facility.
The killings and shootings have driven fear in residents of the parish.
Meanwhile, Opposition spokesman on national security, Peter Bunting is lamenting that the police are being asked to fight the onslaught in St James with woefully inadequate resources.
In fact, Bunting who was the minister of security in the former PNP Administration, argued that because they are given basket to carry water, the reputation of successful, senior police officers are negatively impacted soon after they take charge of the crime-plagued St James Police Division.
Senior Superintendent Nesbeth took charge of the St James Police Division recently, from the reputed crime fighter SSP Steve McGregor, who just ahead of his departure admitted that murders in the parish spiked under his watch.
But, since the arrival of SSP Nesbeth, who successfully commanded other police divisions across the island, the bloodletting continues unabated in the division.
“Mr Nesbeth is a capable commander, with capable senior officers. He has been successful wherever he has been: in Manchester, in Spanish Town, but in St James it seems this is where causes good commanders to negatively impact their reputation,” Bunting remarked.
He was speaking Wednesday in Montego Bay at an International Day of Peace rally.
Bunting, who expressed that the problem of crime in St James “seems intractable”, added that SSP Nesbeth cannot be expected to succeed in the fight against crime until he is given several more police personnel and service vehicles.
“The police will do the best with what they have, but until we can give another 300 police officers to Mr Nesbeth or maybe another 50 or 60 cars, then we can’t seriously hold him accountable to bringing St James down to the average first of all, then below average”.
“Twenty per cent of all murders in Jamaica this year takes place in this police division and he doesn’t have five per cent of the police resources of the JCF in this police division. So he and his team are overwhelmed by the level of violent crime and he cannot respond effectively to it. And until we give them adequate resources we can’t hold them accountable.”
Speaking after Bunting, Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security Senator Pearnel Charles Jnr promised that upgrades in police numbers and an increase in infrastructure projects were planned for St James.
“The majority of the new (police) recruits will be deployed here. There will be an investment in the infrastructure here in St James because we acknowledge that St James, unfortunately, has the highest numbers of murders and it has been so consistently for the past three years or so,” Senator Charles Jnr said.
“And so we intend and are intent on having more interventions, more direct investment and more engagement in this parish,” he stated.
The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, is reportedly expected to visit Montego Bay this week on his return from New York, where he attended the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.