August Town peace process hit, but not extinguished

Published: Sunday | August 12, 2012 Comments 0

By Horace Levy,  Guest Columnist

The recent murders in August Town - four in one day and two of these, in particular - were indeed a setback, a hard blow to the community-building there, but not fatal. This is my answer to the queries that come from so many people.

No one present at the awards ceremony held on July 29 could for a moment doubt the vitality of August Town residents and their high level of volunteerism and commitment to their community. Some 80 individuals and 20 institutions (only four or five of the latter from outside) received certificates or plaques of appreciation: teachers, businessmen and women, pastors, sports coaches and promoters, social workers and social institutions, politicians, the University of the West Indies - nearly every deserving recipient.

Even the way the ceremony was conceived, organised and carried out, with absolutely brilliant song, dance and drumming items by young August Town men and women, a significant number in tertiary education - was a demonstration of outstanding ability and spirit.

Peace-building development in August Town is in capable hands. They testify, as does the concern of so many people about events in August Town, to the value of the peace agreement signed four years ago.

disappointed residents

But a blow to the process did take place; and the nature of the blow, as stressed to me by sport and social leader Kenneth Wilson, must be understood, especially by the police. It is a revival of a sense of hopelessness in the Vietnam-African Gardens section. They feel, and deeply feel, let down.

Rohan 'Troy' Simpson trusted the police and they let him down. If only, they say, the police had "listened wi. What di use?" It was in not following some of that information, to bring in the military earlier for the hillside operation, that they failed. And the problem is not ended by the taking in of those who killed Troy, as long as the masterminds remain at large.

Even now, the police, at the top, are not listening. People are asking for foot patrols and police on the ground agree on their value, but those higher up seem not to. I saw the same response in Rose Town last year when a senior superintendent refused a similar request, disputing people's assurance of police safety. Who, anyway, one must ask, is to create that safety, and the safety of ordinary people, by stepping out there on foot, if not the police? And when was the last time a police person was killed in the line of duty?

On July 8, August Town buried Rohan 'Troy' Simpson, the chosen victim in the Vietnam-African Gardens shooting. In his tribute at the funeral, Wilson praised him for refusing to take reprisal over the murder of his brother in January, and noted there were some in the church who would not be alive today if he had done this - to murmurs of agreement from male voices. This is an achievement of the peace agreement signed four years ago.

It was not the first such refusal of reprisal. Billy did it too, three years ago, and he, too, died. It was this same Billy who had proposed a publicly signed peace agreement.

improvements

There have been other achievements. Many lives have been saved by the reduction of the murder rate: prior to the recent killings, from 14 a year to four or fewer. Far from making the community "captive to criminal forces" or "suppressing law enforcement", as Martin Henry claims (a slander against good, trying community police officers), August Town residents are very much in charge of their community and work with the police. They are part of the wider society and State, however, and require its collaboration, its listening ear.

It is not peace treaties but neglect of communities like August Town by the State and its agencies that leads young men into criminal ways. The Peace Management Initiative has never believed that ceasefires and peace agreements are a 'solution'. More than most, we know their fragility. We see them as holding actions until the State, along with residents and the wider society, can begin the kind of community development that alone will check the process of criminalisation that social exclusion has bred.

And that means the police ceasing to believe that extrajudicial killings and other acts of repression are the solution. Forty years of their failure should prove the point.

Horace Levy is a member of the Peace Management Initiative. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and halpeace.levy78@gmail.com.

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