Mayhem in the city - Gunfire, roadblocks after man detained
By Leonardo Blair, Staff Reporter
Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Senior Superintendent in charge of the Area Four Police, Donald Pusey (right), tries to assure Jennifer Williams (left) everything was all right with her son, Neville Johnson, whose detention by the Central Police sets off protests and roadblocks in the area yesterday. - Rudolph Brown/Staff Photographer
SECTIONS OF Central Kingston were rocked by gunfire and flames early yesterday morning, sparking angry protests which forced the lockdown of most schools and some businesses in the area.
Up to late yesterday afternoon, streets remained largely deserted and many roads were still blocked with debris and old cars and tree stumps.
Amid intermittent bursts of gunshots, several roads were blocked with burning debris for more than three hours as mayhem gripped the city after police detained a man for questioning about a series of recent shootings and murders in surrounding communities.
Residents in the area however decried the detention and a massive protest erupted after the detainee, Neville Johnson, 25, was hauled from his James Street home at about 5:30 a.m.
Schools in the area, including Kingston College and St. George's College on North Street, ended classes early.
Roads including Hanover Street, Wildman Street, North Street, Gold Street and others were made impassable. Streets which normally accommodate traffic flowing in one direction quickly became two-way streets as motorists scrambled away from the gunfire.
At about 8:00 a.m., a group of angry protesters, including Johnson's mother, Jennifer Williams, trekked from James Street to the Central Police Station demanding his release.
She said she was "resting peacefully" when the police invaded their home and dragged her son off to the station.
"Mi ask the officer why them take him (Johnson) out of him bed... what him do?," said Williams. "One (police) tell me that him (Johnson) never do nothing; the next one tell me say 'we scraping up all the man them off the road until after election we let them go'," she claimed.
Johnson was eventually released by the police amid a chorus of cheers about 9:00 a.m. and he saluted the applause making the sign of a pistol with his fingers in the air.
According to a police source, Johnson was released because it was discovered that he was scheduled to make a court appearance at 10:00 a.m. to answer to shooting charges from a previous arrest and that there was also little evidence to support further detention.
While residents from James Street (normally aligned to the People's National Party) claimed that the detention was politically motivated,Senior Superintendent Donald Pusey in charge of Area Four, while not ruling out politics, said the increased gun violence in the Central Kingston seemed more of a battle for turf.
"For a long time now there have been problems as it relates to rival factions. Since the announcement of elections things have escalated," said Pusey. "I personally don't want to put it as a political divide problem. What I can say is that hoodlums will seize this as an opportunity to commit atrocities using politics as the rider," he said.
He said that since the increased patrols by the police in the area, they have seized firearms and drugs and have arrested persons from both rival factions residing in the communities of Southside, a known JLP stronghold and Tel Aviv, a known PNP stronghold.
Superintendent Carlton Wilson of the Central Police also suggested that the violence in the area was triggered by recent drive-by shootings on Wildman Street which left one person dead and eight others injured some weeks ago.
But one woman, who described herself as a PNP supporter from Tel Aviv, insisted the problem was mainly political.
"We are a PNP stronghold but we decide to switch," she said.
The political cauldron in the city also simmered in the mainly JLP-aligned Southside community where residents mounted another protest almost immediately after Johnson was released.
Residents there charged they have been victims of terrorism from the police and residents of rival PNP enclaves. They alleged yesterday that their community came under heavy gunfire on Monday night which continued until early yesterday morning. The perpetrators, they said, were hoodlums dressed as "Labourites in green", trying to incite mutiny among the people and the police.
Officers at the Gold Street station said it was not attacked and the origins of those reports would be investigated.
"Shots were fired in and around the area and a jeep was damaged in the process but I have no knowledge of the station being shot up," explained Sergeant Ronald McLeod of the Gold Street station.