Tuesday 21 August, 2018

Fear grips communities off Red Hills Road amid gang violence

The recent killing of two men is threatening to shatter a fragile peace treaty that has reigned over the adjoining communities of Park lane and 100 Lane off Red Hills Road for years.

Police report that about 10:30 pm on Sunday, May 13, gunmen approached 36 year old Suewayne Johnson and peppered him with shots. Johnson stood no chance and died on the spot.

It seems Suewayne Johnson, a resident of an enclave in 100 Lane known as ‘60’ - which represents the entrance to the community from 60 Whitehall Avenue - was the intended target. But when the smoke cleared, 74-year-old retired mechanic, Newton Johnson also lay dead. He was reportedly in the wrong place at the wrong time and was cut down by stray bullets.

Loop News understands that the double murder sparked anger among members of the community and there have been threats of possible reprisals, a development that has left residents of both areas and surrounding communities on edge.

Tensions have long been simmering - even though both communities are filled with relatives on both sides - between 100 and Park lanes which have been divided along political lines since the informal communities sprung up in the 1960’s. And, several weeks before Sunday's double murder, a sustained shootout between factions from 100 and Park Lanes signaled that things were reaching a boiling point once again.

The history of violence between the communities hit the spotlight on New Year’s Eve 2002 when seven members of the 100 Lane community, including three children, were short dead and some of their bodies burnt in what was then described as the 100 Lane massacre.

Those killed in that incident were Doreen James, 33, a housewife and her two daughters, Tanisha Wilson, 13, and Shakera Malcolm,  Gerald Wilson, 34, a delivery man and newspaper vendor;  Oneil Samuels, 24; Edlesha Montgomery,18; and Andrea Simmonds, 33, of 64 Whitehall Avenue.

According to residents between 30 and 50 armed men entered their community from different in what seemed to be a strategic and well-planned attack. The gunmen shot out transformers and streetlights as the run amok during the deadly rampage which caused a joint/military command post to be set up in the area to fend off any further attacks. Not even goats were spared.

Several men, including reputed leader of the Common Gang, Cleveland ‘Cassie’ Downer, were arrested and charged for those murders but were eventually freed after the case against them collapsed.

Downer himself was shot multiple times by his own cronies in an internal dispute a few years later.

But the violence between the two communities did not begin then. Days before on New Year’s Eve, four men were killed as they slept inside a dwelling at Park Lane. It was reported that a group of rifle-toting gunmen dressed in police garb, invaded the community and slaughtered the men and the attack on 100 Lane was widely regarded as a reprisal for that attack.

Many persons lost their lives leading up to those attacks including an elderly newspaper vendor who was shot in the head her stall as morning peak hour traffic snaked by.

The recent rise in violence has been of concern to the security forces who are well aware of the possible results if counter measures are not taken to stem any reprisals. Cops from the Mobile Reserve and the St Andrew North Police have maintained a constant presence close to the line of demarcation between the communities although their presence was unable to stop the recent murders.

Both communities are nestled in the area between Whitehall Avenue, Pennant Terrace and Red Hills Road. There is no clear border only a section that residents from both communities know as a no go zone in times of gang feuding.

In the 1960’s poor rural Jamaicans in search of a better life in Kingston started to settle on the large expanse of land and over the decades the community grew to be home to hundreds of men, women and children. There are relatives living on both sides of the divide as came to fore when it was revealed that Wilson, who was killed in the 2002 massacre, had many relatives in Park Lane, who openly mourned his killing.

The division between relatives and longtime friends evolved during the politically turbulent 1970s when Park Lane residents openly vowed their allegiance to the Jamaica Labour Party. For years the entire community was known to be loyal to the People’s National Party.

The community has produced national footballers, teachers and other persons have been law-abiding all their lives and have made a contribution to nation building in their own way.

But as in most impoverished communities it is the criminal element that grabs the spotlight.

Now as crime and violence continues to strangle the entire country in its deadly grip, the security forces will be forced to put further pressure on an already creaking security apparatus to contain what could be another major round of bloodletting in that community.