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Speech

The House is aware of the joint police/military operation carried out in West Kingston following the declaration of a state of emergency in the Corporate Area on Sunday May 23rd. The security forces were engaged in intense gun battle with criminal elements resulting in a large number of casualties. One soldier was killed and 30 others injured. The bodies of 73 civilians were recovered during the operation. A smaller number of persons were reported to have been injured, the majority of whom have been treated at hospital and discharged. 47 guns and over 10,000 rounds of ammunition have so far been seized.
As I stated to the House last Tuesday, the government deeply regrets the significant loss of lives. Proper investigations will be carried out to determine the circumstances in which so many persons were killed and, in respect of each instance, whether it was justified in law.
The Public Defender has established an office in Tivoli Gardens to receive complaints and reports, record statements and conduct appropriate investigations. The Public Defender is also in the process of engaging independent forensic pathologists to observe the conduct of autopsies as part of his investigations. The government has assured him that the required resources will be provided to cover the cost of these and such other initiatives he decides to undertake. The need for a Commission of Enquiry will be considered by the Cabinet.
The security operation has left the law-abiding citizens of West Kingston traumatized, some of them bitter and angry. I ask them to understand that the efforts that must be made to root out criminal elements that have embedded themselves in these and many other communities will, at times, be traumatic. Gunmen who no longer flee when the security forces approach but confront them with vicious firepower must, themselves, be confronted with the full force of the law. The time for equivocation is over.
The security forces were and remain instructed to take all possible precautions to avoid loss of life or injury, especially to innocent citizens. The investigations being carried out will help to determine the extent to which that objective was achieved in this particular operation.
During the initial phase of the operation when residents were confined to their homes, arrangements were made through ODPEM, Red Cross, Deliverance Centre and the Relief Committee of the JLP to provide food and other basic necessities to families in West Kingston. I thank them all and the members of the private sector who donated to these efforts. Arrangements were also made for those in need of medical attention, whether arising from injury or other causes, to be attended to. Special arrangements were also made for examination students to be transported to their examination centres.
The operation is still continuing and the security forces have been able to stabilize the area such that residents are once again able to go about their business subject, of necessity, to random security checks. The police and military are maintaining a strong presence in the area and will, at the appropriate time, transition to normal community policing mode. A police post is being established within Tivoli Gardens and will provide a hub for building a new, positive relationship between the residents and the security forces.
A team of investigators from the SDC and Ministry of Labour & Social Security is conducting surveys to assess the damage or loss suffered by householders as a result of the operation and efforts will be made to provide assistance to them. Clinical psychologists and social workers will also be deployed to provide counselling to those who are still traumatized, especially children and the elderly.
Painful as this operation has been, it marks a turning point and the prospect of a new era of re-socialization and re-integration of the communities of West Kingston. It will require considerable effort and goodwill. It will require the support of state agencies, private sector, church community and non-governmental organizations. It represents the hope, not just of West Kingston, but of many other communities across the island and, indeed, the hope of Jamaica.
The operation carried out in West Kingston involves more than an effort to execute a warrant of arrest on Christopher Coke. That may have been the catalyst but it is more than that. It is the beginning of a concerted effort to dismantle the aggressive criminal networks that have embedded themselves in communities in many urban areas and even in some rural communities. It is a campaign that will be sustained and intensified. It is a campaign that will target criminal gangs wherever they exist, irrespective of their political alliances or whether they have any such alliances.
There are credible indications that the crime bosses and their followers, in West Kingston and elsewhere, perhaps for the first time, are shaken. They must not be allowed to return to complacency. This effort must be sustained. It may be a long haul but there must be no letting up.
I have already spoken about the legislative support that we are asking Parliament to provide to this effort. Beginning tomorrow, we will seek approval for the six anti-crime Bills. Anti-gang measures which we intend to be part of a new Organized Crime Act, DNA legislation, amendment to the Evidence Act and Jury Act and the provision of limited statutory powers to members of the Jamaica Defence Force are additional measures to be brought to Parliament.
Rooting out the criminal networks and changing the culture of garrison politics cannot be achieved purely by law enforcement efforts. That is a necessary part of the process but it has to be accompanied by a programme of transformation to fill the space now occupied by dons and crime practitioners, to provide for the people in these vulnerable communities a new pathway of hope and opportunity. The state must reassert both its authority and responsibility in these communities. But it must be a helpful – not hostile – state.
The PIOJ is spearheading the development of a programme to support this effort. It is a cross-cutting, multi-agency approach. The team has prepared a broad framework which was outlined to me yesterday and is being further developed and refined as a matter of urgency. We hope to engage the private sector and NGOs as partners in this endeavour.
It will require resources far beyond those that are currently available. Yesterday, I also met with representatives of multilateral and bilateral agencies to enlist their support. I was extremely encouraged by their response and the appropriate submissions are being prepared for their consideration.
This is an effort that needs bipartisan support. Recent statements by the Leader of the Opposition are reassuring. I sought to meet with her yesterday to discuss the approach but, unfortunately, she was unable to keep the appointment. I hope to be able to discuss the matter with her as early as possible.
The events leading up to the state of emergency may well provide a catharsis, a compelling opportunity for us to move boldly to tackle the scourge of organized crime and ‘gangsterism’ that has reached endemic proportions. It is an opportunity that must not be allowed to pass. Our experience tells us that it is a moment that must be seized if we are to transform Jamaica into a place where we will want to live, work, raise our families and pursue and achieve the happiness that our people deserve.