Bishop Burchell McPherson of Montego Bay said he endorses Government’s decision to declare a state of public emergency for the St James parish, which recorded 335 murders last year. The area includes the popular tourist hotspot of Montego Bay, which comprises five civic parishes.
In a telephone interview with Catholic News January 19, the bishop explained that faithful from St James district are “scared” to venture from their community any time after 6 p.m. to attend church programmes at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.
“I welcome the idea…we have members living all over [and] at times they are scared to come out because of what’s happening. People welcome the idea of seeing military bring peace in the community, but we don’t know how long it’s going to last for,” the bishop said. Bishop McPherson mentioned that the current state of emergency is the first to be imposed in the St James district.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in making the announcement at a Jamaica House press conference, Thursday 18, said the level of violence in the second city has reached intolerable limits.
According to an article from the Jamaica Observer, the PM noted that under the State of Public Emergency, the security forces will have extraordinary powers, and some rights will be suspended. However, he said that this did not mean that use of the extraordinary powers by the security forces will be arbitrary or beyond review.
PM Holness said that “the security forces are expected, and have been directed to treat citizens with respect and protect the dignity and safety of all.” He said that the actions of the security officers would be directed at criminals and their facilitators.
Acknowledging that the measure would create some level of general discomfort, PM Holness said he was asking the public to co-operate with the security forces. The proclamation signed by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, and circulated to journalists said that “the proclamation shall, unless previously revoked, remain in force for 14 days or for such longer period, not exceeding three months, as both Houses of Parliament may determine by a resolution supported by a two-thirds majority of all members of each House (of Parliament)”.
Speaking at the press conference, Commissioner of Police George Quallo noted that St James has been a major challenge to law and order in the country noting numerous gangs in the parish, and that they were engaging in murders, shootings, lotto scamming and extortion, among other illegal activities.