[Hpn] Jamaicans for Justice who oppose "homeless sweeps" face police ire FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 06 May 2000 13:23:30 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - May 03, 2000


Associated Press Writer

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ A prominent Jamaican human rights group
has come under unprecedented fire at a time when a virulent crime
wave has already killed hundreds this year and an angry public is
demanding swift justice.

The year-old Jamaicans for Justice group has even been accused
of sheltering cop-killers _ a claim it denies.

``Our focus is not crime. We leave crime-fighting and
crime-solving to the police,'' said ist chairwoman Carolyn Gomes.

The attacks have been relentless:

``Where are they now?'' National Security Minister K.D. Knight
asked of the activists during a recent memorial for police officer
Maurice Shirley, slain at a bar.

``You should not listen to human rights wimps who are parading
themselves as bastions of justice,'' the local Rev. Irving Townsend
told mourners at the service.

Michael James, head of the police union, launched a blistering
attack last week following a day-long battle between gang members
and Kingston police and soldiers that killed one officer and
wounded three others.

The fighting was sparked by the police killing of an alleged
gang leader earlier in the week. Police said Sylvester Wint, 30,
fired first but eyewitnesses said he was unarmed and pleading for
his life when shot.

Despite strident denials from Jamaicans for Justice, James
claimed the group has been working in the area and that he had
``credible intelligence'' linking them to gang leaders.

``I suspect ... they have been on the ground in that area and
obviously their posture ... puts them in an ideal position to find
out who killed that policeman,'' said Police Commissioner Francis

With more than 270 people murdered in 2000, and three police
officers slain since March, people are looking for scapegoats, said
Stephen Vasciannie, a columnist for The Gleaner newspaper. ``Many
people believe (rights activists) are broadly unsympathetic to the
rights of law-abiding citizens and the police,'' he said.

A poll last year suggested more than a quarter of Jamaica's 2.6
million people favored police shooting ``known criminals.'' In
1999, police killed 151 people in Jamaica. Jamaicans also
overwhelmingly favor renewing the death penalty after a 10-year

``Sadly, I suspect there is a lot of support for what some might
label 'extreme measures,''' said human rights attorney O. Hilaire

Critics say such measures are used too often in Operation
Intrepid _ a 10-month-old military and police anti-crime campaign
that employs curfews, roadblocks and house-to-house searches,
mainly in poor neighborhoods.

Intrepid was scaled back early this year when crime figures
showed a drop in murders, to 849 in 1999. But the recent upsurge _
17 murders in one April weekend _ prompted Prime Minister P.J.
Patterson to restore the campaign to its ``full potency.''

Jamaicans for Justice was founded last year by mainly middle and
upper-class Jamaicans and rode two issues to the spotlight: the
forced removal of homeless people from the resort town of Montego
Bay in July and the alleged beating death of a poor mentally ill
man by authorities in August.

There are concerns that the attacks on the group could lead to
more violence.

``This kind of rhetoric offers a green light for political
action against human rights activists,'' said Andrew Miller, a
regional specialist in Amnesty International's Washington office.
``Today there's denouncement, and tomorrow all of a sudden there
are physical actions.''

AP-CS-05-03-00 1314EDT
Received  Id AP100124FD8AAABE on May 03 2000 12:15


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