The two-year-old boy is recovering, says Peace Management Initiative (PMI) senior social worker Berthlyn Plummer. One week after a gunman’s bullet shattered his little arm, his family told Berthlyn that he’s once again playing.
It was another day of hard work for the PMI; a punishingly hot summer day working boots on the ground trying to restore peace between gangs from Jarrett Lane in Mountain View and Oliver Road in Rockfort. Providing the role of violence interrupters, they pull together various interests to maintain peace and to intervene and mediate when it is broken. Today the PMI is doing a peace walk through the community while also counseling residents affected by the violence.
A donation of real walking boots would be welcome, a volunteer jokes as we half-walk, half-clamber up steep roads that give way to track and terrain flimsier footwear is ill-prepared for. There’s little litter underfoot on the roads and zinc walled lanes we tread, a cleanliness that shows the pride of residents. But hastily put up road blocks and spent shell casings show another side – gang rivalry that tore up Mountain View’s proud record of achieving zero murders during the past two years.
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) August 24, 2017
Child murders up 46 per cent nationally
And it is not just Mountain View that needs help from the PMI. This year the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) reports that 928 people have been murdered from January 1 to August 12. 35 of these murder victims were children, which marks a 46 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. UNICEF supports the work the PMI is doing to interrupt violence in several communities throughout Jamaica as part of a national push to end violence against children.
The numbers make it look like a thankless task, but residents are appreciative. “People want to see the presence of the PMI, the churches and other stakeholders coming to their rescue, they want people to give them hope. You saw on Jarrett Lane when that girl called to her friends and she said, ‘Look it’s the peace people, they’re here on the ground.’ It brings about a certain feeling,” says PMI Violence Intervention Specialist Milton Tomlinson.
Born and raised in Mountain View, Milton shrugged off his own gang past to turn his life around as have other youths who have joined the PMI. Many of the PMI violence interrupters (VIs) are themselves former gang members who are better able to relate to gang members, some of whom are adolescents.
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) August 25, 2017
Dialogue with residents and gangs
Along the walk residents call out to Milton and his team. An elderly woman points out the bullet holes in her home from a few nights before; and a young woman stops us to give her precise analysis of what sparked the current feud.
Smiles are shared but people are equally war weary. A father sitting under the shade with his family asks the PMI to do more to persuade the gangs. The PMI is doing what it can reasons Milton who appreciates the importance of residents being able to vent, being able to feel shared ownership of the peace-building process.
That dialogue is continuing as the PMI is currently mediating between both sides. Pressed for when a truce might come, Milton gives a patient reply.
Counseling children affected by violence
“Right now, it depends, it’s hard to say, because you talk and they’re ready to go; and then the next minute they’re not. Finding the right people to bring together is important because sometimes the police is on the ground and they flee the area so it takes some doing to find them.”
The day after brings with it another community visit for the PMI. This time Berthlyn and her team of volunteers – consisting of trained professionals – is running a counseling session in the downtown Kingston community of Parade Gardens, where two months ago an 11-year-old girl was killed and a 12-year-old boy was injured in a drive-by shooting. Next week she’ll be returning to east Kingston, not only for the two-year-old but also for his siblings suffering from stress.
This is the reality that many inner-city children live with; a reality that Jamaicans like Berthlyn and Milton are committed to changing.
UNICEF supports the Violence Interruption Programme implemented by the PMI, in partnership with the Ministry of National Security. Want to volunteer for the PMI to help interrupt violence across Jamaica? Contact the PMI at: +1-876-754-5622/754-5808/929-0671.