This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the subject of the altercations between civilians and members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) in Denham Town, West Kingston, which were captured on two videos that have been widely circulated across social media platforms.
The latest incident in consecutive days captured a soldier, in an amateur video, kicking and using his firearm to ease off a pregnant woman who made several advances towards him.
In the earlier incident, a woman and a man clashed with JDF soldiers during an altercation near a checkpoint in Denham Town. A male was repeatedly hit by a soldier with his rifle after the youngster physically intervened in an altercation between an army man and a woman.
The incidents have generated several perspectives across the country, with many supporting the soldiers for their stance and pointing out that citizens residing in some inner-city communities are notorious for impeding members of the security forces as they carry out their lawful duties.
However, others like human rights lobby group, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), described the two videos as having been deeply troubling.
Other citizens are maintaining that the actions of the soldiers were excessive, while some believe that both parties implicated in the clashes were wrong.
Denham Town has been plagued by crime over a long period of time, but for the past four years, the Government has instituted its security initiative, the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO), to push back against criminality in the community.
The zones have transitioned into different phases of the Clear-Hold-Build Strategy.
Denham Town and Mount Salem, which were the first ZOSOs that were declared in 2018, continue in the build phase of the special security and community development measures that are a component of a suite of legislations geared towards fostering sustainable development and community renewal in the designated areas.
Members of the JDF and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) seemingly got along well in the initial stages, as they seemingly comfortably occupied checkpoints daily in the Denham Town space.
However, tensions between the security forces and residents reportedly deteriorated following the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Horaine Glenn by a JDF soldier in the community on April 16. Residents staged several fiery protests in response to the incident.
A new level of hostility erupted on Wednesday when a soldier was seen in a video, using his rifle to hit a male near a checkpoint in the Denham Town ZOSO. Police sources have said the resident was accused of trying to block JDF members from carrying out their duties.
The JDF, on Thursday, acknowledged the authenticity of the video, and said it was investigating the matter.
A day after that stand-off, a video of another incident was posted on social media, this time of a female who sources said is pregnant, in a tussle with a soldier.
The video also showed the soldier kicking the female and using his firearm to push back the woman after telling her to stand down.
Residents have since issued another call for the latest incident to be investigated, while some have called for the Government to remove the soldiers from the Denham Town ZOSO.
But Prime Minister Andrew Holness has rejected those calls for the removal of members of the army from the crime-plagued community, claiming such a move would be “to give space to criminals”.
While calling on the residents to respect the authority of the members of the security forces, Holness, who was speaking at a function in August Town on Friday, reiterated that members of the military and the police force have been directed to respect the human rights of residents and citizens in all communities designated as ZOSOs.
The JDF, speaking about the stand-off on Wednesday, said: “We have launched an investigation into the matter and commit to ensuring that appropriate actions will be taken as deemed necessary.
“We continue to urge residents of communities within which the security forces are required to operate, to cooperate with our personnel as they seek to ensure the safety and security of citizens within these spaces.
“The JDF is committed to working with the Jamaica Constabulary Force in re-evaluating how the challenges in the community may be better managed,” the army said.
While the JDF is probing both incidents, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has launched its own probe into the altercations.
Amid those probes, JFJ, in reacting to the videos, argued that the actions of the soldiers ran contrary to the message of the state in seeking to reduce violence against women.
“How could a soldier, who is trained for conflict and armed with a rifle, deem it appropriate to shove an unarmed woman, kick another who appears to be pregnant, point a gun in her face, or attempt to use his gun to hit her?” questioned JFJ.
“That display is unfortunate and is suggestive of a wider societal issue of gender-based violence, even among those who are expected to uphold the law,” said a spokesperson in the statement on Friday.
“While members of the security forces must be able to defend themselves if their lives are threatened, proportionality must always be considered and efforts made by said state agents to de-escalate tense situations,” the spokesperson added.
JFJ also described as disturbing, the fact that there are members of the public who believe the response of the soldiers was warranted.
“There clearly needs to be social norms change, as part of a violence-reduction campaign being championed by stakeholders including government and academia, as well as a re-thinking of how some members of the public view the marginalised poor and those from low-income communities.”
Notwithstanding those concerns from JFJ, social media users were, by and large, clear in their stance that the soldiers’ actions were warranted.
“Low di soldiers dem! Unnu nuh see di gunman dem a set di women to aggravate n (and) draw out di soldiers n (and) police. How dem women ya so hype n (and) brave, plus video always a run,” wrote Instagram user, charleschappa.
Commenting on the altercation between the soldier and the pregnant woman, sinatrawee, another Instagram user, wrote: “I’ve never seen such stupidity! You have an AK-47 (not an AK-47, but a M16-type rifle) pointed at you, but insists on lunging at law enforcement.”
Jamaicantillidie, in his commentary on the issue, opined that, “Rules, regulations and discipline is (are) like kryptonite to Jamaicans.”
He elaborated that, “Jamaicans want freedom to be indiscipline… They have no respect for themselves or anyone around them, much less the security forces or the law of the land.
“Look at that Teg-A-Reg of a woman.”
On social media site, Facebook, there were also strong support for the actions that were taken by members of the military in Denham Town.
However, Facebook users like Anthony Stephens, disagreed, by suggesting that the alleged pregnant woman did not touch the soldier initially, and the kick she purportedly received was unwarranted.
“I am not condoning what the residents did, as far as the videos show. The woman did not physically touch the solders. So that kick that he gave the woman who is also pregnant, was unjust, untimely, inhumane and uncalled for,” Stephens reasoned.
“Plp (people) can always cuss, but as long as they don’t touch you, then no need to retaliate in the way the soldier did. Just my view still,” he added.
Shellyfabulous Brown, in responding to his comments, disagreed with his views.
“Anthony Stephens even after the kick she still persisting to fight. The soldier literally barred her before he kicked her. I’m happy her gender did not give her a pass,” Brown stated.
Like Stephens, another Facebook user, Claudia Henry, said the soldier was “harsh” towards the pregnant woman.
Henry also rapped another soldier who was seen in the initial video hitting a man and also engaging in a tussle with another woman.
“Listen, we all know ghetto people bad, yeah, but come on man. The woman have a belly, and you ago push her so with gun and then kick her? Dat is wrong, wrong,” Henry commented.
“All the soldier that lick the man with the gun like a tree him a chop down should charge ’cause that just aggresive and excessive to me. My views, and me nuh want no one come under my post a argue.”
One individual, Marcus Williams, reacting to that comment, said: “Solja dem a human too. Dem fi defend dem self, and all the woman weh a breed should a get couple slap out the gun because dem nah no respect for the law and we all know some a dem woman deh a ghetto deh protect criminals.”
Facebook user, Ash Lee, described the development as being “a combination of lawless behaviours from both the law and the people.”
He added that, “I am not saying people are respecting the law or that that’s acceptable… but it’s also up to the law to be worthy of respect.
“It’s hard when everyone knows police and soldier are constantly breaking the law or taking lives in questionable manners… But on the flip side it’s difficult for the public to place trust and respect in corrupt agencies,” Lee opined.
There were other social media users who had concerns about the direction the country is heading in terms of discipline.
“The moment the citizens of a country no longer respects the soldiers or the police you know it’s heading into a barbaric state. Smh,” shared Cherry Davis.
On Twitter, @Keriofffical3bar wrote: “Both the soldiers and the residents are wrong. Too much aggression, and people are so hot for each other and don’t know how to resolve disputes.”
Another user, @josigirl, opined: “Listen. Mi nuh sorry for the pregnant woman and it shows how decency and morality declining in this place.
“That woman should be charged for child endangerment because she going at the soldier, and could caused the child to be harmed by her own careless act,” she suggested.