(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Several senators yesterday diverted from issues surrounding the extension of the state of emergency (SOE) in St Catherine to passionately address the daring murder of Pastor James Johnson on Thursday.
The tragic incident took place while the 29-year-old pastor was teaching a class at his church on Old Harbour Road in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
Old Harbour Road is within the St Catherine North Police Division, where the second state of emergency was introduced by the Government in March to stem crime and violence in several of the most volatile communities in the parish.
The House of Representatives only approved the third 90-day extension of the SOE on Wednesday, after two days of discussions on the request by the security forces for more time to bring crime and violence under control in the volatile areas within the division.
Agreement was only reached after a strong plea from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that they needed more time to cement control of the crime-ridden areas.
As the Senate debated the matter yesterday, both Government and Opposition senators, including the leader of Government business, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith; the leader of Opposition business, Senator Donna Scott Mottley; and newly elected vice-president of the People’s National Party (PNP) Damion Crawford noted their familiarity with the pastor and expressed condolence to his family and friends.
“It is inescapable that I am thinking about the killing of James Johnson within the state of emergency,” Senator Johnson Smith admitted.
“He was known to many of us in here, and it is unthinkable that persons who may have just interacted with him a few days ago, someone with the energy and love of life as James, would have his life snuffed out…” she said, pausing to recollect her focus.
“We have understood anectdotally that even among gunmen there used to be rules: babies, pregnant women, elders, churches were sacrosanct, violence should not be perpetrated against persons within these categories, or in those cases. But it seems that those rules don’t exist anymore,” the Senate leader said.
“It seems that it should go without saying that that everything is out the door. If there are no barriers to violence, then the State must assert extra-ordinary measures, because it must be that Jamaica returns to a place where you can go to church at 5 o’clock in the evening to teach a class,“ she added.
Senator Scott Mottley, who hails from Johnson’s home parish of Clarendon, said that she had only met him on Wednesday, the day before his murder, and was impressed with him.
“I just cannot accept that one day later when I saw his photo it was because he was dead. He was a young man with a tremendous amount of potential. You didn’t need to ask, you know you meet some people, and you know immediately, and it was painful for me as it no doubt was (for others),” she commented.
Crawford, who was making his maiden Gordon House speech since his promotion up the ranks of the PNP on Saturday, noted that Johnson was making an important contribution to the society, as he was voluntarily teaching children at the church when he was killed.
Another Opposition senator, Lambert Brown, claimed that Johnson’s murder showed that the prime minister was wrong about “criminals on the run” under the current SOEs and zones of special operations (ZOSOs).
He noted that the shooter walked into the church and fired seven shoots into Johnson, and walked out without being apprehended.
“That certainly tells me that the criminals are not on the run. The prime minister is wrong on that,” Senator Brown added.
In the end, the Senate approved the extension of the SOE in the police division by another 90 days to January 2, 2019.