There was chaos yesterday on Market Street in Linstead, St. Catherine, when law-enforcers tried to rid the area of illegal vending.
The operation was conducted by the St. Catherine Municipal Corporation police, along with cops from the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
A 29-year-old vendor, Shernette Riley, who said she is a single mother of children ages 3, 9 and 11 years, quickly landed in the spotlight.
She was among people selling goods outside one of the entrances to Linstead Market.
She explained that, like other vendors, she tried to remove her belongings when the officers arrived and immediately started to seize goods.
“Dem jus come, block off the road, and start tek up goods,” Riley told The Beacon.
She said a female officer held the scale that she used to weigh goods.
Riley added that, while she was begging the female officer for an opportunity to take up the goods, a male officer dashed towards her, shoved her, and started to seize her belongings.
“The policeman jus jump over and chuck mi inna mi chest,” she commented.
Riley said the ground provisions and other goods seized from her are valued at more than $300,000 – goods she acquired on credit.
She also accused the officers of seizing her handbag containing money and documents.
The treatment that was being meted out to Riley left some other vendors and civilians fuming. They, at one point, surrounded the police vehicle.
The officers responded using pepper-spray.
They eventually drove away from Market Street, but returned some 30 minutes later – showing more militancy than before.
The officers, on their return, went for Riley, who apparently had become their main target.
“When dem come back, dem directly come to me,” Riley told The Beacon.
The officers started to handcuff her and hauled her towards a police vehicle.
Riley displayed reluctance in entering the vehicle, and the officers pepper-sprayed her.
After being pepper-sprayed, Riley fell to the ground, with the officers still trying to carry out the arrest.
The image of the woman vendor on the ground enraged onlookers – some of whom resorted to throwing objects at the police vehicle, which eventually left the scene with Riley inside.
Riley, who complained that she has been feeling pains, said the officers took her to Linstead Public Hospital.
They later transported her to Linstead Police Station where they charged her.
She explained that, based on the seven charges laid against her, she is being accused of offences such as resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, not wearing a mask, possession of a knife, and illegal vending.
Riley, who was released from custody, is to appear in court on June 2. She, in an interview with The Beacon, disputed some of the charges.
She said the goods, which the officers seized, were not returned to her.
Riley has been selling goods in the Linstead market district since childhood.
She is not the only one accusing the officers of using excessive force.
Another mother, Cordella Perkins, told our news team that the Municipal officers beat two of her sons in another incident, which unfolded in Linstead on Friday, May 7.
She said one of the sons is a minor. The other, who is an adult vendor – Kevon Reid, has been charged.
Perkins, who stated that her sons had to seek medical attention, has threatened to report the officers to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDEOM).
The incidents on the weekend bring back memories of another major one, which caught national attention when it happened on Market Street in June last year. On that occasion, a Municipal officer was caught on video demolishing a handcart and damaging goods. In response, the St. Catherine Municipal Corporation condemned its officer’s action, saying it does not support the destruction of property.
For decades, law enforcers and vendors have been clashing for control of the usually congested Market Street.
Some persons have proposed that vendors should be allowed to use the street exclusively on the busiest shopping days of the week. But some members of the community are not in agreement with the recommendation.
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