Who is watching the Community Watch?

Last Thursday’s article by Ciarán Barnes in the Andersonstown News focusing on a recent issue of Greater St James Community Watch bulletin (page 1, page2) has been causing a bit of a stir (Greater St James Community Watch has a reputation in West Belfast for effectiveness and independence from any external political influence). The bulletin contained an iconic photograph of armed members of the Black Panthers along with a quote from their former leader Stokely Carmichael:

“There’s a difference between peace and liberation. You can still have injustice and have peace. You can have peace and still be enslaved. So peace isn’t the answer, liberation is the answer. There will be no peace until everyone is equal.” Stokely Carmichael.

The quote carried in the ATN read:

So peace isn’t the answer”

Barnes article also contained condemnation from two unnamed residents of St James. Monday’s edition had some follow up in the letters page with two further anonymous complaints about the bulletin and a supportive letter, which had the author’s name attached, that lambasted Barnes for his partial use of the quotation.

However, I’ve been forwarded a copy of an official response from Greater St James Community Watch to the article, which hasn’t been printed by the ATN as yet. I’ll reproduce the letter below.

Ciarán Barnes’s article in last Thursday’s Andersonstown News about the Greater St James Community Watch was inaccurate and mischievous.

The Greater St James Community Watch has 137 people who have volunteered their free time to help making the Greater St James a safer place for all our residents to live.

Each of our members have their own families, children, jobs, and no doubt many hardships in their lives but they have been on the streets of Greater St James since August 2007.

The Greater St James Community Watch is not a summer scheme. We are not aligned to any political party, but the job we do is political. The Greater St James Community Watch is the people of the Greater St James and we are very much aware of the social depravation that exists in our area, and we are also very much aware of the hardships that families and Youth suffer. The Greater St James Community Watch is not a small one issue group set up to deal with kids drinking on the corner, stealing cars and joyriding. Our aim is to improve the quality, health and safety of all the members of our community and that includes our Youth. We hope that through a policy of non-aggression, education and communication, that we can hopefully reduce some of the antisocial behaviour sweeping across West Belfast.

The quote used in our letter to members, was a quote by Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Black Panther Party. A man, who up until his death in 1979, dedicated his life to Civil Rights. The Quote reads:

“There’s a difference between peace and liberation..you can still have injustice and have peace. You can have peace and still be enslaved. So peace isn’t the answer – Liberation is the answer. There will be no peace until everyone is equal”.

The quote was totally misrepresented by Ciarán Barnes using only one line of it, implying that somehow we didn’t want peace and security in our area.

To the people who Ciarán Barnes interviewed, if the picture of black working class youth defending their area offended you, well that wasn’t our intent. If you felt so strongly about the letter to the point you thought it might damage the Community Watch, then why not bring your concerns to the Committee of the Watch? Why do we first hear your concerns through an article in a newspaper?

The Greater St James Community Watch is made up completely of volunteers. We receive no funding. We are not controlled by any political group. We are inclusive and open to all residents of the Greater St James. We are trying in our own small way to make life a little better for residents. That can’t be a bad thing.

Yours faithfully,

Ciarán Marron

Greater St James Community Watch

So it seems some people are very unhappy with Greater St James Community Watch but clearly unwilling to raise their concerns directly or to use their names when doing so and we will have to see if they turn their eye towards any of the other images of people bearing weapons and revolutionary quotes on public display in West Belfast.

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