Best headline of the year so far:
MAN RUN OVER WITH MOTOR CAR, SHOT, ESCAPES
(source: Jamaica Observer)
It’s a fairly typical report of street crime in Jamaica, relying on unsupported interviews with the nearest person at hand, vague and incomplete police statements and victims that disappear, never to reappear.
I’d been scanning the local press since last Friday for more details about a murder that occurred near my house. It got a two-sentence mention on the television news on Friday evening but was not reported elsewhere.
I was driving on Barbican Road, just as it enters the rundown, ghetto neighbourhood of Grants Pen, and passed a single police car blocking the entrance to one of the no-name lanes lined with rusting and discoloured zincs (corrugated iron sheets). Last year the National Works Agency sent in a bulldozer and pushed out the carcasses of abandoned cars. They were neatly stacked by the roadside and left rusting in the weeds for a further six months. The lane received better treatment — a smooth, glistening coat of tarmac, the envy of all the more important roads running by, pocked with craters and erratically cambered.
When I passed the lane, there were few people on the street; police cars have that effect in this neighbourhood, despite having recently been celebrated as a model of community relations. After being murder-free for one year, the serious crimes seem to be creeping back.
I drove on down to New Kingston to pick up Mr B and came back up the same route about an hour later. By that time the traffic was crawling, the police were out in force and hundreds of people were standing round peering towards the lane. I thought about taking out my camera as we drove past, but was glad I hadn’t. The scene was familiar in any case — a corpse, police idling with their machine guns, photographer staring at the ground, blood in the dust.
The body was lying diagonally across the lane, plump round bottom in black shorts — it’s a woman! I gasped. In another place at another time she might have been stretching languorously, in a look-how-long-I-am pose. But this was how she must have fallen, running from the gunman.
Who was she? Why had she been killed? Drugs? Love? It’s hard to comprehend the ease with which guns are fired here in Jamaica. It’s hard to understand how there are so many guns in the hands of the wrong people. Jamaica’s gun laws are as draconian as those in the UK, and yet … At a street dance last weekend, the police arrested 128 men and confiscated four pistols and 69 knives. The TV camera panned back and forth over the pistols and their unloaded ammunition, carefully arranged in triangles. The camera spent less time on the knives, but to me they were even more impressive. Apart from the bad boy’s favourite, the ratchet, or clasp knife, most of the others were straight out the kitchen drawer. Can you imagine going to a dance with a bread knife stuck in your waist?
I passed the no-name lane again this morning. The tarmac was still smooth and glistening after the morning drizzle. On the nearest zinc, writ large in yellow and red, were the letters T L C .
Not much of that going around.