Another don bites the dust

Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail,
In Spanish Town

Another shooting, another riot, another curfew in Spanish Town, Jamaica’s former capital city, situated some ten miles west of Kingston. The town exploded in violence again yesterday following the assassination of Andrew “Bun Man” Hope, leader of the One Order gang. The leader of rival gang, Donovan “Bulbie” Bennett of the Clansmen, was killed by police last October (see post).

Hope was shot in his car when it was attacked by several unknown assailants wearing khaki, reported the police. The immediate suspicion was that the police themselves were behind the assassination. This led to an angry mob blocking off the street, refusing to allow police near the body, and which then went on to loot and burn the old courthouse, next to where Hope was killed. The mob refused to let the fire brigade through to stop the blaze. The police eventually managed to force their way to the car and pushed the crowd back to allow a tow truck to remove the car with the body still inside. Subsequently the police tried to remove other roadblocks set up by angry residents, only for them to be rebuilt once the police moved on. Suspected One Order gang members ran through the streets firing into the air, forcing shops to pull down their shutters. Public transport withdrew services, thousands of commuters were stranded and a curfew was imposed from dusk to 8:00 am.

Amid these almost familiar events, one detail slipped by all except the Gleaner newspaper:

The police confirmed last night that Uriah Matthews, caretaker for the court’s premises, was shot several times and then thrown into the fire.

And the so-called angry residents still wail about the gang leader’s death, claiming he was a peaceful and generous community hero! No one’s even bothered about poor Uriah Matthews.

It’s a well known fact that gang leaders, or dons, have gained support from their local communities through their largesse. Remember scenes from The Godfather II, when Fanucci of The Black Hand strolls through the neighbourhood like a lord, only to be killed by the leader of the next generation of mobsters, Vito Corleone. Similarly in Jamaica, more than two-thirds of the country’s murders are related to rival gang turf wars or vendettas.

The difference in Jamaica is that, since the 1970s, gangs have been allied to one of the two political parties, either the People’s National Party (PNP) or the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP). The alliances manifested themselves in rallying neighbourhood block votes in return for varying degrees of immunity. Huge profits from drug trading and transiting in the 1980s and 1990s gave the gangs more financial power and independence from politicians. More recently, faced with rising public condemnation of criminal association, most politicians have tried to distance themselves from their gang connections. As an example in this evolution, two years ago, the previous leader of the One Order gang was killed in a car owned by his successor and victim of yesterday, Andrew Hope. Local representative, Olivia “Babsie” Grange, had acted as guarantor for Hope’s purchase of the car. Last October, both Hope and Grange narrowly avoided assassination when the car they were both in was sprayed with bullets in Spanish Town. Yet last week I read of Grange’s dedication to a peace initiative in her constituency.

So where’s the truth? Have the dons and politicos divorced over irreconcilable differences, or are they just on a break?

Perhaps the gangs need to re-brand themselves for their former client base:

Need votes but too lazy or incompetent to win them? Just call 1-800-RENT-A-DON

If you go down to Spanish Town

Missed my first blogiversary. Never mind. Way too busy with getting the house ready, transfering the utilities, buying a car, buying a stove, washer and dryer, juggling finances across four countries … good news is that we may have our stuff through customs by the weekend and we won’t need to sleep on the floor (the hotel bills are astronomical).

I’ll write another time about the rest of our trip over and the flood in our first hotel. More on my mind at present is the security situation here. It’s much worse than we’d anticipated, despite our research before coming.

We had a security briefing shortly after we arrived and were given a very grim picture. In retrospect, I think it was a little over the top, describing the worst possible scenarios each time. Immediately afterwards, however, we felt very depressed, imagining that life was going to be a quick dash from office to car, avoiding all possible human contact, then another sprint from the car to the house in a gated, guarded compound, running with a panic button in hand, which, when activated, calls an rapid armed response unit to your side.

We were also warned where not to go under any circumstances: downtown (south Kingston), west Kingston, and the main road running through east Kingston, which is apparently host to two rival gangs living on opposite sides of the road. “They get up in the morning and start shooting across the street.”

Uptown (north Kingston) is the most prosperous and safe area, although we were warned of the serial killer still at large. The security officer then paused and laughed: “Did I say serial killer? I meant serial rapist! Ha-ha-ha!”

Despite these warnings, I have to say I haven’t felt too threatened or too isolated from life in Kingston. I have a trio of taximen that are reliable, I stick to main thoroughfares and curb my natural tendency to explore sidestreets, I carry only the cash I need and spread it between various pockets and moneybelt, and I try to look as if I know where I’m going and why, although it’s not always easy to pull it off.

While I’m all right, many other Kingstonians have been having a rough rough time. In the short time since we’ve been here, some exceptionally horrific crimes have occurred, including the arson attack on a family house that killed a ten-year-old girl. The arsonists stood by and shot at anyone who tried to save the people trapped inside. It was a revenge killing. In another case, three women were kidnapped from a bar, then brutally raped and murdered. No motive known. In a third high profile case, two novice priests working with Richard HoLung, the Mother Theresa figure of the Kingston slums, were shot dead by a single bullet while they were washing up in the kitchen. No motive known.

There have been many other less spectacular murders since we’ve been here.

The largest outburst of violence occurred yesterday, following the killing by police of Jamaica’s most wanted man. He had avoided capture for ten years, allegedly with the connivence of local politicians, while at the same time leading the most active criminal gang in Spanish Town, the former country capital, just west of Kingston. The gang, the Clansmen, sought to avenge their leader’s killing by burning a police station, shooting at any police in the area, and finally taking control of the streets, burning vehicles and setting up barricades.

It was confusing to me at what point the pure criminal element ended and other citizens began. The streets were full of political party supporters (PNP) and other “concerned” citizens protesting police brutality. One report claimed the Clansmen had ordered residents onto the streets at gunpoint in order to swell numbers protesting.

There is something very very rotten in the state of Jamaica when the politicians recruit gangsters to muscle up block votes and when every small business is bled dry by extortionists.

I was going to add Desmond Dekker’s song “007/Shanty Town” with this post, but it seems dangerously naive in the light of current events:

dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail ( a shanty town )
dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail ( a shanty town )
an’ rudeboys out on probation ( a shanty town )

an’ rudeboy bomb up de town ( a shanty town )

I’ll fill you in on some of the intricacies of Jamaican politricks very soon.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of my favourite billboard in town.
Word of god
Too late, Big G!