Sun | May 19, 2019

Mark Wignall | Guns, gangs, death and pain

Published:Thursday | November 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Two Wednesdays ago my ex-wife, my mechanic and I were in a little bar at the corner of Park Lane and Red Hills Road. I had assisted her in having my mechanic do some front-end repairs to her car and we came to the little joint to chat, drink, hang out and laugh.

We spent about half an hour and left at about 3 p.m. Less than an hour later, a man was badly shot up at the same location. It seemed that a young, male resident of the lane had a dispute with a taxi man over a lost phone. A fight broke out, the taxi man was getting beaten up badly and a nearby peacemaker stepped in to part them.

Shortly after, the taxi man drove off and when he came back he had a gunman aboard. By that time the man who had pummelled the taxi man with a piece of board had left and trekked north up the lane. Without alighting from the taxi the gunman opened up on the peacemaker. As I write he is still in the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds.

Last Saturday at about 10:30 a.m. directly in front of the same bar, a man I knew and have spoken with a few times was shot dead in what appears to be an internal Park Lane dispute and not a continuation of its tension with what it considers hostile territory, the nearby Hundred Lane.

At the heart of decreasing the murder rate to 'liveable' limits must be consideration of the overriding culture in Jamaica where just about everyone knows a gunman and is prepared to utilise him either out of friendship support or, if one is wealthy, pay him to execute another individual who the rich man wants dead.




I met my first gunman-for-hire in the mid-1970s. It was just after the shooting death of a well-known lawyer who was partly in the business of filching many of his clients. At just about that time, a well-known businessman doing what came naturally to the business class at that time as an 'extra-curricular' enhancement to the bottom line, was also executed.

The gunman, short in stature and brown-skinned, hardly smiled, and as we spoke, he told me he knew who had carried out those hit jobs and why they were done. My gunman 'friend', who was always leafing through his small pocket New Testament, made me know that he liked me and his services would be available to me for free should the need arise. I told him thanks but, no thanks.

Lately, there has been a spike in the sorts of murders which have 'hit' written all over them. In the 1970s and 1980s, the gunman was the vassal of the politician and whenever the criminal was taken in by the police, within an hour a politician or his lawyer would arrive to set the gunman free. Senior policemen were also in on this open and crass injustice.

Today, the criminals can afford their own lawyers because gangs enriched by lottery scamming and localised extortion ('weekly taxes') are now able to call the shots on their own and, in recent years, have even donated to specific political campaigns so that they can use the residential, political zones of exclusion as cover for their many misdeeds.

Some of the gangs which hold these men are being dismantled, but the basic culture of the gun and its use in conflict resolution is deeply embedded in many communities right across Jamaica.

That needs to be urgently tackled, if not arrested.