Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Mark Wignall | Carnage and fear

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM

One dismal, tragic day in May 1976 when political tribalism found deadly work for arsonists and murderers, gunmen surrounded the small community of Orange Lane in Kingston and set a block of houses on fire while forcefully hindering police and firemen from giving the residents the assistance immediately needed.

As one brave woman ran from the fire and dodged gunfire, her baby clutched in her arm was brutally torn away from her and thrown into the fire by a monster called 'Lack-a-toot'.

On May 1, 2018, some of us are still stuck in that heartless disdain for the lives of others, including children. In a frenzied, 12-hour rampage through Grange Hill in Westmoreland when seven were killed and others injured, one father made the most valiant effort possible to protect his two-year-old infant. As the father was shot, he threw his body on his son. The gunmen finished him off, rolled away his body, and then blasted away the life of the little child.

We say this is not normal, but in 1976 we were saying the same thing, too - only this time around, the guns have grown in quantity and the age cohort of the gunmen is somewhat younger. Bullets recovered from the scene of the shootings at a bar in Grange Hill included more than forty 5.56-calibre expended cartridges, 10 which were of the 7.62 type, and sixteen 9mm.

The 5.56 and 7.62 calibres are used in assault rifles like the AK-47 and the M16. When these high-velocity bullets enter the body, they do much more damage than, say, the bullet from a handgun. They destroy tissue, blood vessels and organs, and victims usually have little chance of recovery if hit in the torso or region of the gut.

Who are these animals? What tragic deformation of the DNA making up Lack-a-toot is common to the rest of us shivering in fear and hurling criticism at the Government, politicians, the prime minister, the security minister and the commissioner of police? Are we all unwilling partners in crime in that common strain coursing through us?

In the wake of the Grange Hill tragedy, the Police High Command in that division has informed us that the killings are linked to a feud attached to the lottery scam. Like killings associated with extortion in the transportation sector and, to a lesser extent, in the small-business sector, the criminals directly operating these rackets usually have the option of utilising their own stock of firearms, or they can turn to murder-for-hire, the worst sort of mercenary human being existing.


Is preventing crime an impossibility?


Lottery scammers are very territorial of their range of influence, their lead lists (names, email addresses and phone numbers of those whom they hope to scam) and will often utilise extreme violence to steal the lists of other scammers. Much of the violence is internally generated, when collectors make the tragic error of holding on to, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of passing it on to the 'boss'. As in all sanctions related to the underworld, the target is the main focus, but if he or she cannot be located, family, friends, acquaintances or even random people living close by are fair game.

Recently, PM Holness did a card-pack reshuffling of his Cabinet. Much of it was centred around catapulting Dr Nigel Clarke to the top of Finance and the Public Service and a political reset of the national security portfolio. With many in the population calling for the political scalp of Bobby Montague, the prime minister answered their call and gave us Dr Horace Chang as the new man in the hotspot.

That gamble has provided the prime minister with a new baptism of fire, but also fear and carnage. Sharing in this tragic reawakening is the police commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson. I must confess that I thought the police could have applied a more proactive stance, especially in light of the fact that they were aware of an active feud and the likely repercussions.

Without even me making a general judgement on the poor state of the JCF's reaction time to active shooting in progress, it is obvious that the high concentration of security personnel in the ZOSOs and the areas of emergency have rendered that response time as poor to non-existent.

The switch from Bobby to Horace and from acting CP Blake to General Anderson is not, and will never be, a factor in how the criminal underworld makes its move on the murderous chessboard. The murderers are prepared to die and their expectations must be addressed with much haste.

Shooting a father and eventually killing him chill us in its horror of a reality. Pushing away his body shielding his son and then shooting the two-year-old must never be sanctioned at any place in the mind of a rational person. On that basis, those murderers must be hunted down and deemed as dangerous as disease-ridden vermin.

I will at all times support the rule of law, but there will be moments when I am forced to admit that present approaches of wielding a small stick are not having the desired effect of stemming this tide of fear and carnage.


Life after states of emergency


In 1976 when the ruling People's National Party used political trickery to lock up key members of the Jamaica Labour Party and went on to win an election that it would have won anyway, political tribalism in Jamaica was given its official stamp of approval by the highest authority in the land.

In 2018, the JLP administration has given the go-ahead to the security forces to go net-fishing in the ZOSOs and, especially, in the states of emergency. What seems obvious while they have some of the youth penned in without charges is that the real killers 'deh a road'.

It is quite possible that among some of those young men detained are a few murderers who have never been charged and all the police can do is interrogate, harass, interrogate again, and release until the misnomer 'intelligence luck' merges with happenstance.

There are too many young men who have done their examination of the 'system' in Jamaica and are convinced that working at a full-time or part-time trade or, trying to join the 9-5 line, will not provide them with the material trappings they desire or the economic sustenance that will make them socially viable and attractive to women.

They may not have attracted the barest attention of the teacher while in school settling at the bottom of the class but, as grown adults they have little time to think of reliving the failures of their youthful days. They want a house far away from the gully bank, a car with fancy rims, and a pretty lady in the front seat.

They may be monsters to us, but the thought of their children bawling for hunger at nights scares them just as much as it would terrify us. The problem is, after the ZOSOs end, the states of emergency subside and we return to only(?) killing three per day, the society will have to deal with these young men.

The ferocity of their actions as they strut towards the car with their armed cronies, on the way to an orgy of murder, will be no less. The JLP will have to deal with them. The PNP will have to deal with them. The security minister and whoever is commissioner of police will have to deal with them.

You and I will have to deal with them, in the full knowledge that the JLP, the PNP, the PM, the security minister and the commissioner of police will be safely guarded as they snore the night away.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to and