Sun | Jan 19, 2020

Mark Wignall | All-out war on Red Hills Road

Published:Sunday | September 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Residents collect water in buckets on Park Lane on August 26. Violence has racked the communities of Park Lane and Hundred Lane, leaving several dead and injured in the last two weeks.

Two Saturdays ago at about 3:30 p.m., I stopped by a bar at Park Lane and spent about half an hour having a chat with an acquaintance I had not seen in one year. We spoke about politics, youth unemployment, criminality, the police, and some of the problems besetting the relationship between Park Lane (JLP) and the nearby Hundred Lane (PNP).

A little over a week before that, the police had taken out (killed) a wanted man in Park Lane. Then, soon after, a woman was shot dead in Hundred Lane. One could sense that most of what those killings would do is add fuel to old animosities between the two poor garrison pockets.

A few hours after I left, a grey Nissan Tiida drove up and parked, probably with its engine running, with the front facing down Merrick Highway, an avenue on the other side of the road from Park Lane.

Outside a nearby bar on the other side of the road from the joint where I had been, some men were doing what a lot of Jamaican men do for recreation - playing dominoes. No one can say exactly what time the car drove up or whether the engine was running while parked. What is known is the horror that took place between 6:30 and 7 p.m.

Two men exited the car and suddenly approached the domino table with guns blazing. In that terrible moment, six people were shot, including a man in his 60s who I knew. Death toll - two innocents. Immediately after, the gunmen, ably supported by the driver of the car, sped off.

Last Monday when I visited the area, the bar at Park Lane was open, but there were no patrons. The bar on the other side of the road was in the same commercial and social plight. People who once had roadside stalls were missing. A hardware store was also open, but only one vehicle was parked outside. Another bar beside the hardware store was open, and as I entered, there was only the proprietor and the barmaid. Another bar close by was shuttered.

All small businesses between Park and Hundred lanes on Red Hills Road were seeing a suspension of commercial activities.

It is typical that whenever garrison communities in perpetual war with each other see another outbreak, the young gunmen whose lives and future are intertwined with generational badness have no idea why they are killing those supporting 'the other side'.

But even if the problems predate the late 1990s, it certainly ought not to be an impossible problem for the MP to sit down with the various 'area leaders' and show them the economic and social ravages that they are causing.

The area between Hundred and Park Lanes provides young men with cooking skills the opportunity to earn significant cash by selling their most delicious pan chicken from roadside stalls. The better-off people who live in the hills usually stop by on the weekend and purchase two or three packages of chicken or pork. For now, that is on hold as criminality stalls the economic existence of those who need it most.


Liars, hypocrites and criminals


He is a well-known businessman in Jamaica and he tells me the story of attending the nine-night of a man who had been his gardener for more than two decades. The gardener lived in a section of Arnett Gardens, Jamaica's second-most-known garrison community. Only Tivoli Gardens is more known.

"My daughter who lives abroad was there with me, and she wanted to because our gardener was like a part of the family. She was a little distance away from me when she saw four men with assault rifles marching from one lane to the other. They were in full view of all who were at the wake.

"She whispered in my ear, told me what she was about to do, slinked away, and did what any responsible citizen would do. She took my car keys and opened it and made a call. To the police.

"I was impressed at the time it took for the police to arrive. But that was the point when I realised how pervasive the culture of silence is in this country."

The man tells me that as the police approached and told the gathering that they had received reports of armed men walking in the community, one woman strode up the group of policemen and said, "Officer, is only wicked people would tell you any such ting. Dem wicked, wicked!" Others supported her position.

A few years ago, when Reneto Adams was driving fear into the vitals of murderous gunmen (but not troubling the murder rate overall), he suggested that about 90 per cent of residents in garrison communities supported criminality. He was hauled over hot coals for it, and I am certain that I may have taken a potshot or two at him.

But Adams knew what he was taking about. After many years of the politician being the giver of goodies, the consort of gunmen and paid murderers, and the residents being brainwashed into the belief that the gunmen and the politicians are their saviours and the police are the enemy, it all falls into place.

A brutal rape of a little girl? The residents who know everything five minutes after it happens will not even make a furtive call to the police to tell what they know. Why is this?

Sometimes the rapist may be a benefactor in another dispensation.

While I have no inside knowledge of what took place in the brutal killing of the young child in Arnett Gardens, there are too many mothers in this country who have never known what it is to be a parent.

So, with five mouths to feed and little Suzie springing breasts, it is time for her to go and 'look it', just as the mother did when she was much younger. It's a culture of degradation and, at times, it is the community norm.


Impossible to police garrison


It takes about two years for a fresh recruit from the police academy to ape the ways of his veteran squaddies. If he is exposed to the garrison and its subcultural behaviours immediately after his training, it is likely that the young man will be scarred for life.

Even in his interaction with decent citizens, he will demonstrate serious flaws that need undoing and redoing. I am certain that the policeman who slapped me across my face when I was 15 (1965) and rendered one eye swollen shut for two days was in that mode. And so was the other policeman who hit me in the face when I was 39.

It is always good to equip the police with fancy bikes with easily seen colours and, hopefully, car cams and bike cams, but if they spend too long policing zinc lane communities, it will not make them into soft pussy cats. Quite the contrary.

In the mid- to late 1990s while I was inside a garrison area that was at war with an adjoining area, a policeman said to me, "Look at mi shirt collar. Look how it black and dutty. Mi feel sticky and mi want a shower. Mi an mi squaddie dem a patrol from yesterday and every corner wi turn, wi haffi a expect nuff gunshot.

"Dis is not police work, Missa Wignall. Dis is work fi soldier. Yu si if me go round di corner now and even a gal sey something harsh to mi, a swear to yu dat mi ago lick off her face. Mi tyad and mi waan go home."

Way back then, I saw it and fully understood it. Many of our policemen know the face of the garrison, and when it stares at them, too often, it doesn't look good and they hit back.

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