Tue | Jan 28, 2020

Mark Wignall | Of dons and holy men

Published:Sunday | December 8, 2019 | 12:21 AM
Donald ‘Zeeks’ Phipps
Reneto Adams

In January of 2018, in an interview with Loop News, retired Senior Superintendent of Police Reneto Adams said that he would only need six months to clean up the violent crime situation in Jamaica.

As skilled a crime fighter as he was, and loved by many Jamaicans even when he was being vilified by others, I am certain that Adams himself did not fully buy into the words he had uttered.

Granted, we know that he had that ability to drive fear into notorious killers and ‘area leaders’, but somehow, at the end of his tenure in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the bottom line, significant decreases in the murder rate did not happen. So his imagined swan song in slaying the crime monster in 2018 would have had to be taken for what it was, wishing and hoping and praying that a thought and words could somehow grow legs.

We also know that he is no fan of the various states of emergency across the country. Adams’ hardcore policing, where fire for fire was the norm, was not the only factor that added to his controversial approach. He also stated that in excess of 90 per cent of residents in some inner communities were supportive of the criminal network in those communities.

How do we determine if this is really so, and why is that question important? Simple. If the communities support the armed, criminal network, even if hardcore policing has sent many violence producers to the cemetery, there will still be those see-and-blind-hear-and-deaf little old ladies willing to eat from what blood money has produced.

But there are many communities where support and love for the don is all a sham borne out of raw fear and the harsh reality that in tough times, the criminal don will be there to provide a week’s dinner.

One part of that sham tends to play out when the community is under pressure from the security forces. It requires the community (especially the women) to strategically fan out in the streets and shop corners to glorify the don and make him holy. To dig beneath this, sometimes the real motivating factors are revealed.

A pertinent reminder. After Donald ‘Zeeks’ Phipps (the reputed ‘strongman’ in control of Matthews Lane and PNP supporters in West Kingston) was taken in by the police in September 1998 and held at Central Police Station, a crowd of his supporters gathered at the station gate to protest his detention and demand his release. Was it for love, admiration, or did raw fear play its part?


Just about every spurious ‘area leader’ and don in an inner-city pocket has his political connections and key politician one phone call away. But he also has another ‘attribute’ supporting his arrival at the top of the pecking order in the criminal underworld in the community – his brutality, his ease with killing, and being unafraid to display the gore in front of the square in the heart of the community. Most dons parlay this to snatching away preteen girls from households for their pleasure.

I do not know enough about Phipps to confirm that he followed that template, and nothing has come to me to indicate anything other than the testimony at his trial, which got him sent away for murder.

But back to September 1998. In the late evening, as the crowd outside Central grew and Zeeks was being lionised for his goodness and earthly divinity, groups of men armed with assault rifles were walking the streets – Orange Street, King Street, and other thoroughfares – banging on doors and demanding that occupants present themselves to the Central Police Station gate.

Luckily for me, I had a source who lived within a few hundred yards of the Ward Theatre, and by phone, she was whispering to me what she was seeing and hearing from her upstairs perch. “Put on onnu clothes and go a Central!” Then the banging and the fear and the legs gathering steam on the way to East Queen Street.

In 2003, when the wrath of Adams and his Crime Management Unit (CMU) had their last hurrah and four people were shot dead in a sleepy little district named Kraal in the hills of Clarendon, the main target and the man who escaped the CMU raid was Bashington Douglas aka Chen Chen.

A week or so after the killings, I met Chen Chen at his hiding place, where he was trying to avoid police bullets. His story was one of tragedy from childhood. Political killings and arson in Homestead in Spanish Town. His grandmother. His grandfather. His father. Cousins. All shot dead either by political marauders or the police.

To the illiterate Chen Chen, he was the victim, and all he was doing was protecting his area.

“Extortion? Me nuh know nutten bout that,” he told me when I asked about reports that he had been shaking down key people from an Australian company mining for gold in those hills.

What came out in our interview was his palpable hate for Adams. But there was also a deep fear of the man. He told me about how he escaped off the verandah of the death house, tore his way through a well bushed-up gully and delayed his death.

“Mi bend dung and si when Adams a kill mi woman,” he said. Then he started crying. “An mi line him up and coulda shot him but … .”

Chen Chen likened himself to Marcus and Malcolm X, but he arrived at those connections because of a bright Rasta mentor who was very much a part of his crime network.

Chen Chen justified every killing he did, either by drawing the self-defence card or placing vengeance high on his list as a virtue. When he eventually ran out of time and was killed, it was the perfect time for those who hated him to show him how much they cared. They stayed away from the funeral.


The editorial of The Gleaner recently question “whether Fitz Jackson of the PNP had gone rogue” over trying to score points while being off the pitch.

According to the always visible Jackson, a payment of $1 billion to the police should be made this Christmas – probably as a stress buster, with each member pocketing about $100,000.

Both the governing JLP and the opposition PNP have tried to iron out a basic understanding on the national crime fighting, which stops just short of operational differences. The proposal by Fitz Jackson is seen as crass politicking, trying to curry favour with probably the most influential block of voters in this country.

I have a slightly different view. What if, say, this was decided on the basis that the leader does not want to defend this, will not defend this and will deny that he ever knew about it? I am not saying that that is what took place, but certainly, it would be nothing new in politics.

Maybe a kite was being flown, and it will probably need a little more time to see if it will rise or if the kite will crash into a broad macka patch. One has to bear in mind that the politics will heat up by many degrees come 2020, so maybe Mr Jackson had to grab at the most convenient fruit, low hanging or not.

One has to also bear in mind that murders are cropping up all over the place like pigeon droppings, and stress and burnout of police personnel in the SOEs are very real. With the best will in the world, the operational advantages of the security forces are still hoping for a lot of luck because randomised killings cannot be controlled.

So what else can the Government throw into the mix.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com