Fri | Aug 14, 2020

Mark Wignall | Could another one bite the dust?

Published:Sunday | January 12, 2020 | 12:00 AM

For years, they have ruled the roost. Gunmen who have gained the support of their communities based on a number of factors and who have been labelled as dons.

The first thing is, as much as they are reviled and made evil by police reports on allegations of their criminal practices, they always seem to attract the best lawyers who guarantee them the best passage out of the premises of the courts of our land. And the lawyers can never, ever explain how the funds paid to them have magically become clean of all taint of dirty money.

The second factor that tends to cement these social blood-suckers as community heroes is the close link they have with the local politics, especially in the weeks before election day.

The third factor is the most pervasive one, but it is the most difficult to prove. That factor is the raw fear that the thugs have been able to exercise over the people in their garrison community. With the assistance of corrupt policemen.

When all the factors are added up, these dons are no longer criminals, but, instead, have been transformed into religious saviours always there for the old, the indigent, the voiceless and the powerless. One special focus of these killers has always been schoolchildren and community treats for them in the holidays, especially Christmas.

A trek inside these communities is one where the criminal don is opened up as the ‘daddy’ who was never there for another man’s children. The don stands in for the caring mother who could never really afford the lunch money and the bus fare for the many children who magically were given birth through her weaker moments.

In truth, the don is the best criminal in the community whose thuggery is well known and feared. And the fear is so well embedded that if one should quiz men with more salt than pepper in their beards in places like Rema, they will pretend that they know nothing about what took place when a murderer they all knew marched into their very small community in 1984 with a posse of armed men and killed at will. And was freed in the Supreme Court because of lack of witnesses.

Older men will talk about the east and the dons and the 1970s and the bags of taxpayer money that was wasted in enriching smart dons and mad dogs with guns. The fear is understood, of course.

Women who still live in those blighted areas will tell you that all they want to do is empower their grandchildren to leave and never come back. Not much has changed.


I have met a few dons in my time, and they were, most of them, quite charming and not too exposed to displaying any badness. Not too openly, in any case.

Years ago, as I sat in the office of a well-known don with obvious political connections, he asked me to call his number through my mobile phone while masking my number. I did it, and he stretched across his desk. There on the face of his phone was my number calling him.

When I expressed utter surprise, he simply told me that he had paid someone at the telecoms company to put in the arrangement.

The other part of the allure of the don is the face he shows towards the women in his life. With an added layer of fear.

One told me that he kept no bank accounts in his name.

“Me have bout six woman, and all a dem have account wid my money,” one told me.

“And if one a dem run off, what happen?” I asked.

He laughed, and I immediately understood. Which woman would be so stupid to run off with his money? She and her family would eventually feel the pain.

The convenience of criminal gangs attaching themselves to political parties is more geographically related than anything else. One Order can hardly claim that at its heights, in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, it shared anything ideological with the JLP.

It was simply the outgrowth of the Shower Posse, and the name had gone out of fashion. Clansman was always an unfortunate name for a criminal gang being operated by black-skinned desperadoes. That, however, was of little importance as the gang from ‘site’ in De La Vega City sought out its influence on the commercial activity of Spanish Town.


In the 1990s, I spoke to Dudus, then reputed head of Tivoli and One Order. I was introduced to him, and I said hello without knowing who he was. The person who introduced us announced him as “The President”. I had no idea what the term meant.

I have never met whoever it is was supposed to be head of Clansman. I suspect that just like all the others, he has his charming side even as he issues his orders to end the lives of those who are, in his mind, deemed to die.

The courts of our land are far from perfect, and as I write, a certain matter is still undecided. One senses that our people are slowly getting fed up of well-known individuals who are skilled at using the justice system to shore up their ‘good name’.

In addition, although there are still corrupt policemen who operate in tandem with these dons of death, destruction, pain, and community disruption, there is a feeling that many more of these cops are getting scared that the system is getting closer to ferreting out their corrupt actions.

So we have hopes for later. We are also hoping that many more of our people will take cues from what they see and make the decision to be on the right side of history, to be on the right side of law, order, and a better tomorrow for our children.

“Women always love mi, but dem man fraid a mi, and dat keep mi alive,” said a criminal don to me in the late 1990s. Will that bond be broken soon?

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