Columns

West Kingston will be ungovernable for many years to come

Mark WIGNALL

Thursday, September 04, 2014    

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IN 2010, when Jamaica's most infamous crime lord, Dudus, was extradited to the US because he had in former years allowed his criminality to intersect with mainland USA, many Jamaicans who lived outside of Tivoli Gardens and West Kingston congratulated the Americans and imagined a future for West Kingston that would be radically changed for the better.

Some saw it in narrow party-political terms, thinking it assisted in ridding us of the 2007 to 2011 JLP Administration, while others who were prepared to face reality saw a more foreboding future — for the short-term at the very least.

America's two-faced foreign policy locks up the truth in the executive while peddling the fanciful among large swathes of its amazingly mentally dense population that all other countries on planet Earth desire the American dream of democracy, free speech, a two-car garage house in suburbia, and apple pie. The policy conveniently omits to tell the American people that other countries in the throes of an outbreak of violence have been living that reality for generations because of deep and toxic sectarian divisions, cultural clashes, and religions which have fissures all the way to the next beheading.

The late Saddam Hussein was the perfect man for Iraq. Perfect in that he imagined himself to be as exceptional as any American believes he is. But Saddam also knew that it took a genocidal maniac like him to rule over a country that was never at any time seeking peace among its disparate peoples.

When the Americans demanded and got Dudus, uptown Jamaica was able to convince itself that the problems of West Kingston would be solved, and somehow, someone, somewhere, would live happily ever after.

The fact is, however, uptown Jamaica is as different from West Kingston as Iraq is from the US mainland. We romanticise the idea that 'we are all one people', but fail to recognise that if the experiences which brought us to where we are remain 180 degrees apart, it is near impossible for us to share the same values.

One Jamaica, different realities

Many of the people who had the 1950s and 1960s values of education, talent, skill, innovation, peace, and gentility have long moved out of Kingston's west end. Many of those still living there were brought up on political thuggery, the gun, daily acts of brutal violence, the nullification of 'family', and the transference of leadership from community elders to criminal 'area leaders'.

Dudus — a bright but ruthless man — understood that. He knew that, while he was amassing his wealth, there had to have been a connection which threw fear into a people who saw little social usefulness in affecting decency and in taking out the family for a Sunday afternoon picnic.

The man in Kingston's west end, as in many other physically dense inner-city pockets, knew that the male who kept one female was not a man to be respected. In the rough and tumble of the 'shotta' mentality, the man who had six women, had children with all of them including the 'jacket', and who would brutally assault them on the streets was the man whom little boys would respect.

One man whom I have known since the 1980s fell on hard times. He is in his late 60s, somewhat ill, and on the verge of finding himself homeless. He has a younger brother living in West Kingston whom he had helped through school -- though it seemed not to have had any effect on him. He called the brother and was overjoyed when he told him that he has an extra room.

After a week with his younger brother, my friend reported that he began to disrespect him, shouting at him. "Why yuh treating mi so? Mi nuh use to dem ting yah. Is weh mi do yuh?" he asked his younger brother.

To his utter dismay, the brother suggested to him that he would allow him to stay if he signed a document leaving him a two-acre plot of hillside woodland, which his father had left to him in a will.

When my friend came to see me to relate his plight to me, he said: "Mark, mi bredda want me fi sign a document so dat him can kill mi and get di land."

He moved out, and between the assistance I am giving him and what he calls 'the grace of God' he still survives.

The essential point is that we ought not to fool ourselves that there is a 'one-size-fits-all' fix for Jamaica. In fact, there is little about Jamaica that is socially homogenous. I am not making reference to one man living in Cherry Gardens making $15 million per year as against a man living on Pink Lane earning $7,000 a week when he can get work. I am taking about, at the very least, two sets of people who see things quite differently.

At the frivolous level, even the mode of humour is different. The place where education is placed on the priority list is, by virtue of harsh economic reality, different. Talking over a problem may mean a lot to uptown Jamaica, while 'licking out him r...' may be the first resort of the man in ghetto hell.

The new West Kingston

Since Dudus left, I have not visited downtown as much as I used to. One woman who lives in Portmore told me that a year ago she was shopping on Princess Street when a man near her was shot by another man who simply walked away with his cronies. The goods fell from her hands and, horror of horrors, people nearby began to snatch them up.

Higglers are no longer safe as the 'cohesiveness' of the West Kingston 'tax collection' system has totally broken down. The police are indeed trying, but the reality is, communities that were constructed in the manner that inner-city communities are were never meant to be policed. In fact, it is impossible to police them.

Every little desperado is now into 'tax collection' and, invariably, with the iron hand of Dudus absent, they are all fighting each other.

If there is one thing that has not changed, it is the presence of the guns — only this time around it is a free for all.

The political directorate of the long-off past allowed donmanship to creep into its authority structure until it was bigger than the politicians. In the time of Dudus, he had more power than Golding or Desmond McKenzie, and quite a number of rogue policemen were allegedly taking orders from him.

Now that he is no longer here, the politicians have an uphill task in trying to claim space that was long ceded to the criminal underworld. Nothing changes overnight, and no one has the solution to the problems of West Kingston and the many other inner-city communities.

One start on the way to solving those problems is in recognising that what works for uptown cannot fit neatly into downtown.

observemark@gmail.com

www.markwignall.com

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