Burry Boy and Feathermop: The violent duo that helped and shamed the PNP
After a decade in the political wilderness, the victory by Michael Manley's People's National Party in 1972 came as a welcome relief to the swell of street level supporters the party had gathered.
The political practices of the two decades following Independence fuelled a bitter hatred between supporters of both parties, and the foundation of tribalism was laid.
During the 1960s, when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) held power, then minister of housing, DC Tavares, built the first political garrison and called it Tavares Gardens, now known as 'Payne Land'. The high-rise buildings and other low-cost houses which were built on previously unoccupied land, were crammed with JLP-supporters.
JLP firebrand and minister of social development and welfare, Edward Seaga, raised the bar when he developed Tivoli Gardens in an area previously known as 'Dungle' or 'Back O' Wall', and previously occupied by Rastafarians and other persons who, at the time, were regarded as 'fringe elements'.
Tivoli Gardens was also stocked with JLP supporters and was the envy of Seaga's political rivals in his own party and the PNP.
The Rastafarians, who were chased off the land by the government, were considered to be loyal to the PNP after Manley's father, Norman, had promised to repatriate them to Africa.
After the PNP won power, the new minister of construction and housing, Anthony Spaulding, built Arnett Gardens as the PNP's reply to Tivoli Gardens.
While Seaga had consolidated his base in West Kingston, Spaulding had won his seat by about 100 votes and also filled the housing development, dubbed by the residents as 'Concrete Jungle', with supporters of his party.
In the process of building Arnett Gardens, Spaulding's political thugs and henchmen also chased out the original occupiers of the houses in Trench Town and replaced them with PNP diehards. The displaced inhabitants then found refuge in the hills of St Catherine in an area now known as Central Village and nearby Spanish Town.
Numbered among Spaulding's political enforcers were Winston Blake, popularly called 'Burry Boy' and his crony, George 'Feathermop' Spence.
At the time, the neighbouring community of Wilton Gardens, more popularly known as 'Rema', was fiercely loyal to the JLP, and frequent violent clashes highlighted the lives of the poor underclass that lived on opposing sides of the line of political demarcation.
Burry Boy and Feathermop were two of the leading members of a PNP-aligned gang which had its roots in Concrete Jungle. The gang members, reported to number about 30, all rode Honda motorcycles and wreaked havoc on dissenting residents and their rivals in the JLP with shocking brutality.
From 1967 through to 1976 the gang had been instrumental in securing Manley's success at the polls in the newly-formed Central Kingston constituency. Burry Boy and Feathermop were the leaders of the street arm of the PNP in Central Kingston, South St Andrew and South West St Andrew.
By 1974, after Manley had declared that his party would be following a path of democratic socialism, the gang led by Blake and Spence had widened its power base and ran amok in the city.
Supported and protected by their political bosses, the two were immune to police action and literally 'got away with murder'.
Burry Boy and Feathermop are reported to have led a PNP mob which was accused of shooting a JLP activist, attacking mourners at the funeral of another JLP loyalist and mobbing opposition members of parliament when they attempted to enter Gordon House.
The incidents all happened in November.
A few weeks later, the political gang was said to be behind the chopping of party member Trevor Munroe, when they broke up a strike by disgruntled port workers represented by the PNP-affiliated National Workers' Union.
Munroe received several chops all over his body and was seriously injured as the gang assaulted the workers and representatives of his University and Allied Workers Union, which had attempted to canvass the restive workers.
Burry Boy, Feathermop and their gang, were also accused of storming the JLP headquarters at Retirement Road, stabbing a 70-year-old watchman, Vassel Black, and slashing research officer Sexton Hope.
The political mobsters also smashed furniture, telephones, typewriters and tore up documents.
A report which appeared in The Gleaner on January 21, 1975 stated: 'Eyewitnesses said the men came behind a white van that was left parked at the gate of the compound. They roared in on their gleaming Hondas, estimated at 30 with two each, their faces hard and without a trace of emotion, sending panic-stricken people in the office at the time scattering.
During it all, the men uttered not a word and when they had finished, they rode out behind the white van. An eyewitness reported seeing at least one gun in the left hand of one.'
Arising out of the incident, Opposition Leader Seaga and his party boycotted the next day's sitting of Parliament and called a meeting of the JLP's Standing Committee to discuss the attack on the party headquarters.
Manley's public condemnation of the attack did little to reign in the lawless gangsters, and political violence continued in the Corporate Area and Spanish Town.
Earlier that week, the gang also invaded a JLP meeting at Tavares Gardens and warned residents that no memorial should be held for DC Tavares, who had died earlier.
Weeks later, the same gang was again accused of invading a construction site at the Kingston Waterfront and injuring a number of the workers who were said to be supportive of the JLP. The gang also launched a brazen assault on a community centre located in the middle of the well-known JLP stronghold at Salt Lane in West Kingston.
The gang was also responsible for the wholesale 'ethnic cleansing' of Tavares Gardens when JLP supporters, planted by DC Tavares, were chased away from the area and replaced with PNP diehards.
Burry Boy and Feathermop, so called because of his grey locks which resembled a mop, were many times engaged in warfare with gangs led by revenge-seeking JLP enforcers Claudius Massop, Carl 'Byah' Mitchell and Curly Locks - the top political enforcer in Rema.
The result was unbridled bloodshed and carnage as the JLP strongmen, in reprisal, attacked and assaulted PNP supporters living at Lizard Town, a community on the outskirts of Tivoli Gardens.
The political thuggery of Spence and Blake did not go unnoticed by the leadership of the ruling party and their political gang was now accepted as a vital part of the party's political machinery.
Burry Boy and Feathermop became so notorious that they were included in Prime Minister Manley's entourage on his historic trip to Cuba during the period.
It was on that famous trip that Feathermop, a rrastafarian, would show his true colours and disrespect the party leader. Pork, which is despised by rastafarians, is Cuba's national dish and was served to Manley and his party during a reception held by revolutionary Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Feathermop is reported to have flown into a wild rage and kicked over the tables with pork.
The practice of issuing contracts along political lines was very much alive then as it is today, and both political thugs were beneficiaries.
One particular contract which came to public attention was that for the cleaning of the Lilford Gully which was damaged by flood waters. Feathermop had won the contract and information was leaked that he was paid twice the amount of the value of the contract. It was even shocking to the public when it was revealed that the notorious gangster-turned-contractor had not paid the workers who had cleaned the gully.
The incident proved embarrassing to the PNP and Manley was forced to call in the police to investigate the matter. It is not clear if anyone was arrested in connection with the misuse of public funds.
"Feathermop was a man who would come into the KSAC office and bad up the people for money and threaten them life," one former worker at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation recalled. "Him was a known trouble maker who was protected by the big man."
Feathermop's obnoxious manners and rebellion against authority would eventually earn him the ire of many of the power brokers inside the PNP.
He did not live to see the election year of 1976 as he was killed in a bar by a lone gunman who crept up on him and shot him several times.
Feathermop was cut down only six months after Burry Boy, who was rumoured to have murdered a Ministry of Housing official in 1975 after the civil servant began querrying questionable payments made out to him in connection with a government contract.
A few weeks after that murder, Burry Boy was himself shot to death as he drove a car along Darling Street on March 14.
The police reported that Burry Boy was killed by men who were travelling in another car which pulled up beside him. He was shot in the head more than once.
Burry Boy was seen by his rivals as a vicious political enforcer who killed and maimed without question, but to the residents who he protected, he was seen as a hero. His funeral was attended by over 20,000 mourners, including Manley and several of his Cabinet ministers, who led the funeral procession which came under gunfire as it snaked past Tivoli Gardens on its way to the May Pen Cemetery.
I am a regular reader of your series on the criminals of Jamaica and indeed I read the comments by other readers to recollect if they really understand what's been written by you each Sunday. Some comments let me go back in time when my teacher told me "Empty barrels make the most noise."
Neeliewun@yahoo.com made the most appropriate remarks toward the series. You have to go back in time to understand what is really happening in Jamaica today and educate your children (from in the homes) to be better men and women to represent Jamaica in a positive manner.
Many individuals believe the rise in crime in Jamaica relates to just today and chastise writers who research the facts to educate them. Those who accept the writings are the ones with an open-mind, experience to the crimes, and victims who want a change to the current situation now in Jamaica.
Then we have the critics (society people who lived in the residential areas sleeping well at nights that said, "Let them kill them one another.") Now that this has changed and everyone is the victim of the outrage of crime in Jamaica, we should educate ourselves now, judge the actions of our new commissioner of police, and applaud the police officers who work 24/7 or 48/4 to curb the devastating genocide that has fallen upon our wonderful country (and I am talking about the good cops).
I am from one of the famous garrisons in Jamaica and have seen many youths (I grew up with) become famous for being notorious and whose lives ended before 25 years. Some you will soon mention in your programme, from Natty Kunda, Natty Chris, General Starsky, Radcliff, and Stella. People reading these articles would not even believe that some of these youths were aspiring stars to lead Jamaica in the right direction, but fell victims to political alliance, poverty, and revenge for gruesome acts by lawmen and neighbouring areas.
I remember at the age of 8 years when there was a fear factor that hoodlums (men from Wilton Gardens or Rema) would invade the Arnett Gardens area and anyone they would catch at the time would be history. I will give the readers only one name of such dreadful act. Linton Duffus, a straight A student from one of the high schools in the area, was coming home from school one afternoon. He was held by the then 'Eradication Squad' (police officers) and taken to Wilton Gardens.
His remains were found days after with his finger nails plucked out, eye bulbs destroyed and an iron found in his rectum (it was thought that a hot rod was forced into his rectum). Now, youths who were with him that day and ran for their lives were angry with the actions and yes their intentions were revenge and to protect the area from any future activities of the 'Eradication Squad' and men from Rema.
Who rose among these groups of teens? Anthony Tingle aka 'General Starsky'. Those who were victims of the gruesome actions of the men from Wilton Gardens or the 'Eradication Squad' had Starsky as their hero, saviour, and Robin Hood.
The rise of Anthony Tingle ensured that men from Wilton Gardens did not invade Arnett Gardens frequently to kill women and children.
There could be two interpretations from what I mentioned (and I am sorry to give a hint to readers who await to read the piece on Starsky):
1. To the people of Arnett Gardens, Starsky was a hero.
2. To the people of Wilton Gardens, he was a murderer.
How can we justify his actions and how should we recognise him in our society? Hero or murderer? I am no judge, and no killing should be applauded by our society. I was one of the few who grew up seeing the rise and fall of these men and wanted to make a difference for my country.
Many of my current colleagues do not believe that I grew up in one of the garrisons and yes, my parents were poor. Poorer than a church mouse. But they were rich with the blessings from God and with strong will and continuous lecturing I steered away from the guys I grew up with in the garrisons and placed education as my number one priority.
So the youths today have a choice and are not aggressive enough to seek the help from those who are willing to help them positively.
They are aggressive, however, to take up arms against a rival gang and that is where we have a problem. That is where we need the MPs and leaders of our beloved Jamaica to make the difference:
STOP SUPPORTING THE GANG MEMBERS and uproot the heads that also support these gangs. With no resource how can they commit these crimes?
- A former student of Calabar High School (continue with your writings)