Pirates, 'Group 69' and solutions for today

By Michael Burke

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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We already know the short-term solutions to violence. The zones of special operations imitative is the latest in a series of short-term solutions going back to the state of emergency for West Kingston only in 1966. From the 1970s onwards, there was the Gun Court, the Suppression of Crimes Act, and all sorts of special police squads. However, these can only be short-term measures, although very necessary.

No long -term solution can be reached without an understanding of the criminal mindset in Jamaica, which, I repeat, goes back to the time of the pirates. Last week a responder on Jamaica Observer online wrote that I have not given a shred of evidence that piracy is where violence started in Jamaica.

What was he expecting, statistics? Didn't I mention in the article that no one kept statistics then? In any case, there is merit to the dictum attributed to former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” What we have are records of Port Royal (the pirate headquarters) being the “richest and wickedest city” on Earth. What more do you want than that?

The historical fact is that the pirates became Jamaica's ruling class after their criminal pirate leader Henry Morgan was made governor of Jamaica. It came by way of their acquisition of land. If anyone doubts this, please do your own research. I have relentlessly given a whole lot of research in my columns in newspapers that spans 29 years, 19 of which have been in the Jamaica Observer . In addition, for almost 19 years I did commentaries on Irie FM radio. As a research consultant, I wrote hundreds of scripts for the Jamaica Corner programme on Irie FM in the 1990s. But I will not be tricked into doing more free research for anyone's doctoral thesis. What I have done and continue to do in these articles is enough.

Another historical fact is that the mentality of piracy continued long after Morgan's death. One act was the stealing of slaves bound for Cuba, who on one occasion were all Roman Catholics and kept a 'priestless' underground church for more than a hundred years in St Mary. But it was not the only case of slave-stealing by pirates and their descendants. Indeed, the entire Atlantic slave trade was made possible by capturing and kidnapping.

And there were manifestations of a continuation of piracy, even in relatively recent times. But there are many other stories that can be linked to piracy. Then there were other factors that came afterwards that had little or nothing to do with piracy per se.

Many refugees of the Haiti Revolution of 1804 escaped to Jamaica. In the accounts of the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, Paul Bogle and his followers surprised the local guards at Church Corner in Morant Bay and took away their guns. Where did they learn tactics like that? How did they know how to use the guns?

Then, according to noted historian Olive Senior, George Stiebel, the black man who owned Devon House, got his wealth from gunrunning in Cuba at the time of the Cuban-American war in the 19th century. How many more people did gunrunning in Cuba or elsewhere? The distribution of guns by politicians three centuries later only aggravated the problem. But it all started with the pirates.

This was the type of society that Jamaica was when all adults in Jamaica got the right to vote in 1944. With a lot of hunger in Kingston, as well as dire poverty in places like Back o' Wall, it was easy for unscrupulous politicians of all persuasions to exploit them to either gain or maintain political power.

As usual, Dorlan Francis gave a version of events to which I would give very low marks were it a history examination. I need not respond to his comments because Howard Jones responded to his posts and did a very good job. Still, in terms of Group 69, there needs to be a response in far more detail.

In 1944, the business classes supported the Jamaica Democratic Party, the educated intelligentsia supported the People's National Party (PNP) and the masses were for the most part Bustamante Labourites. Anyone wearing the traditional shirt and tie of middle-class workers (who mostly supported the PNP) were targets for physical assault.

I recall Florizel Glasspole (later Governor General) speaking on a political platform and recalling the night of his winning a seat in 1944 when he had to lie down on the back seat of a taxi cab to go through a crowd of machete-wielding supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party.

The riot at the Bellevue mental hospital, for which Bustamante was charged and freed, was in 1946. Group 69, founded under the watch of the PNP's Wills Isaacs, was formed in 1947. It was Wills Isaacs who said, “What are a few broken skulls in the building of a nation?” He was roundly condemned.

But PNP supporters could not walk the streets of Kingston until Group 69 was formed. Their weapons were 'knuckle dusters', where they wore hard rings on one of their fingers to inflict injuries on their opponents when they were punched in the face. And then crime took on a life of its own, particularly after the guns were issued.

Whenever some people are corrected about the chronological order of political violence, they conveniently reply that “it not a matter of who started it, but we must talk about solutions”. In my case, however, I have been there and done that. But I will do it again.

The solutions today have to include changing the collective mindset. It is also in having even partial employment for everyone, which can best be done though co- operatives, provided that we teach people to live together. It has to be done through schooling, because it cannot be done in families, given the state of family life. These are long-term solutions.

I have been a volunteer guidance counsellor and mentor for young people for all of my adult life. I actively participate in the cooperative movement, and I am trying to combine both efforts, but I cannot do it alone. Any volunteers?





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