Vbyz Kartel and The Culture of Violence in Jamaica

Basil Wilson's picture

Vybz Kartel and three accomplices were recently convicted for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams in August, 2011. The prosecution produced evidence that the murder of Williams took place at the home of Vybz Kartel in Havendale. The body of the murder victim has not yet been found. Those who committed the murder dismembered Mr. William’s body.

The motive was that the Dancehall King, Vybz Kartel, had two guns stolen from him and William’s life was taken for the alleged theft of the guns.

In Vybz Kartel’s world, guns are more important than a human life. Guns are used to kill and in urban Jamaica, the misplacement of the gun is tantamount to a death sentence. Despite the gruesome nature of the charge against Vybz Kartel, a throng outside of the courthouse, comprised mostly of women, chanted, “Free the World Boss.”

The chant for a convicted murderer was similar to the people in Tivoli Gardens, who took to the streets to protest the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke in 2010. The United States government had designated Coke a drug kingpin and the intervention of the then Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, mangled what should have been an orderly extradition process.

The evidence against Coke in the Federal Court of Manhattan was so overwhelming that Coke, on advice from his attorneys, pleaded guilty. The deliberations around the sentencing brought out frightening atrocities supposedly committed by Christopher Coke.

Coke had the standing as a leader in the Tivoli Gardens community, and from the evidence that was divulged in court, he kept control by harnessing a reputation for cruelty. Vybz Kartel, although a dancehall impresario, easily fell into that sub-culture of violence and gloried in his fascination as a "ranking" from Portmore.

More than a fortnight ago, the Minister of National Security, and elected representatives of the Rockfort community in conjunction with churches marched to protest the lawlessness rampant in the foothills of Wareika. There is great irony here. Members of the community have been preyed on by young predators, who have extorted rent from owners who occupy their own dwelling. As some members of the community intimated when the two deceased dons, Tony Brown and George Flash, that lawlessness was contained. The dons practiced jungle justice and the youths who stepped out of line, feared the jungle justice. The community lid was kept in place because of the jungle justice that took place outside of the criminal justice system. Once “Tego” and “Flash” passed, there was a vacuum that was seized by “shottas”.

The irony is that Rockfort played an important role in the development of Jamaican music. When the music began to flourish in the pre-independence period, the dominant influence was American rhythm and blues. The lyrics did not glorify “badness” or misogyny, but it did not raise consciousness. This is where Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation forged a more conscious disposition. That music had its roots in Rockfort/Wareika Hill and influence by the anti-colonial thrust of Rastafari.

Robert Nesta Marley, hailing from Western Kingston, was profoundly influenced by Morrtimo Planno and hence, those two early albums, Soul Rebel and Soul Revolution, were about racial justice. We all know the impact Marley’s lyrics had internationally, and reggae music became not just known for its infectious rhythms, but for sensitizing the world to injustice.

In the post Count Ossie, post Bob Marley era, reggae music went off track. Rather than humanizing Jamaican society, a symbiotic relationship developed between dancehall and "badness." One sees the degradation of inner city communities and the exponential increase in the murder rate.

What went wrong in Jamaica? In the 1970’s the politicization of gangs and the ideological warfare was not helpful. Over 800 homicides occurred largely as a result of the bloody election of 1980. But in 1984, there were 484 murders in Jamaica and in a twenty year span, 2004, there were over 1,400 Homicides. How did this disregard for human life become the norm?

In the early 21st century, some medical researchers conducted what was called the Jamaica Intelligence Surveillance System. It was a mechanism to measure empirically emergency hospitalization at the major health facilities. Only 7 were admitted as a result of gunshot wounds. The vast majority of those admitted were recipients of stab wounds, blunt objects, and otherl instruments of violence. Seventy–three percent had to do with fighting. The violence within the household was just as acute as the violence outside the household.

One can attribute this propensity for violence to the violence of the plantation system, but something culturally nefarious occurred in the post-colonial era. The lesson learned in Jamaica is that in an urban society where segments of the population are marginalized and experiencing downward mobility. The social structure was transmogrified, and “badness” was “lionized”. A sub-culture of violence was institutionalized. That is quite similar to a cancer that has metastasized. Change in that culture cannot come about with just law enforcement.

The expansion of education that began in the 1970s has not fostered a new civility. The income disparities are too stark. The country needs a “marshal plan” for the neglected inner city communities.  The Urban Development Corporation needs to put together a reconstruction of housing stock in downtown East and Central Kingston, and West Kingston, which would employ inner city youth and bring some hope to communities wallowing in decay.

Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: basilwilson@caribbean-events.com.