Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Police were unable to give a reason for the slayings

I've been glued to Jamaica Observer, witnessing what I though would be impossible: a year more violent then 2004. An era more violent then the late-80s in Jamaica when successive crime ways spilled untold gallons of blood in the street. For the year 2005 the murder rate is 175 already, compared to 2004's total of 1200 for the year.

But day after day, tales of guns from America packed in food containers, curfews in ghetto neighborhoods and Prime Minister PJ Patterson's endless speeches are doing nothing to halt the root causes of the killing spree. Thursday morning: a triple murder in central Kingston where the gunmen shot a couple, then ran back to one of the victims' home and killed his screaming mother. Tuesday: a 53 year-old retired nurse had her throat slit. Sunday, this headline: "On Sunday night, 57 year-old businessman Lanford Bernard was shot dead at his home in Lauriston, Spanish Town. Police say Bernard drove home in his Toyota Lexus motorcar and attempted to open a grille when he was attacked by three gunmen."

Its impossible to be involved with reggae music, dancehall or any electronic music based in sound system culture (drum & bass, hip-hop and garage specifically) and not be impacted by this information. For me, it raises a lot of questions about what factors are creating the conditions for such bloodshed and civil strife in a small island community. Is it a spill over from Vincente Fox's clampdown on drug cartels in Mexico? Is it Colombia's FARC's recent enormous increase in drugs transshipments and kidnappings fostering a need for money and gun laundering through the Caribbean? Is it widespread incompetence and corruption on the part of a Jamaican administration in power for more than a decade?

Is Jamaica the Northern Hemisphere's economic dumping ground/tourist playground? Is there another Iran/Contra type affair to fund the Iraq campaign, ala the '80s when crack made its way to American streets via Jamaica? Some of the blame has to be shouldered by America, involved in so many foreign escapades (some would say crusades) as to not have time for their own backyard. Mind you, when the rain falls hard enough, its not long before the gutters back up. And where is the marshaling of efforts by aid groups and private citizens to stop this slow tsumani of violence in the Caribbean?

Its difficult to revel in the constant stream of fantastic music coming from Jamaica without weighing it against what normal citizens there must bear in order to survive. And the carnage and impact is not felt just in Kingston, but all over the island, for instance in the successful tourist enclave Ochi Rios. A close friend who lived and worked as a nurse in a local health care facility related tales of the lack of medicines and antibiotics, running out of latex gloves in ER, a poorly staffed HIV-AIDS ward treated more like a leper colony, bodies dumped at the ER room doors by gunmen, and every patient document and file recorded to paper and stuffed on inadequate shelves to rot in the damp humidity. "What'da'ya mean Tomas? Doesn't Ochi have that fabulous Sandals all-inclusive?"

Its not like Jamaican artists have been ignoring the situation. In fact the current trend in the music is a sober, heartfelt plea from artists as diverse as Jah Cure, Sizzla and even slackness DJ Vybz Kartel (7"'s like "So Free" & "Ghetto Youths" on Vertex--yes, he's doing roots songs now). But honestly, how can you make party music when the foremost dance move innovator is slain like a magga dog?

The Observer keeps telling it like it is, day in and day out: