The good, the bad, and the ugly (April 6, 2014)-Adidja Palmer Edition

A Jamaican judge sentenced four convicted murderers to life in prison, with hard labour, and no less than 25 years before parole would be considered. Publicly, some people, including relatives of the convicted men, wept and were openly distressed. Publicly, some people hailed this as a victory for law and order and shed no tears for putting behind bars persons whom the legal system had determined were murderers. No one but the convicts and some other persons who so far have not been named know what really took place. One of the convicts, Adidja Palmer, maintains that he is innocent. If he is, he will hope that his lawyer’s promise to appeal the judgement and the sentence bring him a result that vindicates his claim. If he is not innocent, then he will have to deal with his own conscience. We wont know how that process will work out, because all of the trial transcripts need to be obtained by the defence attorneys and examined before they can submit their appeal. That could take many months. In the meantime, the men will continue to spend time at ‘her majesty’s pleasure’.

I have not sought the opinion of many people about the case, the verdicts or the sentences. However, I have heard many opinions about them, as I have gone about my business. I have not heard one voice raised in support of the convicted men. Now, that may just be a reflection of who I know, and where I go–that I cannot deny. But, given that these opinions were heard in a range of random movements, it makes me think that they are not very unrepresentative. “Lock him up and throw away the key!” was a view expressed by a taxi driver I overheard as I listened to the verdict on my car radio, and was in traffic. I wont go into a list of views, but most were of this sort. Someone had done a bad thing, been caught, been found guilty, and so much now spend time in jail: “You did the crime, now spend the time.” I have not been to Portmore for many years, and it may be that the views there are very different.

Not surprisingly, the media has had a few persons arguing that the case was a test of the country and its judicial system. Well, every court case is just that. I guess what they mean is that the system we have did not seem to really work, and now we needed to see that it could function as it was meant to. That seems to have happened. We have heard, since the trial ended, that a juror tried to ‘pervert the course of justice’ by offering a bribe to the jury foreperson. Again, a court case is running to determine if that allegation is accepted. We also heard from the police a litany of attempts to pervert the course of justice by persons associated with the accused, so of which are also soon to be the subject of court cases. The wheels keep turning, and nets may soon be tightening around people who thought that they would be able to continue their lives moving freely amongst the rest of us, but may find themselves behind bars.

I often say to my young daughter “People will go to extraordinary lengths to defend the indefensible.” My training as an economist leads me to explain to her that if you follow the money trail you will often get to the root of many things that appear to make little sense. Greed and power, often have money as part of their core motivation, and that lead humans to do what often seems very risky, very selfish, very dishonest, very cruel, and more. So, I think that this case will show that point very clearly. If someone wanted to, they could make a ‘forensic’ analysis of the money trail and find that it leads to many people who will never have to face a court and they will be persons from all walks of life, who would not ordinarily be close associates. In other words, there is likely to be a web of connections, with money (or things bought) as the glue that binds them together. When I hear “crime pay”, I always ask myself “Who has been paid?”

When I worked analysing the finances of countries, it was always the case that the ‘money trail’ did not lie. What is so good about money is that it leaves traces that people cannot erase and many cannot see or know. Facts are facts, and with careful investigation, you can find out facts that people do not want you to know. It also requires you to ask some discomforting questions, to which the direct answers are often lies.

The other fascinating aspect of human social life is that people are very bad at keeping secret things that are very important to them. Whether it’s vanity or some other weakness, people want someone to know, and often feel that part of the burden of carrying the ‘secret’ is lessened.

Something else I learned during my working life was to ask questions of disconnected people who had some common ground. In my case, I would not get all the answers about what the government had spent from the ministry of finance. But, if I spoke to the central bank, commercial banks, enterprises and corporations, and looked at their accounts, I would often find the pieces of the answer. Example. “Mr. Minister. Your country had a war with a neighbour, yet I see little sign in the budget that you spent money on arms and ammunition.” I would then hear about how this and that had helped and that little money was needed, blah-blah. So, I spoke to the central bank governor and lo and behold I would find transactions for government that were not reflected in the government accounts. The payer was sending payments to someone on behalf of the government. The banks would sometimes give similar evidence. Then, I would talk to persons whom were known to be big business persons, and often the main source of things the government needed. Wow! “You shipped how many armoured vehicles into the country?” A few questions of the Customs and shipping companies and the picture started to be very clear. “So, Mr. Minister, it seems that your country imported X armoured cars, Y guns, Z bullets, none of which appear in the government’s accounts.” Then would come the pleas for understanding and tales of how the President was insistent, and how the country could not be allowed to just stand by and be overrun, etc. None of which is untrue and all of which is understandable. But, Mr. Minister thought that if he tried to hide the facts he knew, somehow the problems they created would disappear. Wrong! What was always so painful about such exercises was that I really cared two hoots about the armoured trucks. I had a hole in my analysis that I wanted to fill and I knew that either someone was hiding something or a lot of disparate pieces of information showed something that was not there, which is unlikely. Once I filled my numerical gap, then I could figure out how to help the Minister get out of the financial hole he said he was not in.

So, I will wait to see the little dribs and drabs of evidence that come together with a little probing.

The cynical part of me wonders how many people were beneficiaries of crimes and are concerned that their little livelihoods are now about to go under. Of course, they may have no real allegiances and may just be ready to find some other, similar source. That’s especially true for people who have little to sell in terms of skills. It’s unfortunate for Jamaica that it has such a poor record of creating jobs. People want to eat, and see their lives improve and if regular work doesn’t provide the means, then no rocket scientist need be called to help figure out what options people may seek. That’s right, they do not all go to street corners to sell bananas and cigarettes.

Another development that interests me, and also intrigues me a bit, is the intellectual support that some forms of misbehaviour get, and how people ‘buy into the hype’. Some of that is not really meant to be ‘justification’, but it turns out to be that way. I wont get into the specific arguments put forward by some social scientists about the cultural merits of some musicians. My point is just that any validation is something that builds and even better if the validation comes from people who are not ‘the masses’. Whether those validators move their positions slowly or quickly as instances occur to put in question their views is often a fascinating exercise–often slow, often a little painful to watch.

But, let’s get something clear: ‘Vybz Kartel’ did not exist as a person; ‘he’ was or is a persona. Just like Clark Kent is real and Bruce Wayne is real but have characters associated with their real selfs, Palmer had a nom de plume for his artistic ventures. He was also known as ‘Worl’ boss’ and ‘Teacha’. The law tried Palmer and he will be the person doing time. Vybz Karkel can jet off, or sail off, into the horizon never to be seen again. Conflate them, if you want, but don’t confuse them as being one and the same, or as both being real. That’s where lots of mental gymnastic problems lie. The courts had it clear and so will all of those close to the person and the persona.

I have many thoughts about what the just-ended case may mean for Jamaica. But, I want to point my finger at two persons who should be looked at very carefully for what they did in the past and what they continue to do, without seeming requests for favour. They are Clovis Brown and Las May. Both are talented cartoonists–one for each of the major Jamaican papers. They have been very sharp observers and gleaners of public opinion and readily share those in their biting caricatures and text. Call it satire, if you wish. But, they are often not far from where many views seem to be. I will just leave a sample of the many cartoons that they have drawn related to the case. In all cases, look very carefully at the images because the first glance may not reveal the many messages that are there to be seen and interpreted.

Inside jobs? How to nail the perpetrators? (Clovis taps into the core motives)
Inside jobs? How to nail the perpetrators? (Clovis taps into the core motives)
From number 1 hit to being number 1 in prison. Inmate?  (Clovis is wickedly funny)
From number 1 hit to being number 1 in prison. Colour me honey? Inmate? (Clovis is wickedly funny)
Las May mentions 'cellfie' and puts a 'mark' on a convict that is beastly
Las May mentions ‘cellfie’ and puts a ‘mark’ on a convict that is beastly
Calabar school pride on show, and with such a glow (Clovis on the mark)
Calabar school pride on show, and with such a glow, words have meanings, don’t we know (Clovis on the mark)

Vybz Kartel, come on down

I believe that many lessons may be drawn from the recent murder case involving Adidja Palmer (aka ‘Vybz Kartel’) and four other defendants. Everyone who had some notion of the case is likely to have an opinion about what went on before, during and after it. Thankfully, we have a democratic society with a good amount of freedom of speech, so everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and should express it if he or she so desires. I am not going to go to a place where many will travel–putting the case into some context that suggests it is the pinnacle of a great change in Jamaican society, even if I wish that change would hurry up and come. I prefer to make some simpler points.

Adidja Palmer can be separated from Vybz Kartel (VK) in our minds

Adidja Palmer-Vybz Kartel
Adidja Palmer-Vybz Kartel

, but it is very hard to see them as separate in body. Whatever we think that VK did, we have to ask ourselves what embodiment went with the action. The singing and dancing and writing of lyrics under the stage name ‘Vybz Kartel’ were a turning point in the development of Adidja Palmer. At a certain stage, Palmer got left behind and Vybz took over in the public’s consciousness. Vybz then had great success, was heralded for his ‘iconic’ lyrical and musical gifts. He showed he had a great understanding of the society in which he lived. He developed trappings of power, even naming his organization ‘Empire’–which seems grandiose, but money and power tend to do that to people’s self-perception. He began associating with richer people and people in different walks of life who wielded power. He was able to send his child to a private school. He created Street Vybz Rum. He hosted a weekly dance party Street Vybz Thursday. He got fame in a big way. hosted his own reality television show “Teacha’s Pet” on CVM Jamaica broadcast channel, the first reality television show hosted by a dancehall artist in Jamaica. He was a full-blown celebrity. He spoke at UWI, at the invitation of Professor Carolyn Cooper: he got academic approval, of sorts. He established his own label Adidjahiem/Notnice Records. He was ‘Mr. Business and Mr. Music’.

Still, Vybz Kartel was showing signs of a less-than perfect person. He got into disputes with fellow musicians. He gained notoriety for his lyrics, which contained obscene and violent references. He was banned from the airwaves; he also was banned from performing in some countries. He faced charges in 2011 for murder, conspiracy to murder and illegal possession of a firearm; he was bailed in that case but kept in jail on another murder charge , concerning the death of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams(for which he was just being tried).

While Vybz was feeling his vibes, Adidja was somewhere else, some would have us believe. Perhaps, in the evening, a man in felt bedroom slippers and a warm cup of cocoa would pull out a copy of The Bible and read some verses. Maybe, he lamented what had happened to put him in the background and let Vybz get all the light. This is pure speculation, of course. Alternatively, Adidja was fully aware of who and what Vybz was, and the persona was just a front behind which the real, living Palmer could masquerade.

I had an interesting time with some ladies yesterday, while we discussed this topic. Here was my postulation. Imagine that a man looking like Adidja Palmer drove his car into the front of the bank and killed 6 people standing in the teller line. He gets out of the car and says “Sorry about that, I wasn’t driving or in control of the car. My persona was behind the wheel. Got to dash.” What would most sensible people think? Let Adidja Palmer walk out of the bank and wait for Vybz to come in and own up to this deed? Somehow, that “It wasn’t me” line doesn’t seem to be one that people would accept. Does it matter what the deed was? I think not.

If the person, who has two personalities, was my neighbour and associate would I feel differently? Would I say, “Man, Adidja wouldn’t do such a thing. Maybe he lost his mind.” That would help me understand. Or, “He’s pretending to be Vybz; look how he’s acting crazy.” That would also help me understand. I might even suggest that Adidja get counselling and work out the issues that were behind this split personality, that seemed to be so far apart, dare I say like Jekyll and Hyde. But, let’s leave that splitting aside for the moment.

Jamaica saw many things during the case. We saw saturated media coverage. That meant that for many it was a first look into how courts work and how the justice system functions. Judges, lawyers, juries, bailiffs, etc. The arguments and facts were sometime very complicated to follow. Many times we were given a sight of things that were not so clear and perhaps not so easy to believe. Telecom experts who told us that technology seemed more limited than we were often told it was. Cloned chips? Tampered text messages? Phones that couldn’t be traced? We heard about procedures that were shoddy at best and downright suspicious at worst. Evidence that was missing. Evidence that was open to tampering. We saw jurors run a foul of the judge and health problems that meant one had to be excused.

At the end of the case we saw what we had been awaiting: the jury were given instructions and went off to deliberate and came back with a verdict. The verdict was reached quite quickly. For some, that seemed strange. I did not think so. I did jury service when I was 18 and just a university student. Juries discuss cases as they proceed. Many jurors have their minds made up early. Many need lots of time. In the jury room, time is needed when opinions are divided and people need to be persuaded to change their views. If views are aligned, decisions can come quickly. The verdict was guilty for four of the five accused, including Palmer.

We also saw something that we honestly did not expect. We often hear about corruption in Jamaica, but by its nature it’s hard to see. But, we saw it live and direct in the courtroom. Within minutes of the verdict, we heard that one juror was to be charged with five counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by offering a bribe to the jury foreman, which had been reported. So, it was true: money comes into cases to try to steer verdicts.We still have to wait and see if the charges sticks and what else emerges.

Towards the end of the case, public emotions appeared to run high. People began amassing around the courthouse, showing support for Vybz Karkel and Adidja Palmer. Reports are that this was a ‘rent-a-crowd’ affair. Jamaica has 17 percent unemployment and 40 percent youth unemployment. Offer people money for light or no real work and they would be fools to turn it down. Think of it like ‘Christmas work’ but without a cutlass and rake. There were some violent incidents with crowds breaking police barricades and some bottle-throwing, I understand.

Now, the verdict has been given and the court of public opinion is in session. Some stridently claim that ‘the system’ was against the accused and there could not and was not a fair trial. I’m not sure if that same argument would have been made if the verdict had been innocent. It may seem strange to some that the same system smells sweet if you get what you want, but stinks when you don’t. I’ve not figure that out, yet.

Some intellectuals have put forward arguments that centre on the ‘creative genius’ or ‘icon’ status of Vybz Kartel-Adidja Palmer. I hear those arguments, but don’t understand what they are meant to prove in terms of what was the charge. Many great artistes are flawed, some severely so. We read almost daily of ‘stars’ who are in trouble with the law. Just this morning, I read about Kanye West and a battering charge. I don’t think I need to list all the instances. Some of these flawed characters appear more associated with some musical genres, say hip-hop and rap in the US. Some American artistes have openly claimed criminal backgrounds, eg Ice T (bank robbery), Snoop Dogg (marijuana and firearms). But, Jamaica has its notoriety, eg Buju Banton (cocaine trafficking and firearms). Such flaws are not unique to musicians. It may be part of what it takes to be great in ‘creative’ fields; it could just be part of the human condition.

Many people see the case as exceptional in that money and position (albeit gained through music) did not seem to sway the court decision. Many wonder aloud what would have happened if the case had concerned someone identifiably from Jamaica’s upper classes.

We saw the Director of Public Prosecutions happy that the prosecution case held up. She has begun an inquiry into procedural inefficiencies and revamping the protocols relating to the storage of items pertaining to cases before the courts.

Nothing is perfect in the world. I saw the justice system working and it seemed to perform well. Are there flaws? Sure. The system is compromised in many ways, however, importantly by negative feelings about the police and their impartiality and honesty.

People have vested interests. Did those dominate the proceedings? I don’t think so in any clear way.

This is not the end of my deliberations, but it’s enough food for thought for today.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (March 16, 2014)

Good

Jamaica was eagerly awaiting the end of the so-called ‘Vybz Kartel Murder Trial’ or ‘Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams case’; it came last Friday, with the jury returning guilty verdicts for four of the five accused, including ‘Vybz Kartel’ (real name Adidja Palmer).

Vybz Kartel during his court case
Vybz Kartel during his court case

In the same breath, almost, came news that one juror had tried to bribe the jury foreman, and was taken into custody to appear in court on Monday. What?! Then, on Saturday afternoon, the police confirmed that Shane Williams, the only accused acquitted in the Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams murder case, remains in police custody on another murder charge. What! What?

So, continues the long line of links between Jamaican musical trends and crime. We’re not unique for that, and similar links in the USA between hip-hop culture and crime come quickly to mind. Not exploring that here now, though. Lots of words have already been written and spoken about the trial and what it may say about Jamaica. All I will add for the moment is that the justice system seemed to work as it should, not perfectly smoothly, but the halting gait did not impede its progress. A few cases still going on in Jamaica, however, (including the so-called ‘Cuban light bulb scandal’ case) will need to come to clear conclusions before we can even begin to say that the system appears to work for all.

Bad

Bayern Munich, known in German as Die Roten. Unfortunately, the sound ‘rotten’ comes too easily to mind this week.

Known as a ‘family’, Bayern looked after their own past players well under ‘his Hohness’. Well, a classy team will have to work hard to burnish that image.

Ugly

What has happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

Boeing 777-200ER Malaysia AL (MAS) 9M-MRO
Boeing 777-200ER Malaysia AL (MAS) 9M-MRO

Over a week gone and still no signs. It’s not our instant gratification urges that makes us concerned about the apparent disappearance of something so large and technologically connected to all of the sophisticated communications systems. It’s just not normal for such things to happen. Do we have to start thinking about ‘The Twilight Zone’ or ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ to solve this mystery? On 15 March, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in a press conference that satellite-related data showed that the aircraft’s ACARS and transponder had been deliberately disabled and that radar data indicated that the aircraft’s “movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane”. We are being urged to think of terrorists and hijackers, but many wont be content with something so prosaic. Meanwhile, we get treated to many instances of human incompetence and failing, with some prime examples of pure bad communications. Keep watching this space, so to speak.

Good over evil?

I must write about some of the implications of the so-called ‘Vybz Karkel murder trial’. But, first, I want to touch on one of Jamaica’s other seeming conundrums. Many people are quick to say how Jamaicans lack civility and decent; how they are rude and boorish and disrespectful; how they are quick resort to anger and use foul language and violence. Yet, I contend, that is not what most Jamaicans are like. It may be what we see sometimes. It may be part of what the news media report as ‘news’. But, it is a small part of the picture that has been made to seem like the whole or most.

In the middle of the week I was a witness to a violent attack. I was outside with my daughter and a classmate, who were riding on the roadway. One of my neighbours pulled up in her car, with her older daughter. We began a conversation. I had seen her a few times recently while she was running but we had not chance to talk by our houses. We took the time to catch up casually–about her running, about our children (her oldest daughter was with her in the car), about my wife, about work, about our dogs. Two of her dogs were nearby, roaming on her lawn. My daughter’s puppy came down the driveway and was also roaming around. Suddenly, my neighbour’s dog, black, jumped on my daughter’s puppy, white, pinning him to the ground and taking a good bite of him. I heard the first squeals and went quickly to the dogs, yelling “Hey, stop that!” The black dog jumped up and ran back towards his home.

His owner, a little shocked, began to apologise for what had happened. The black dog, showing some contrition, had his hackles raised and his head was bowed. Our dog, got up and walked around without any gait. I saw a streak of redness around one eye and damp pinkish fur around his face. Clearly, he had been cut, but it was not too bad. He skipped back inside the house not seeming to be in too much pain.

The children were shocked but not scared. They went back to riding bikes. My neighbour and I continued talking for a few more minutes, then she headed home and I continued with the children.

When my wife came home, we explained to her what had happened. She decided to send the dog to the vet the next day to check the injury. When we came home later the next afternoon, a strange-looking animal came to greet us. We did not see the long-haired, round-faced puppy that we had begun to know so well. Instead, we say an elongated animal, looking like an a sausage on legs, with a pointy face and nose, and a bluish ring around one eye. The only way that we knew the two animals were the same was from the subdued but familiar greeting, as he tried stand on his hind legs to be stroked. Shock! Horror! The dog had been shorn, literally, of his dignity. We laughed. He went to lie do. He had stitches and was still recovering from his ordeal at the vet’s. It turns out that the vet had added insult to injury by cutting the dog on his stomach, and having to stitch that, too. I wondered if we would sue the doctor.

Yesterday, my neighbour called at my house. We spoke for several minutes about her running and how her injuries were just making it all too difficult. She then saw our puppy and asked what had happened. I explained about the visit to the vet’s. Then, she said “Give me the bill from the vet. It’s my fault; it’s my dog who did the damage.” I told her to talk to my wife, who had the bill and they could sort it out.

That’s where we are now. I don’t know if my wife will act and if my neighbour will pay. I expect the situation to be resolved amicably.

Although, the incident did not involve any people directly, it seemed like a typical confrontation that could occur anywhere, not just in Jamaica. An unprovoked attack. An injured victim. An attacker witnessed and apprehended. It could be allegorical, but I wont go there now. No harsh words were exchanged between my neighbour and myself. She looked embarrassed as well as a bit shocked. I was not too taken about–nature in the raw, tooth and claw, I thought. It was not our children having a go at each other. Not much blood had been spilt. I was sanguine about the sanguineness.

On any given day, as I roam around Kingston, I see little incidents. People yelling at each other. People waving their arms at each other. People showing clear signs of anger with each other. I have yet to see anyone strike another person, and therefore, I have not seen what is reported daily in the apparent litany of crime that occurs. I am not denying crime and its horrific and senseless self.

I am no fool, and I did not grow up in a baby’s nursery. I did not grow up in the poshest of neighbourhoods, nor did I grow up in a seething cauldron of violence. But, I grew up in places where people took out their grievances openly quite often. I’ve seen my mother face a deranged woman–a tenant–wielding a huge kitchen knife in our house. I’ve seen a man take a crowbar and beat another to the ground (over a minor traffic incident). I have been in riots in London that involved molotov cocktails and people kicking policemen and their horses. I have been in football stadiums when all Hell broke loose and it was a miracle that I did not get crushed in a stampede.

I know that it takes little provocation or none at all for people to let loose on each other and try to beat the living daylights out of each other. Hurling bricks, wielding sticks, pulling knives are things that I have seen up close–when I was a boy, mostly. Cuts, punches, kicks, bites, ripped clothes, bloody faces, broken limbs or joints are things that I have seen as the results of altercations. Some of the encounters were in places where confrontation reigns–on the football field; the worst ones ended with the police arriving and people being taken away in handcuffs. Most of the others ended with people running away or walking away, sometimes promising that “This isn’t over…” Sometimes, people returned to the fray at their next meeting.

Which is to say what? Jamaica is extraordinary but yet quite ordinary. What I have seen (though it may be changing) is that a large proportion of the daily violence that is reported occurs in a very small space.

Jamaica murder map
Jamaica murder map

Police reports often talk about ‘gang-related’ crimes. Let’s say that much of the violence is due to ‘turf wars’. Wherever that ‘turf’ is, the incidents related to it are concentrated. The metropolitan area of Kinston-St. Andrew and St. Catherine represents one of its prime areas.

We have, also, a lot of reported cases of domestic violence. Again, however, they seem to occur in some places more than others. (Notably, the parish of Manchester’s biggest crime problem is domestic violence, involving spouses, children, neighbours, landlords and tenants.) Peter Bunting, Minister of National Security, and an MP for a Manchester seat, launched another initiative this week to reduce that problem.

Are most disputes resolved peacefully? I’d think so. Is violence the norm? No. One of the puzzling things about society is that we can get to believe not what we know to be commonplace but what we see reported or told to us often, even if it is not commonplace. Jamaica has about 3 murders a day; that’s a lot for a small country. Many of us will know victims and assailants. Few of us will ever be witnesses, however. That does not mean that the threat to us all is not worrisome.

For all the reports that I hear and read about crime in Jamaica, I do not walk with anything like the fears I harboured living in London or Washington. Why? I’ve been told that the Jamaican variant is really focused on a subculture of the society. I may cross its path, but I think I can help myself by steering away from it, or making my encounters when things are more favourable, say in daylight not at dad of night. In London, I was living in the midst of terrorism, with bombers planting traps any and everywhere that large groups of people went. Mailboxes and garbage bins were places to hide parcel bombs. Train stations were targets. ALl parts of daily life held danger. Just look at the summary data on terrorist incidents in Britain.

Bus bombed in central London
Bus bombed in central London

Daily life was compromised, yet daily life went on. We took the best precautions we could. Public mailboxes were sealed in some places. Barriers were erected. Police presence became more common place. Sometimes, travel on the Underground was mayhem as the security was so heavy. Going out for a pint with your mates became a dice with death experience. That is not living, but it was daily life.

We lived in Washington DC during the time of the so-called ‘Beltway sniper attacks‘. It was around the time we were due to get married. We were out getting decorations at a store and got gasolene nearby, hours before there was a sniper attack on that same gas station.

Beltway sniper: Lee Boyd Malvo
Beltway sniper: Lee Boyd Malvo

That makes your knees knock. Friends would not come to our wedding from abroad because they feared for their lives. We were shocked further when the snipers were captured and one of them had a Jamaican connection. Oh, no! Our people, we thought.

The London and Washington experiences were harder because they involved crime as random events–the risks seemed evenly spread that we could be caught up in it; there was no place you could avoid easily. Alright, don’t go to work, or out to the pub, or take a train or walk in the park. Live a life in front of the TV or reading books and order in food, and somehow continue? I think not.

When I lived in England, people could not understand why I lived in an area, Tottenham, that was full of violence. It was rough, but it was to me, just a working class neighbourhood that offered great amenities and an easy commute to The City. True, one of London’s famous riots, at Broadwater Farm, happened in a housing estate five minutes walk from my house. I had no inclination to move to bucolic suburbs or rural areas; I could visit them whenever I wanted. I grew up as a Londoner and like it.

When I lived near Washington DC, and worked downtown, people outside the US knew DC to be the murder capital of America and again asked “Why go there?”. Again, the whole was true but the problem was really only in a part, mainly South East DC. I felt more trepidation because I did not know the city well at first. Over time, I got the measure of the place and went about my business blissfully ignorant of dangers. We faced other dangers because, after ‘9-11’, Washington became another target for terrorists. Roads were closed, barriers erected, security levels raised. Daily life became a hassle.

I’m not going to make light of Jamaica’s crime and the dilemmas it raises, but I am also not going to put it in front of my face as being something that is ‘sweeping the land’, despite what news reports or some commentators try to suggest. I may find myself held up today, or shot at this evening, or witness a robbery, or see and hear someone being violently attacked. I may be wrong, but I don’t have the impression that this is the Jamaica I or most people walk through each day. That it is the Jamaica for some is a problem and that I will tackle later. That some people have a wanton disregard for law, order, other people’s lives, I wont deny. That Jamaica has a social system that is broken or breaking, and a political system that is not really healing that, I wont argue. But, I will argue that ‘good’ has not yet given way to ‘evil’–and that is not to put a carrot in front of those who want to see it all in religious terms. To me, that’s important to hold on to and think about moving forward.