Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lemming Tracks: News from Jamaica

"Four killed as Jamaicans clash over drug lord"
Reuters (May 24, 2010)

"Soldiers and police stormed a Kingston slum on Monday and traded gunfire with supporters of an alleged Jamaican drug lord who faces extradition to the United States.

"At least four people have been killed, including two policemen, one soldier and a civilian, and several others were wounded in two days of violence.

The government declared a state of emergency on Sunday in volatile sections of the capital as Prime Minister Bruce Golding vowed "strong and decisive action" to restore order.

"The limited emergency in Jamaica, a popular Caribbean tourism destination, covered districts where gunmen shot up or set fire to five police stations and carried out carjackings and looting on Sunday.

"There were unconfirmed reports of additional civilian deaths and reports that military helicopters dropped explosives on the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of West Kingston where alleged drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke is believed to be hiding out.

"The government has called on Coke to surrender to face a U.S. judicial request seeking his extradition on cocaine trafficking and gun-running charges.

"U.S. prosecutors have described Coke as the leader of the 'Shower Posse,' which murdered hundreds of people by showering them with bullets during the cocaine wars of the 1980s...."

The BBC had a more conversational - or rambling - article on the situation in Jamaica:

"Kingston under siege"
BBC News (May 25, 2010)

"As I drive through the city, my taxi driver tells me that he is going to have to charge extra: 'Everywhere is blocked up, it's just turn, turn, turn.'

"I am just trying to get into the main commercial district of the capital, New Kingston, but the journey provides a snapshot of the situation the country finds itself in.

"As we head up one road we spot the few vehicles on the road doing sharp U-turns. Then I hear it, the sound of automatic weapon fire...."

The BBC article, by Nick Davis, has the virtue of giving more background on the Jamaican approach to government than you'll find most places.

"...'Nobody can steal round here without his say-so, nobody carries out rape round here, they'd be dead.'

"I was worried for my safety but was told that nobody would touch me and in the early hours of the morning I walked out of the community, something that would be unheard-of in other more volatile communities on the island.

"He was seen as the boss who cared for his community, providing what the state had not: safety...."

"...The tough inner city communities of Kingston are not called garrisons for nothing.

"Controlled by an 'area leader' - the island's euphamism for the criminal bosses who are better known as 'dons' - local strongmen can control a few blocks to whole swathes of the city.

"The power they have stretches from the gully to the Gordon House, the seat of government...."

The situation, as described in the BBC piece, reminds me of Chicago, several generations back. My father grew up in a town not far from there, and spoke a few times of the days when control of Chicago was, for practical purposes, in the hands of people other than the elected officials.

As colorful as that was, I don't approve. However, I think people put up with the occasional 'offer I couldn't refuse,' and the sanctioned criminal activity for as long as they did: because the system worked. Chicago's bosses were aware that their power depended on the acquiescence, if not support, of the people living in their territory. For that reason, I'm told, problems with sewers, street repairs, or other practical concerns were dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Now, if only legally elected officials would get a clue about that sort of boring detail.

And - quite seriously - you might consider praying for the folks in Jamaica. No matter how today's crisis turns out, they're going to need help. Just a suggestion, though.

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