On Monday last week, a thief stabbed and killed 15-year-old
Jordano Flemmings as he walked home from a church social.
On Tuesday, Durraine Giddeon, a 28-year-old building inspector
was shot dead by a gunman on his way to work. On Wednesday, 16-year-
old Romane Brisset got into a scuffle with a passerby over a
baseball cap and was knifed to death. On Thursday, 62-year-old Vilma
Mais was killed as she walked into church.
And on Friday, local papers celebrated the least violent February
in three years: "Only" 99 murders, compared to 129 last year, "only"
177 robberies, down from 178, and "only" 53 reported rapes, as
opposed to 85.
In a society eager for any positive news on crime statistics,
even such small drops are cause for relief.
With its staggering rate of violence fueled by political
rivalries, the drug trade, unemployment, a breakdown of the family,
and a weak police force, Jamaica, says Dan Erikson, a Caribbean
expert at the InterAmerican Dialogue in Washington D.C., "is in
New crime-fighting initiatives, including importing detectives
from Britain's famed Scotland Yard - along with more holistic,
community-based approaches - have recently been rolled out to halt
the downward spiral before the Caribbean island nation becomes
better known for its high murder rate than its turquoise waters and
glitzy mega resorts.
Scope of the problem
In 2005, there were 1,669 recorded homicides in this country of
2.7 million, meaning Jamaica now competes only with South Africa and
Colombia for the dubious distinction of having the highest per
capita muder rate in the world.
'Nuff respec,' a typical greeting in Jamaican Creole, or patois,
is also something to live - and die - by in some areas here.
"You never know how it starts," says Joanna Brissett, a real
estate student who lives in the Fletchers Land community, one of the
more violent neighborhoods in downtown Kingston. "You could be on
the bus and someone steps on your toe. A fight starts. It's about
honor. And someone gets killed. Just like that."
There are gunshots nightly in Fletchers Land, says Ms. Brissett.
House break-ins are a common occurrence, and, while everyone knows
who the guilty are, no one dares "squeal" to the police. Brissett's
cousin was killed for using a curse word, then her father was
threatened for "dissing" the killer. Her aunt fled the neighborhood
for fear, but never put in a report.
According to a poll published Monday in the Jamaica Gleaner, 72
percent of Jamaicans say violence is the country's worst woe today.
The wave of violent crime is often traced back to the 1970s when
political leaders turned to neighborhood gang leaders, or dons, to
rustle up votes. Since then, the resurgence of the cocaine trade
through Jamaica has changed the dynamic, with drug lords replacing
the politicians as patrons, and turf wars and extortion rings
But, says Brisset, it almost does not matter what is being fought
about. "Jamaicans are like that. We will always find a reason," she
"There is definitely a certain proportion of this population for
whom the only way to deal with humiliation - the only way to regain
respect - is through violence," says Mark Shields, a Scotland Yard
detective with 30 years experience who has been hired as Jamaica's
deputy commissioner of police. "This is a place where many people
don't look for ways to resolve a dispute. They take all matters to
the very bitter end."
Roots of the violence
To help understand why Jamaica is more violent than similar
societies with equal or worse poverty rates, suggests Brian Meeks, a
professor of social and political change at The University of the
West Indies, Mona, one needs to understand the particularly brutal
history of slavery on the island.
Jamaica, relative to most other Caribbean islands, is large, and
in the days of slavery, there was always the possibility of an
escape to a different life in the hinterlands, he explains. …