One Shot Away from Chaos
Published: Sunday | October 9, 2005

Suppose Bruce Golding had been shot and killed? This was the first thought that hit me when I read Wednesday's 'Women shot near Golding' headlines. Would Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) extremists have reacted by gunning down a senior People's National Party (PNP) figure in retaliation and initiated a vicious no-holds-barred, tit-for-tat vendetta? Would angry Labourites have torched Gordon House and New Kingston and Sam Sharpe Square? Would JLP mobs have attacked PNP strongholds and sparked off a hundred mini civil wars?

Any and all of these would have been distinct possibilities. Jamaica right now is a violent tinderbox. Any untoward happening ­ looking on another man's woman, 'bad driving' someone, speaking to a person in a manner they consider disrespectful ­ is apt to produce a hail of bullets. So I shudder to think what the reaction would be to the shooting death of a senior politician on either side.

It's something of a marvel that despite being one of the most murderous countries on earth ­ almost certainly now the most murderous ­ Jamaica has never witnessed the assassination of a senior public figure. In fact, our only politician to have died violently was Member of Parliament Roy McGann in 1980. But in our current supercharged climate where gunmen routinely take over communities for no reason at all and show absolutely no respect for the sanctity of life, you have to wonder if our democracy could survive such an occurrence. Maybe we are just one shot away from chaos.


Sometimes it seems a kind of collective lunacy has overtaken this island. Not only have we become accepting of levels of daily violence that would terrify most countries, but virtually no one seems able to view the world outside a JLP or PNP prism. In a sane country, the shooting of unarmed women two feet from the Leader of the Opposition by security forces would have produced universal horror and the temporary abandonment of partisan ideology. But in Jamaica where four people on average get murdered each day, the shootings themselves produced a kind of 'well what's new' shrug in people anxious to start throwing political blame around. How come the police only raid Tivoli with such force and not PNP garrisons like Arnett? What was Golding doing down there in a crowd when there was a curfew on? Why did the speaker of the House stand on ceremony and refuse to discuss such a frightening incident in Parliament?

Frankly, I've stopped trying to figure out the truth on such matters. Both sides keep telling 'untold stories' about what really happened until you're so confused you don't know what to believe and, to paraphrase the old song, 'nobody's right and everybody's wrong'.

Yet, the fact still remains that Leader of the Opposition Bruce Golding was less than a yard away from being shot dead for no apparent reason by members of the security forces. I personally can't believe it was a deliberate attempt to kill him. After all, what would anyone have to gain by such a move? Apart from the almost certain fallout of mass destruction nationwide, public sentiment would turn completely against the Government. Any politician on either side who secretly harbours thoughts of shooting his way into power here must know that what would be left standing after the smoke cleared would hardly be worth ruling.


But no matter what explanations investigators come up with, it's a frightening incident and the latest proof of the incessant penetration of violence into every sphere and level of Jamaican life.

One by one the boundaries just keep getting broken.

It should be blindingly obvious to everyone by now that if violence keeps increasing as it has been over the past 15 years, the fabric of Jamaican society will be irreparably torn apart. Yet, I remember writing almost this exact sentence six years ago when we had 'only' 848 murders, and at the end of this year the count will be over 1,600. "Words, words, words," as Hamlet said.

Watching the murder count rising inexorably from the 414 it was in 1988 has been an eerie experience, almost like being trapped helplessly in a slow motion horror movie. When the toll nudged up to 600, people dismissed it as a 'temporary aberration'. Concern grew as it kept going up despite a host of 'special' squads and operations, whose only trace now are songs like Buju Banton's 1993 hit Operation Ardent. The breaching in 1996 of the previously unimaginable 1980 'civil war' 887 count produced a deluge of headlines and interminable bouts of 'how did we get here' national soul searching, as did the breaking of the psychological 1,000 barrier in 1997. Still there was some comfort in the knowledge that countries like South Africa, Colombia and Guatemala were even worse off than we were. But, we now stand alone as the bloodiest country in the world not at war ­ and even then we probably have a higher violent death rate than Iraq. The U.N. will soon have to invent a new category for us.

Of course those who say we already are in the midst of an undeclared civil war may be right, except what the hell are the opposing forces fighting over? For one thing, the high powered artillery they tote is probably worth more than the few 'scarce benefits and spoils' that occasionally get thrown their way.

You would think all this would be of concern to our politicians, especially those with 'garrison' constituencies. Garrisons account for over two thirds of the murders in the country. If just Bruce Golding, Omar Davies, Peter Phillips and Portia Simpson Miller made a joint pact not to 'protect' anyone and to supply police with any information they had linking anyone in their constituencies to criminal activities, the national murder rate would probably immediately fall by a quarter.


By no means do I think politics is the main root of crime in this country. In my opinion it's our fractured family structure that is most responsible our young men's penchant for violence. But the implicit acceptance of donmanship ­ which is in essence the brute force rule of the jungle ­ by our senior politicians makes violent behaviour seem that more acceptable and makes a bad situation much worse. If the political leaders of the country ­ who are supposed to be looked up to as role models ­ will not condemn outright the concept that power comes through the barrel of a gun, well how can we expect uneducated teenagers to think any different?

It's not that previous politicians were any better. Who can forget Michael Manley and 'Burry Boy' and Edward Seaga and 'Jim Brown'? But can Golding, Davies, Phillips and Simpson Miller ­ one of whom will be our next Prime Minister ­ not see that if they don't soon start the counter revolution together, this country must eventually sink under the ever rising tide of violence?

Many argue that the hard facts of on the ground realpolitik make it virtually impossible for anyone to make the first move. These realists say that anyone who tries the non-violent approach alone will become isolated from his own colleagues, be dismissed by his constituents as 'soft', and probably see his constituency overrun by opposing supporters. For apparently the herd mentality at work makes it impossible for those involved in inner-city politics to conceive of things in any other way. Once you get into the trenches, they say, you are trapped into doing what your followers demand.

This is why, the argument goes, former leader of the National Democratic Movement, Bruce Golding, could talk about marching hand in hand through the inner-city with Seaga and Patterson, but why JLP leader, Bruce Golding, cannot. I think, or at least hope, that Mr. Golding is trying to stick to his 'new and different' approach as best he can. But, clearly like Dr. Davies, Dr. Phillips and Mrs. Simpson Miller, he feels constrained by what his supporters will accept. It's pathetic really to hear all these 'garrison' MP's bleat helplessly as if there's nothing they can do and it's someone else in charge whenever some fresh new horror takes place in their constituency.

I happened to catch Mrs. Simpson Miller on radio talking about the latest Maxfield massacre and the sense of frustration in her voice was palpable. I don't believe Bruce, Omar, Peter and Portia are evil people who are happy to see innocent women and children gunned down and burnt to death. I think they are all at heart decent patriots who want the best for their country. But it really does seem that as individuals they have to accept the system they inherited. Yet, I also maintain that while divided they must fail, united they could prevail against the forces of anarchy in their midst.

But judging by the response to Mr. Golding's near miss, such unity is but a dream. Indeed a cynical friend insists that the only thing that could persuade our senior politicians to forget upcoming elections and unite all their efforts into cutting crime would be a disaster of immense proportions ­ such as the actual assassination of a major public figure or a machine gun massacre of hundreds at a football match or stage show.

A dismal picture perhaps, but the sad thought occurs that he may actually be a starry eyed optimist. Would even that worst case scenario persuade all our politicians that the welfare of Jamaica is more important than who governs it?

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