Vybz Kartel is a Don says Commissioner of Police.

The vybz of Kartel (dr)
Probably because of unconditional support received by the recently sentenced artist by the street, Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington went on TV to clear a few things out. He made it clear that despite the lack of evidences, Vybz Kartel has been known as a serious gang leader by the police for years, and that his gang is responsible for more than a hundred murders. The crime of "Lizzard", for which he was recently condemned to 35 years, was just the tip of the iceberg, said Commissioner Ellington. 

The public pressure was apparently important enough for the top policeman of Jamaica to explain himself on TV, trying to fight the propaganda spread by Kartel's supporters who claim the artist is the victim of a plot.

Check out Annie Paul's very interesting blog for a thorough inquiry on Kartel's trial.

Extract from the book (Chapter 1)



Policeman from the Mobile Reserve. 

Chapter 1
Police & Thieves


11 a.m. The ghetto of Armour Pen, in Kingston, seems quiet. I’ve come to check Bramma, a young rude boy who survived the political wars of the 1990s, and who spends most of his time at his girlfriend’s bar, on the main road. Out of the blue, a youth comes into the bar, bumping into me without really noticing. Seventeen, maybe eighteen years old. He has a dark look. After a short and tense discussion with Bramma, he jumps on his bicycle and pedals quickly down the road. Bramma calls out to the people in the bar: “Shevanne’s gone for his brother with a knife!” Every one rushes outside—looks like trouble’s ahead. Down the road, Shevanne throws his bike away and starts to yell at his brother who hangs out with an up-to-no-good bunch of gangster youths. He’d like him to leave them and to join his own little gang. The discussion comes to an abrupt end—Shevanne takes out his knife and cuts his brother’s arm. As blood spills, his brother’s friends get mad and chase Shevanne away by throwing stones at him.

"In the 1990s, there were proportionally more killings in our little community than in New York. It was Iraq down here."

It did not last more than a couple of seconds but the whole community is upside down. In Jamaica, such an incident can turn into an everlasting war, generating blind shootouts and innocent victims. Further down the main road, a house still bears the stigmata of the latest drive-by shooting that cost the lives of two persons. It left some impressive holes in the wall, as big as golf balls. What kind of gun can cause such damage? The mediator of the community, an old-timer who tries to maintain peace through dialogue, laughs: “AKA-47, man.” Around here, people shoot at each other with army rifles. Armour Pen is a notorious war zone, a divided community. During the 1990s and the 2000s it was probably the most dangerous place in Kingston. Wars often break out over a stupid incident, a harsh word or a stiff look. “There’s nothing we can do right now,” says the mediator regarding the incident between Shevanne and his brother. “We have to wait for the dust to settle. The youths threw stones and picked up some batons but them remain pon the sidewalk. It means they did not run for their guns. That’s a good omen. The only problem being—” Yes? “Today ah-Friday, the day when they go out at night with them friends, to drink and smoke.” The mediator shrugs: “Well, there was a time when gunshots would have started long ago. In the 1990s, there were proportionally more killings in our little community than in New York. It was Iraq down here.”

One week later, our taxi stops exactly were Shevanne cut his brother. Our driver looks concerned: “You sure you know what you’re doing?
- We good, man, everything is all right.”
Our speaking patois surprises him, he wonders what we are looking for in this volatile community. He eventually drives away, glancing at us a couple of times in his rear-view mirror. We look around us, trying to look as cool as possible. After all, someone is expecting us. His name is Rico, the Don of one of the small gangs who rule Armour Pen. Each gang rules a precise territory where it usually extorts money from taxi drivers or businessmen, and sells girls or drugs. Earlier on the phone, Rico told me he would not come to pick us up, we would have to cross the river by ourselves and enter his turf where one of his soldiers would wait for us. “What will he wear?” I asked. Rico smiled on the phone: “A yellow T-shirt, man.” Under the bright sun and in front of the gorgeous landscape of the nearby luxurious hills, all these precautions seem derisory. But violence in Armor Pen always sleeps with one eye open. Let’s say that the risk seems acceptable today. A few years ago, before the downfall of Dudus, the taxi driver would have refused to carry us down here as he could have been held responsible, if something happened to us. As a matter of fact, two months after we were there, a dozen masked gunmen raided a nearby lane and tracked their victim down to his house, shooting their way in to murder him. Another man jumped through the window to save his life.

"Unwritten rules are crucial in the ghetto. You live by these rules, or die by them." 

Armour Pen occupies a hillside. On the crest, the main road is divided into what are gently called communities with rough war names. Turfs run from the crest to the foot of the hill, where a river traces a natural frontier with another turf, Rico’s kingdom—where we are heading. Rico usually lives in peace with the communities from the hillside, but sometimes he doesn’t. Right now, there is tension. It all started when one of his soldiers had an argument with an elderly man from the main road community. Bramma, the youth with the face of an angel who spends his time in front of his girlfriend’s bar, stepped in, to settle the argument. He laughs when we ask him about Rico: “Him and him boys—shitty! Them look for trouble, man. Rico says me should have never said anything to him soldier—shitty! They just try to expand them territory to extort people from the main road. But this is our community, we won’t let you disrespect people around here, man. Else it would mean we are weak.” Unwritten rules are crucial in the ghetto. You live by these rules, or die by them. Tension has risen through different messengers who go to and fro between the two communities to carry news, but things have not come to a breaking point yet—they could, though, in the twinkle of an eye.

We cross the river under the burning sun, jumping from one big stone to another. This river reminds me of violence in Jamaica: a few streams gently running down to the sea, making a delightful noise; but when the tropical rain pours down, water rushes down the hill, raging and exploding against the river banks, destroying everything on its way. Once it starts, it is already too late—nothing can stop it.
Since we’ve been walking in the open, we are under the watch of a sentinel. We can’t see him, but we know he’s here, hidden somewhere on the other bank. Rico puts sentinels all along his frontiers. All gangs do... Everywhere you go, you can see youths sitting on concrete walls. You might think they’re just skylarking, they’re not—they’re on a mission. They observe and report every suspicious move. Sentinel is the first step on the ladder of crime. A few days earlier, as we were talking to Rico in front of his house, or yard as Jamaicans say, the Don’s phone vibrated—he took a look at it and suddenly went for a small bag of ganja (marijuana) in his pocket and threw it away. We observed him, puzzled. A few seconds later, a pick up from the police slowly drove by behind us. “It was a sentinel,” smiled Rico, showing his phone. “I’ve got one in front of the police station, permanently. As soon as the police come out, I know about it.” Hard to catch him red-handed; even harder to catch him gun-handed.

"We know about you foreign journalists,” he says. “You French are the worst. You’re going to judge us and to tell the world God knows what..."

Guns, in Jamaica, are seldom shown—except at night, maybe, the killers’ hours. Otherwise, covered with grease, wrapped in old rags then placed in plastic bags, they are carefully buried underground. The police rarely catch gunmen with them—unless they are on the rampage, or ready to commit a crime. A policeman from the Mobile Reserve, coming out of a well-known hang-out of the Clansman gang in Spanish Town, sounds disheartened: “We have no metal detectors and their guns are buried close by.” The lack of resources is only one of the many disadvantages linked to one of the most dangerous jobs in Jamaica, namely, being a police officer. Torn between the wish to do well, the corruption of some of its members and political pressure, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is conscious of its weakness and fears outsiders. The Director of Communication of the Force, Mr Karl Angell, is a former journalist who obviously holds a grudge against his one-time colleagues. He reluctantly welcomes us to his tiny office in Up Park Camp, smoking a cigarette. To follow police patrols? “We know about you foreign journalists,” he says. “You French are the worst. You’re going to judge us and to tell the world God knows what—like the Human Rights Watchgroups that keep on complaining: Why don’t you use Taser rather than deadly weapons? Do they have any idea of the price of a Taser? We already have trouble matching the machine guns of gunmen, not to mention the shortage of ammunition. Had it depended on me, you would never have obtained this authorization.” But it had not depended on him, but on Owen Ellington, the Commissioner of police, and Peter Bunting, the Minister of Security, who jointly granted us this rare privilege. They did not justify their decision. Probably a desire for transparency? The welcome remains distant, though. “The last time we had some journalists,” says Sasha, a young policewoman from the Mobile Reserve, “they were lovely. They remained with us for four days. Then they put out their documentary: Killer Cops of Jamaica. Don’t be offended if some of us are a little bit distant.”
The police hardly feel supported by the authorities. And this is an understatement. They are well acquainted with political ambivalence. Speaking to HG Helps, a journalist from The Observer, the super cop Renato Adams, retired from the Force in 2008 after sixty years of service, does not beat about the bush: “One of the reasons we could not deal with the crime as it was at the time was that people like me who advocated certain laws and actions were bluntly refused by the Government. This would include eavesdropping equipment, which I asked for when I went to the CMU (Crime Management Unit). I asked for certain other equipment to set up instruments covertly and to videotape what was being said, using the technology available at the time. This was refused, as the Administration said that it would be encroaching on the human rights of criminals.” Some unknown political forces would be at work, suspected to be responsible for the dismantling of the very efficient King Fish squad. In 2007, under the JLP administration—the party behind Christopher “Dudus” Coke—this Special Task Force Unit was suppressed without any reason and the official Commission in charge of the investigation seems unable to explain this decision, nor to find out who took it. Several Ministers of Security and influential members of the Force have been questioned, but no one knows where the order came from. It could only have been given by the Ministry—but no one can be blamed in this story where no one knows anything. (...)

Read more: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FAOFXU8
Gangs of Jamaica, T. Ehrengardt (DREAD Editions) 

Gangs pon tape...


A selection of documentaries about gangs in Jamaica. 
The first one is quoted and discussed in the book.

Killer Cops.

This documentary features an interview with Jim Brown's mother.



Report on the shootout at singer Luciano's place, involving a notorious gunman.

Interview of the author at CITS (US).


Christian Nedian from Camera in the Sun talked to Thibault Ehrengardt about Jamaica, gangs and cinema. Check it out:


INTRODUCTION: Thibault Ehrengardt is a Paris-based journalist, and former-editor of French reggae magazine, Natty Dread. A longtime fan of Jamaican reggae music, Ehrengardt began publishing Natty Dreadin 2000 — the name inspired by the 1974 album from Bob Marley and the Wailers. The magazine ceased its print run in 2010, and Ehrengardt shifted over to a book publication business: Dread Editions. His Jamaica Insula series includes the 2010 French-language edition of Laurie Gunst‘s landmark 1995 memoir/history of the confluence of Jamaican crime and politics, Born Fi’ Dead. Her book recounts the often-deadly competition between the island’s two largest political parties: the Jamaica Labour Party, led from 1974-2005 by Edward Seaga; and the People’s National Party, led from 1969-1992 by Michael Manley. Moreover, Gunst interviewed Kingston gang members, who dwelt in housing projects conceived and constructed by the JLP and PNP as political garrisons to ensure loyalty — and armed with guns to do battle with rivals. The most notorious of these is JLP stronghold Tivoli Gardens, once lorded over by Christopher “Dudus” Coke. His leadership title of “don” reflected a crime culture whose power structures took influence from American mafia hierarchy — and whose gunslinging “posses”, or gangs, idolized the badman elements of American Western film lore. The bloodiest period of Coke’s tenure in Tivoli Gardens unfolded in late-May 2010, when Jamaican army and police launched a days-long assault aimed at executing an arrest warrant issued at the request of the United States, which was set to prosecute Jamaica’s most-powerful don for trafficking drugs, guns and ammunition. The ensuing gunfight claimed the lives of over 70 people, and plunged West Kingston into a state of emergency. While Coke survived and was captured, Prime Minister Bruce Goldingreceived heavy criticism for his opposition to Coke’s extradition, and resigned his office in September 2011. Soon after, Ehrengardt returned to Jamaica as part of a television crew documenting Kingston gangs. He decided to gather his findings into a 2012 book, Gangs of Jamaica: The Babylonian Wars — publishing an English-language e-book version in 2013. In his introduction, Ehrangardt notes that his book serves to reveal “the dark face of Jamaica, a morbid reality shared by three million people who live under the yoke of organized crime, its armies of child soldiers, and a bunch of ruthless politicians”. Camera In The Sun spoke with Ehrengardt about Gangs of Jamaica, reggae music and films, and Kingston gang life within the power vacuum left by Coke’s arrest.

Read the rest of the article at CITS by clicking on the picture above.

Gangs of Jamaica in The Gleaner!



"Thibault Ehrengardt pens a provocative work that transcends 
the violence and mayhem that bleed through its every page. This is 
clinical journalism. It is insightful, investigative and written with sheer brilliance. 
It is how a story should be told. It is raw and cutting, dragging the reader 
into the trenches of an urban battlefield."
G. Ashby, The Gleaner.


Read it straight from the fruit
Thibault Ehrengardt pens a provocative work that transcends the violence and mayhem that bleed through its every page. This is clinical journalism. It is insightful, investigative and written with sheer brilliance. It is how a story should be told. It is raw and cutting, dragging the reader into the trenches of an urban battlefield. 
Gangs of Jamaica: Babylonian Wars reads like Ehrengardt's intimate diary. Given rare access to the gangs that litter Jamaica's urban landscape, he is mindful of not overplaying his hand with sensationalism. He is measured, deftly detailing the cesspool of wanton viciousness that weighs heavily on the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), an agency that is mandated to hit back at urban warlords. But when they do, we are reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche's famous quote: "Be careful when you fight with monsters, lest you become one."
The dramatic capture and extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke that resulted in damning political repercussions for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) does not escape the writer's radar. It is a defining moment. It is also the underbelly of Jamaica's violence - a sacrilegious marriage between career politicians and hoodlums.
Here, crime is the offspring of corrupt politicians who carve out garrisons or fiefdoms, doling out cash, contracts and even guns for enduring political support. It is an internecine quid pro quo that germinated in the 1970s and grew to incorrigible proportions in the 1980s and 1990s. The 'Dons' collected taxes and supposedly maintained law and order. With crime on the decline over the last two years and concerted efforts made to weed out crooked cops, we must ask if civility will return to Jamaica, especially with the downfall of the island's biggest 'Don' and the return of the People's National Party (PNP)? This is the $64,000 question. The writer is not overly hopeful. Jamaica is a violent society and crime is systemic and institutionalised, he argues. In the 1980s, it had spread like a deadly virus, destabilising the inner cities of the United States with the proliferation of drugs and guns courtesy of the Gulleymen, the Yardies, and Vivian Blake's Shower Posse
The Gangs of Jamaica chronicles a society turned on its head. Poverty, despair, greed, drugs, prostitution and murder create a social catacomb. Crooked cops and politicians add to an asphyxiating crisis - one that will take years to remedy. Not that law enforcement isn't trying. The Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption unit has nabbed scores of 'dirty' cops and the PNP's political brass has vowed to clean house. But scepticism persists. 

The JCF is hamstrung by a shortage of advanced technology in intelligence gathering, logistical problems, corrupt personnel and officers who have psychologically unravelled under the pressures of an unforgiving profession. But there are officers who are worth their salt. The reader is introduced to hard-working officers such as, Sasha and Sergeants Adams and McKenzie of the Mobile Reserve. 

And the legend of Trinity and Reneto Adams - the "Schwarzeneggers" of law enforcement in earlier years are juxtaposed with Rico, Ricardo Hilton, Duane Waxteen and Dudus, some of the most notorious gangsters. And in a twisted way, in this business of gangstarism, "until you are known as a monster you are not a star". In this battle of wills, we hear all sides including the views of National Security Minister Peter Bunting and those of Commissioner Owen Ellington. After decades of strife, the Jamaican is psychologically scarred. When law-enforcement personnel and 'dons' collide, M16s, Glocks, MP 5s and AK 47 blaze ammo with abandon. The outcome is predictable. Blood. Urban Jamaica has become a laboratory for the criminal psychologist, the child psychologist and the sociologist.

Ehrengardt wrestles with the burgeoning of Jamaica's violence. Political power, greed and nepotism have led to the creation of uncontrollable monsters, but "when you create a monster, you don't whine when it stumps on a few buildings". As politicians lose control of their garrisons, the pitched battles among gangs shed their political carapace and violence is now fuelled by pure greed. Guns, drug trafficking, and extortion are rife. Even rabid homophobia propelled by pop culture is embraced by supposedly enlightened politicians who must dance to the hooliganism of the streets. It is a sickening, revolting degradation of office.
The author is clearly bent on exploring the root of this deadly social malaise. His qualitative research pays dividends. He is told of Trench Town's fabled past, the Machiavellian politics of Edward Seaga whose purported dance with the occult conjures flashes of Haiti's Papa Doc.
The famous truce and peace concert, the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, and the defiance of Peter Tosh who described any peace overtures as "hypocrisy", are detailed. In many ways, the latter Wailer proved to be a visionary.
Interestingly, violence cannot be divorced from the island's musical culture. "Bob Marley himself beat up his manager while a friend was holding his victim at gunpoint," and "the late musical don, Gregory Isaacs, who went to prison several times for possession of coke and guns and who was feared by the bravest ..., was a close friend of Lester 'Jim Brown' Coke, Dudus' father".
The reader peels through the emergence of reggae, a musical gem that was twisted and layered with a violent streak, against a backdrop of a counter-cultural Rastafarian movement that lost its messianic and apocalyptic appeal. Unfortunately, dancehall music has added a markedly perverse element to the mix.
Throughout, the dehumanisation and hopelessness of Jamaica's youth glare at you. You are troubled, your soul perturbed, but you are helpless. Children are swooped up in a perpetual cycle of violence and preyed upon by gang leaders who were themselves errant and intrepid youths ripe for plucking.
Crime may have been smothered in Tivoli Gardens, but Spanish Town, the home of One Order and the Clansmen, still poses a threat to peace. And Montego Bay is now the nerve centre of professional scam artists.
Gangs of Jamaica is a literary juggernaut. It is riveting, grabbing and holding the attention of the reader. Alas, it leaves a trail of uncertainty and trepidation. If only Ehrengardt's social prognosis was more hopeful.
Rating: Essential


The English version / a eBook publication
Get it HERE

Picture: Romain Hamdane.

About the Author: Thibault Ehrengardt is an independent journalist, the former chief editor of the leading European reggae magazine Natty Dread from 2000 to 2010, and the current head of Dread Editions. He's been to Jamaica many times and has written several books in the Jamaica Insula series (Gangs of Jamaica being the first one to be translated into English), including the first History of Jamaica to be published in French for 250 years, a series of portraits of Jamaican icons and an historical Atlas of the first maps of the island.  He is also responsible for the French translation of Laurie Gunst's classic Born Fi' Dead and the author of a book about the discovery of the New World in the Le Moine marin series (Dread Editions).