On Tuesday, June 14, those who live in Spanish Town and surrounding communities would have seen the relevance of the lyrical statement that guns are a ‘wicked invention’. This was elaborated by Reggae vocalist Edi Fitzroy in his hit song, The Gun.
My imaginative response in a conversation with children living in areas like Big Lane, Little Lane and Shelter Rock who might have been stressing out and wondering what a normal childhood should look like is that life is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. To get what you want to achieve in this life you must be self-blinkered and focused on how to win. I say this because several schools were empty on Wednesday, June 15, following the deadly shooting the day before between rival gunmen toting high-powered weapons.
The fact that three people were killed all at the same time was jolting. Also shocking was the brazenness of the daylight duel that totally disregarded the collateral damage that could occur from the warfare eruption. It is not as if this is Ukraine and the Russians have invade, and, as a result, required the mobilisation of the deadly machineries to respond to the crisis. Although we have been at war for a long time, it is undeclared. As Rob Nixon in his epic text, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (https://southwarknotes.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/slow-violence-and-the…), describes this kind of hidden threat, if there is an explosion, people pay attention. However, most people will ignore the silent snaking of the everyday versions of violence. This creeping coup is the type of violence that has routinely robbed the society of over a thousand mostly young men every year, for the past five decades.
This amounts to a conservative estimate of 60,000 murdered, with corresponding collateral damage. This gives you an understanding of the intergenerational and development implications of the entrenched violence. Yet, this is a detail that has not generated the required attention and response. This flimsy treatment of a full-throated cry for help from wounded citizens is an indictment on the 60 years of independence from ‘colonialism’, as we sit by and watch self-re-colonialisation under the bullets.
There is little point in propping up the nation with celebratory window dressing when the Spanish Town open warfare is declaring that there is something rotten in the ‘Old Capital’. In Shakespearean idiom, a plague on both your partisan political houses! If the harsh contestations between politicians could cease, the mimicking mayhem in the streets could also be cauterised. Can we take the brightest and the best of Jamaica, Land we Love, designate them caretakers of leadership for a specific period and dismiss them when they fail to deliver?
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
Virtually every make of gun manufactured in the world has somehow found its way into Jamaica. If we were just talking about handguns like the Glock, that would be bad enough. Even more damaging is the glut of high-calibre machine pistols and military-style assault rifles that have shattered the arteries carrying Jamaica’s social and economic life-blood.
Glock, the Austrian defence contractor that originated the pistol of the same name, claims sales of over 2.5 million handguns in over 100 countries. The M-16, the primary general issue infantry rifle of the United States military, is one of the primary bane of Jamaica. Manufactured by Colt and Fabrique Nationale (FN Herstal) among others, there are an estimated 8 million-plus M-16 assault rifles in existence.
The world’s most famous assault rifle, the Russian built AK-47, is also very popular and very much present in Kingston’s inner cities. Produced by Russian manufacturer Izhmash, and used in many Eastern bloc nations during the Cold War, the AK-47, along with its numerous variants, was produced in greater numbers than any other assault rifle in the 20th century. It is estimated that over 100 million units were produced, making it the most prolific small arm of the second half of the 20th century. Since its introduction in 1947, the AK-47 has been manufactured in modified forms in dozens of countries, and has been used in hundreds of conflicts and countries such as Jamaica. During most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and China supplied their arms and technical knowledge to numerous countries under a military assistance programme. In addition, another policy saw the supply of arms, free of charge, to pro-communist fighters such as the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Viet-Cong in North Vietnam. This policy was mirrored by the West, with the United States providing arms to such groups as the anti-communist Afghan Mujahideen and then the Taliban.
Another very popular weapon in Jamaica is the Bushmaster. Bushmaster Firearms Inc. is the manufacturer and distributor of a semi-automatic pistol and rifle variants that use the AR-15 design. As of 2003, Bushmaster was, reportedly, the best-selling brand for AR type firearms in the United States. The company participated in a $2.5-million settlement for survivors and families of victims of the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks around Washington DC, allegedly carried out by ‘two Jamaicans’. (Only one, Lee Boyd Malvo, was actually a Jamaican). Also much in demand in Jamaica is the Uzi machine pistol, manufactured by Israel Military Industries (IMI), Fabrique Nationale and others. The Uzi was used until recently by the Israeli special forces. Total sales of the pistol, up to the end of 2001, netted IMI over US$2 billion, with over 90 countries using the weapons either for their soldiers or in law enforcement. In Jamaica, however, the Uzi, along with a wide range of other guns, is also used by law breakers.
MASCULINITY AND GUN CULTURE
Clearly, Jamaica has a deep and ingrained gun culture and the question is, why? Thus, many young Jamaicans are infatuated with guns. They know the brand names, know how they look, know how they sound, know how to break them down and clean them, and they know how to load and shoot them too. Accordingly, gun-talk is popular on inner-city streets, and young Dancehall entertainers regularly sing and DJ about ballistic weapons in stage shows and dances and on their studio recordings. Having grown up watching violent heroes on TV and at the movies, the inner-city gunmen want to shoot someone or something themselves. Therefore, their daily gun-talk is symptomatic of and synonymous with the prevailing non-verbal discourse of violence, which is taken for granted in everyday life in the Jamaican ghetto.
There are no accurate or official figures for the number of illegal automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles and high-calibre handguns on the streets of Jamaica. A total of 246,000 represents the 2017 total of legal and illegal guns. The indiscriminate, illegal importation of such weapons of war has resulted in unbridled bloodletting and has led Jamaica to the brink of social disintegration. How can we collectively assist in cauterizing this serious problem, which has far-reaching economic development implications?
Dr Imani Tafari-Ama is a research fellow at The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office (IGDS-RCO), at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.