Once upon a time... in Jamaica

On August 1st of 1979, the day I was promoted to Lance Corporal, I immediately began the process of volunteering for embassy guard duty. It was indeed a process that lasted through many reams of paperwork, multiple physicals, strenuous training, interviews, mental evaluations and other sundry and assorted hurdles thrown before me by “the green machine”.

During that time frame leading up to reporting for Marine Security Guard (MSG) School, the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran was overrun by “students”. And its personnel were subjected to untold fear and indignity of the worst sort. Naturally my fellow Marines made sure I knew I was now bound for “hostage duty”, and there was arguably ample reason for the label. After all…it was the close of the Carter years. America was weak, as is usually the case when it’s led by dems. My personal courage, as well as that of my fellow Jarheads, would be entirely subjected to the whims of some milquetoast diplomat. If the Ambassador said surrender without a fight, that’s what we were bound by duty to do. Not a pleasing thought at all to a 19 year-old Marine. Much better to die in battle against hordes of screaming [insert your preferred enemy of America here] covered in glory!

But I’m glad I prevailed. I was selected to go to the school, where attrition is probably in excess of 40%. Even with the black cloud of the Iranian Crisis hovering on the horizon, I was of mixed feelings to get orders to Kingston Jamaica at the school’s completion. I ranked very high in the class and Jamaica had been one of my choices. But when those choices were solicited, it was made abundantly clear that few would get any of their selected duty stations. So I was really not expecting any of my choices to come my way.

My first thought oddly enough was “What do I know about Jamaica?” Nothing…not a damn thing! It’s an island; that’s it. There endeth my knowledge of the place.

When one thinks of Jamaica, one thinks of sunny sandy beaches, palm trees, and rum punch. It’s just a big tourist gig and there’s not much of a country beyond the beach and it’s happenings. Right?


The Jamaica the great majority of people are familiar with, does fit the image I painted above. But by comparison, that part of the island is “soft” as the Jamaicans would say. The real Jamaica is its music scene, its politics, the drug trade, the corruption of the government, the stark extremes of wealth and poverty, the unbelievable beauty of the inland countryside, a horrendous crime problem, and above all…the killings.

Kingston the capital, situated on the Liguanea Plain of the south coast, is far removed from the beaches and its legions of tourists. It has a couple of truly world class distinctions; one, it is the largest English speaking city outside of the US in the western hemisphere. And two, it alternates between being the murder capital of the world, and being the runner up. It shares that sordid score with Bogota Columbia.

When my little snowflake-white ass stepped off an Air Jamaica flight at Norman Manley international Airport one afternoon in mid-April 1980, Jamaica was busy tearing itself apart as it approached a national election with highly polarized candidates representing on the one hand, Harvard educated capitalism, and on the other hand a pro-Castro, Pro-Cuban, dyed in the wool socialist: Michael Manley.

In the first six months of 1980, I remember the JBC news saying that there had been over 600 politically related killings in the city of Kingston alone. I also remember camera crews in the rear of the Kingston Public Hospital showing borrowed refrigerator trucks of the sort used for hauling produce and perishables, now stacked with bodies such that a wall of bare feet faced the viewer from the floor to the ceiling of the trailers.

There were policemen leading Jamaican Army troops on foot patrols through the roughest areas, and shootouts between the authorities and the “gunmen” were nightly fare on Jamaica’s then only TV station. Road blocks and checkpoints were common everywhere you went. And on nights when things went even farther (like virtually EVERY night did in the last 30 days before the election) the streets also were festooned with hundreds of “private” roadblocks, usually consisting of burning tires and manned by armed men of various affiliations, whether political or otherwise.

Late one night on the way back from a bar, we were driving through a fairly affluent area when a policeman walked to the middle of the road as we approached. He signaled well in advance for us to stop. I seem to recall some brief discussion of whether we should rely on our diplomatic plates and barrel on through. But in the end, and thankfully so, we decided to halt and see what’s up. As we stopped and were quizzed by the constable, it was noted that immediately to our right, from whence the cop had stepped out, was a stone wall that had been used to mount a heavy machine gun of the belt-fed variety. The diplomatic plates are pretty cool. They get you off of pretty much everything, but I’m reasonably sure they won’t shield you from bullets. And when some people are provided with a big hammer, nearly everything takes on the shape of a nail!

It was generally accepted that much of the violence was actually being egged on by the opposing political factions. The government in control, and the opposition who wanted to be, were each arming street toughs to fight the other. And throughout all the turmoil that was politically motivated, there was also the rampant crime and disorder that preceded the election, and survived long after the election was done.

Our house was shot at on more than one instance, as was the Ambassador’s residence. His car was fired upon on at least a couple of occasions as well. We the Marines, were disarmed whenever we weren’t on the Embassy grounds proper. But we cultivated the assumption among the Jamaicans that indeed we WERE armed. It kept them somewhat respectful of us. That was a period in my life where I really detested the PC bullshit that required us to be sans weaponry.

At night, we would sit on the upstairs patio and drink beer while listening to the gunfire from, literally, all directions! And we frequently heard automatic weapons fire as well. It wasn’t uncommon to see helicopters with spotlights hover …and sometimes fire…over some hotspot in the city.

The newspapers every morning were awash in stories of pure carnage and gratuitous killing on a scale far surpassing anything one could equate with little Jamaica! I have seen front page photos of headless corpses with the headlines indicating it was friends who argued over politics! I have seen numerous instances of obvious innocents murdered simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And in Jamaica, that wrong place can be even your home. They LIVE in neighborhoods according to their political party! And it’s very dangerous to live in the wrong neighborhood come election time in Jamaica.

One horrible tale sticks in my mind over all the others; no mean feat I assure you after all I saw there ultimately. There was an entire family, deemed by the community they resided in, to be in the wrong place. Their zinc wall house, and zinc door, was kicked in by thugs supporting the dominant political party of the area. All sixteen members of the extended family; women, kids, old people…were slaughtered with machine guns…right in their own home. And if that wasn’t enough, the gravediggers who came to bury these poor people, were chased away from the cemetery by the people of the neighborhood who didn’t want the family buried among their folks. Wrong party! And this happened twice as I recall, until the police were dispatched to see that the victims were interred successfully.

Now after acquainting you with a part of Jamaica you’d never known existed had I not revealed it to you, let me explain the point I have belabored to reach: Since 1974 Jamaica has had in place some of the toughest gun laws in the world. They are simply banned for 99% of the population; officially anyway. The very rich can pay a police chief to authorize issuance of a revolver and a box of rounds. But for the great majority of Jamaicans guns are officially out of reach. The penalty for unauthorized possession of any firearm is an automatic life sentence…no appeal…no parole. You get picked up today, and by next week you’re starting your sentence. You see they expedite gun crime cases, cause they have so many. They’ve had to set up a special court that only handles gun crime; called appropriately enough “Gun Court”.

It’s been thiry-five years since these laws were put in place. I recently saw some crime statistics from Kingston and they showed that city’s population of just over 800,000 had about 1,400 murders last year; most of them…by gunfire.

The law can be made no tougher, unless you execute the lawbreaker. Yet it hasn’t worked. Thirty-five years, and it hasn’t worked! The police have guns. The rich and politicians have guns, or armed bodyguards. The Jamaican Army has guns. The criminals have guns. The political thugs have guns.

The ONLY group in Jamaica that has no guns: The law-abiding citizenry!


CorbinKale said...

Thanks for the first-hand info.

Anonymous said...

great post. thank you.

Anonymous said...

Cool blog. Added to my Favorites.

And Semper Fi! USMC 1983-1990.


GunRights4US said...

Semper Fi to you too Curtis. And thanks for the kind words.

DJMooreTX said...

I've excerpted and commented on your excellent article over at my place. Jamaica goes on my list of Gun Control Paradises, right next to the Island Off the Coast of France.

(Found you via The Sipsey Street Irregulars.)

T. Paine said...

Here is an example of the exact opposite: a country where citizens remain armed and free.

....and what would have happend had everyone at the party been disarmed by federal gun control laws? Oh but no one ever mentions anything about that.

sherryandkaty said...

Hey Guns, found another blogger you might enjoy reading:

Hugs, shojo

Dena said...

Hello Guns, Love the new photo, You sure look relaxed.

Trini Airguns said...

Informative post. I try to make your last argument regularly here in Trinidad & Tobago, but to no avail.

Police and soldiers (on duty); criminals and bodyguards; the rich and politically connected all have guns. The only unarmed sector of the population is the poor and middle class law-abiding citizens. They soft, immobile targets of the armed criminals.

I blog over at