Let’s Talk About Crime in Jamaica
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I remember that first trip to Jamaica like it was yesterday.
As we rode the shuttle bus from Montego Bay out to the resort in Negril, I watched the scene unfold like a sad photo album. That drive along the north coast of Jamaica revealed broken down buildings, unfinished homes and trash scattered in the ditches. Yes, I saw it.
Shacks built from scrap lumber dotted the landscape. Junk cars cluttered the side of the road. Pitiful, half-starved dogs scampering between the speeding cars. Yes, I saw them, too.
The people along the road stared at us as if we were aliens. I didn’t understand why and it felt awkward. All of it was hard not to notice, and, yet, I fell in love.
Being met with lush vegetation, crystal clear, turquoise water, white sand beaches and full on sunshine more than made up for it. Laughing, smiling Jamaicans were interesting and full of life. Fresh fruit literally dripped from the deep green branches above our heads and the smell of jerk chicken wafted through the air.
Right from the get-go we were made aware of “the crime problem” in Jamaica.
The resorts warned against going out into the local town, although we did it anyway. They insisted on calling their registered taxis for us, at a steep $20/person to ride the three minutes downtown, a ride that usually costs about $1.00. We were told that these precautions were put in place to keep us safe. Okay. It looked to me like they were put in place so the resort kept most of our money and the drivers got the rest.
I kept coming back again and again, moving from the high-end digs of an all-inclusive resort, into more and more modest settings.
Eventually, I began staying in the small town home of a Jamaican friend. She told me that many of her neighbors were illiterate and most were unemployed. She had worked very hard to install a kitchen in her home. No, I didn’t say a “new kitchen,” I said “a kitchen.” The occupants had, up until she purchased the home, cooked everything outside, washing dishes in a bucket by the spigot.
Invariably, after a hot sweaty day on the road we would arrive home to turn on the shower and have no water come out.
This seemed to happen most frequently when we had gone to the beach and had sand in every nook and cranny. My friend always kept a bucket filled with water in the tub “just in case,” but it hardly sufficed to clean my friend, her young daughter and me.
I did the math once and figured out that the city water was only available about 1/3 of the time where she lived. She didn’t have the money for a water storage tank. She simply learned ways to work around it. I have to say, this inconvenience made “the Jamaican experience” palpable for me. To add a little more reality, the town lost electricity about one out of every four days.
When it became clear to family and friends that we were seriously considering living in Jamaica, it seemed that everyone had something negative to say. People told me about carjackings, robbers, rapists and such just about every time I brought up the next trip I had planned. Even a number of Jamaicans insisted that I not spend too much time here.
What I’ve learned since those early days is that many Jamaicans think every other Jamaican is a criminal.
According to them, everyone is out to get you, rip you off or kill you. The Jamaican you are speaking with at any given moment is always the only honest Jamaican there is. Just ask him or her and they’ll confirm it. Ha ha.
If they won’t come out and say that, they’ll at least tell you that Jamaicans aren’t really “tiefs” (thieves) but will describe them as being opportunistic and greedy.
Am I saying that crime doesn’t exist here in Jamaica? Nope. Crime IS a real problem. Scammers are currently waging war against each other’s gangs. Somehow, guns have poured into this tiny country. Even 15-year-old kids seem to get their hands on them. Shootings, stabbings, beatings and such are in the news here every day. It’s horrifying and does give one cause to think.
Here’s the thing, though. This war zone I spoke of is just that…a zone.
More accurately, it’s a few zones, spread between Montego Bay and Kingston. Even more accurately, it’s restricted, by and large, to a few communities within those large cities. Yes, there are times when evil’s ugly fingers reach into the smaller, surrounding towns. Thankfully, those are personal vendetta crimes or mentally ill people. It is no different from what we see happening in our hometowns abroad.
Recently the worldwide media has been running with the story about our current “State of Emergency” in St James parish, the area that surrounds and includes Montego Bay.
Curfews are in place. Policemen, assisted by armed military officers, are stopping cars at road blocks. They are searching for guns, known Jamaican criminals, and drugs.
The US Coast Guard has stepped up to the plate. It has boats cruising the coastlines, even down in my small town neck of the woods. They are trying and they are making a bit of headway. (Read about it here.)
A day hasn’t gone by since my January arrival in Jamaica without someone abroad questioning my safety or that of the other 1000’s of guests staying around the island. The USA and Canada, among other countries, have issued warnings. They are telling would-be travelers to avoid Jamaica. The resorts in St James are basically on lockdown, advising customers to stay put once they check in.
I want to make it clear that I’m not here to argue that it’s a bad tactic to take precautions, especially IN THAT AREA. We all understand that some parts of LA, NYC, London , and Rome , put you at higher risk than you have in rural areas. The same holds true in Montego Bay. Like, duh.
What I want to get across is that common sense, coupled with a sense of situational awareness is necessary everywhere we go around the world.
Walk a dark beach alone at night, you are taking unnecessary risks. Flash wads of money around or wear handfuls of diamonds, people will take notice. Leave a camera sitting on the seat of your car, someone will be tempted.
It goes without saying that it’s simply smart to lock your doors and keep a low profile, especially when surrounded by people who struggle to survive. Heck, I wouldn’t do those things in the USA, either.
Take it from those of us who are here, Jamaica, as a whole, is not under siege.
The resorts, restaurants, tour bus drivers and shop owners want you to know that they take your safety seriously and are looking out for you. One love, sunshine and smiling faces are still going to greet you. So, pack your bags, get on down here and escape the cold. In towns like Treasure Beach (read more here), on the south coast of Jamaica, every little thing is STILL alright!