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Entertainment events and crime

Jamaica Gleaner / One day a few years ago, I stood outside the Afrique pub on the lower part of King Street, downtown Kingston, and heard King Stitt talk about having to run from the police when he was playing sound systems in the earlier days of Jamaican popular music. It was not because he was doing anything that actually broke the law, but, as he put it, to play a sound system was like a crime.

Then there are the legends of police raiding dances and separating the men wearing Clarks shoes from the other patrons, then marching the men wearing dancehall’s favourite footwear for processing.

Buju Banton’s Operation Ardent, about a police raid on a dance in the early 1990s, is a reminder about the use of force to curtail music events (who can forget the line, “man a try squeeze knife dung inna Red Stripe beer”?). In the following decade, Mavado put the raid on his party with On The Rock.

And so the most recent stop order on entertainment events by the police in Clarendon, because of fears of violence, has a history. Not too long ago, a particular entertainer was banned from performing in parts of western Jamaica because of similar fears. What we have to ask ourselves is if the strategy is correct and if it is effective.

On the face of it, the approach is a reasonable stop-gap measure. Not only do many people gather at dances, so the possibility of innocent bystanders getting hurt if there is shooting is higher, but there are other factors at play. The heightened environment of an entertainment event – including the intake of alcohol – makes it more likely for things to get out of hand. It is impossible for he police to monitor every event that is being held in even one town, much less an entire parish.

Still, there is something about the implied association between entertainment and violence which rubs me wrong, and I am sure that there are other gatherings which are in fact entertainment which are not being affected. There is many a nine night that is in fact a party. The same goes for bars where the music is playing and people are drinking. Will those be affected too?

I fear that the shutting down of entertainment events because of potential violence, plays into a history of seeing gatherings around Jamaican popular music – notably dances – as outside the boundaries of the law. Yes, ‘bad man go dance’. But they go to other places too, and it would be interesting to know how many people have been killed at entertainment events, compared to those in their beds.

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