Despite being advertised overseas as a ‘friendly city’, on the ground, Montego Bay, St James, is fast becoming a killing field where the joys of sea, sand and sun are steadily being replaced by the murderous rampage of gangsters.
Montego Bay has become a notorious black spot for law enforcement, registering in excess of 100 murders every year since 2002, as gangsters, operating mostly out of the city’s 19 unplanned communities, regularly leave death and destruction in their wake.
While gangs like One Order (Flankers) Killer Bees (Granville), Miguel Jarrett (Flower Hill), Tight Pants (North Gully) and Piranha (Bottom Pen) have all left bloody imprints on the city over the years, in terms of sheer ruthlessness and brutality, the Norwood-based Stone Crusher gang has been the deadliest of all.
Stone Crusher, formerly the Renegade gang, had its genesis in the community of Hendon, Norwood, in northwest St James, in the early 1990s. In those early days, the gang, made up of men and a few women in their early 20s, regularly engaged Piranha from neighbouring Bottom Pen in street battles.
Youngsters taking over
With deaths – at the hands of the police and fellow gangsters, and prison sentences for various crimes committed – and migration mostly to the United States, the pioneers steadily made way for youngsters who grew up around the gang and have become more proficient at dishing out violence.
“From you live in the area, people see you as a Renegade … . It was like a community thing,” a former gangster told The Gleaner. “In wartime, everybody unite behind the Renegade.”
With the top leadership steadily changing hands, the new and younger leaders, especially those who had lost relatives to violence, decided to take on a more forceful image and rebranded the gang Stone Crusher, opening the door to an era of unprecedented lawlessness as cold-blooded murder, including the beheading of victims, became their trademark.
“Di yute dem born come si dem relatives getting murdered in gang war,” said the former gangster. “… So what is happening today is mostly reprisal … . It is the same war from back in the days … the only thing is that more yute have gun.” Because they operate like community protectors, and in some instances, like Robin Hoods – sharing the proceeds of robbery with the community – the Stone Crushers are at times revered by those around them who see them as a necessity, especially in times of trouble.
“Police nuh really care ’bout inner-city people, so wi have to deal with our thing on our own,” a female member of the community said. “If we don’t defend ourselves, people will come and walk over us.” Between 2001 and 2006, the Stone Crusher gang reached the peak of its dubious power, turning out several notorious leaders who, at different times, became ‘most wanted’, both in St James and nationally. The list includes Delano ‘Bigga Crime’ Williams, arguably the most brutal member of the gang, Michael ‘Lassie’ Forbes, Garfield ‘Don’ Sawyers, and Rohan ‘Don’ Gordon.
Because they operated mostly out of the informal communities which feature rugged terrain, dilapidated roads, few street lights and a culture of silence among residents, the gangsters were able to elude the police whenever they were targeted in raids.
The Stone Crusher gang touched the nerve of the nation in 2005 when a few weeks after a man’s head was placed on a stool, surrounded by burning candles, into the middle of a Norwood road, another man was beheaded and his head placed in front of the Church Street police post in downtown Montego Bay.
When the infamous ‘lotto scam’, which dumped an estimated US$30 million into the hands of scammers, came to the fore in 2003, the Stone Crusher gang cashed in big time. Initially, the gang started out by robbing scammers at gunpoint. Then they turned to extortion, killing scammers who failed to meet their demands. After this, some became bodyguards for scammers involved in feuds with other scammers.
With vast sums of money coming into its hands, the Stone Crusher gang became highly sophisticated, as it was able to acquire high-powered rifles and expensive cars, which significantly increased its mobility and allowed it to expand the scope of its street control. The illicit lotto money, which left several St James communities awash with cash, also resulted in an unholy alliance between gangsters and corrupt police who, at times found themselves on the same side in feuds involving scammers they were aligned with or against.
“I know policemen who became so tight with the Crushers that people started seeing them as Crusher,” an ex-scammer told The Gleaner. “A lot of the scam killings that took place were done by gangsters and gangster police working together.” On a few occasions, the St James police found themselves in embarrassing situations as a result of the ties between corrupt policemen and the Crushers. In one such instance, a marked police vest, which had not been reported missing, was found among the cache of guns and ammunition seized during a raid on a Stone Crusher hideout.
Last year, two policemen on interdiction were named among the parish’s most wanted. The two men, who resided in the heart of Stone Crusher territory, subsequently turned themselves in to the police and were processed and released. However, a police source told The Gleaner that the matter is not closed. With Eldon Calvert, the last-known high-profile leader of the Stone Crusher gang now in police custody, the gang is seemingly in limbo. However, in the past two months, there has been some sign of activity as two men, described as individuals vying for control of the gang, were killed in alleged confrontations with the police.
Despite their toned-down status, many feel the Stone Crusher gang is still a force to be reckoned with, as its overseas members are consistently sending money to keep gangsters here relevant in their communities. In fact, like the mythical Greek creature, the Hydra, it would appear that each time the head of the gang is removed, several new ones emerge, vying for leadership.
“As long as we continue to have guns in idle hands, we will always have youngsters vying to become top gangsters,” said a former gangster. “These youngsters need to be educated and their energies channelled into gainful employment … . They need to see another way of life.”
With the Ministry of National Security declaring an all-out war on gangs, it will be interesting to see how Superintendent Merrick Watson, the new commanding officer of the St James police, will fare against gangs like the Stone Crusher, especially since the conditions on the ground remain much the same as when the gang came to the fore.