It was a beautiful morning. Hot as July. The perfect sky marred
only by the presence of helicopters drifting wasplike over the city
skyline. The still moist air also shattered occasionally by the
way-too-close bark of gunfire from the ghetto community of August
I am becoming frustrated of staying home and doing nothing. Bruce
called at about 8:30am, to update me on the days activities: we
were assuming that we were still shooting an interview with the
Prince of Soca, Oscar B, at Harry's Bar at 11:00 am, so we should
meet at Harry's at 9:30am. Maybe, maybe not. He called back 15 mins.
later to say that it was canceled. Ah well, we understand, the Riots
and all. Maybe we'll be able to do the one with Beenie Man on Wed.
Bruce calls back at about 11:00am with a cool idea. Let's go on
the road in the Liguanea/Barbican area and see what kind of footage
we can get from what's happening out there. We're not going to any
of the REAL danger zones, so it'll be all right. Cool! So I printed
up two "Urban Vibes - CREW" stickers fro Bruce's van. He got here
at about 1pm and we outfitted ourselves with towels and water against
any tear gas, still cameras and video cameras, our Urban Vibes Polo
Shirts, and two cold Heinekens. I called Marsha and did the "I Love
You"s and told her what I was wearing in case she needed to identify
my body. You know - Hope for the Best - Expect the Worst.
First of all, we drove over to Jamaica
College, where we heard on the radio, the students of U.W.I. and
UTech (formerly CAST) we heard to have been passing in a peaceful
march when they were teargassed. We found said students in Liguanea,
indeed, marching peacefully, holding hands and singing. They were
joined along the way by masses from all the ghettos nearby. We interviewed
one of the students who seemed to be taking on a leadership role
amongst the crowd, and he told us they were on their way to Jamaica
House to protest peacefully and present their ideas for better revenue
collection. At Matilda's Corner - Central Liguanea the air was rocked
by the explosions of more teargas canisters going off. Not close
enough to have direct effect, but minutes later, faint fumes caused
the eyes to water. In front of Sovereign Center, some of the youths
jumped onto the van for a ride down with "The Vibes Crew". At this
point, we turned around in the Post Office, bade the friendly youths
good-bye and headed over to Barbican Square.
The activity in Barbican Square was centered
at the Texaco Star Mart at the foot of Jacks Hill. The crowd consisted
mainly of the upper-middle, and upper-class residents of Jacks Hill,
Cherry Gardens and Barbican. The atmosphere was almost Carnival-like,
with expensive cars and truck parked all about. Most with a cooler
open filled with ice and alcoholic beverages, a black e-class Benz
sat idling and belting out Bob Marley tunes at high volume on an
impressive sounding stereo. So we stayed a while. Took a couple
of shots of Sean-Paul (DJ) and friends. Had a beer and just generally
hung out. We heard, via radio, that the students had reached Jamaica
House and they were doing their thing. Ah! Excitement! Let's go
have a look!
We doubled back into residential Barbican
and took Paddington down to East Kingshouse Rd. only to find that
side deserted and blocked by soldiers and police. Apparently they
had completely sealed off the intersection of Hope, East Kings House
and Lady Musgrave Roads, to prevent more people from massing in front
of Jamaica House. A crowd which had reportedly reached 5,000 - 7,000
people - mostly students. We decided to go through the Sandy Park
area and come out onto Hope Rd. just above the Bob Marley Museum then
drive down to the same intersection and shoot some footage there.
So we did. Bruce stopped the van in the middle of the road behind
a HUGE crowd of people we thought were students, just as they were
breaking up and heading back in our direction. Great, we thought,
we can catch them as they swarm by the van. I soon recognized the
crowd, not as students, but as the rabble who had followed the students
down. No problem, they milled around and past the van, and a couple
of them jumped onto the bonnet of the van then off again. At this
point, I thought it prudent to beat a hasty retreat to avoid riders
and hangers-on. Bruce had no such fear, still thinking that these
were peaceful, rational students.
"Let's roll B" I said. By this time, the
crowd around the van had gotten thick, 4 or five had now jumped onto
the sides of the moving van. Then came the snowball effect, we were
going in the same direction as them, so we were obviously their ride.
Before we knew it, the van was mobbed and boarded by about 30 -35
of the youth in the crowd making the inside dark now, for all the
bodies plastered to the outside. At last, we couldn't even see to
drive. There was much shouting and demanding of rides to Papine, the
offers to remove Bruce and let someone else drive, commands to clear
the way for the driver and so on. Bruce was now fed up, and defiant,
so he turned left onto a side road to get back to Barbican square
and hopefully lose some riders when they saw we weren't going their
way. No such luck...
This action was met with great protest.
"Hey, driver, tek us to Liguanea! How yu
"Yow driver! A Papine we a go! Don't romp!"
"Oy driver! Tek we go a Papine or we kill
They were beating on the sides, cursing and threatening. Hanging
in through the windows demanding money and the cameras to "run some
The adrenaline was running high now. One
of the youths had entered the van through the sunroof, through which
I was shooting. My mind racing, I took out the camera and started
interviewing him, with a thousand bodies pressing around the van
rocking it and darkening the interior. I asked my interviewee, Kevin,
to get his friends to ease off of the van so me and him could do
the interview. That offered some relief as they moved from in front
of the van to crowd the sides to see what was going on inside. I
asked him a few questions, not even hearing the answers. In one
of those strange, slow-motion, adrenaline-silent moments I thought:
"I should really call Marsha and talk to her. This could be the
That was the reprieve we needed to regroup.
The crowd was getting ugly again, so we agreed to take them as far
as Liguanea. We reversed and headed up Hope Rd. 25-30 riders and
all. The road was blocked by debris all the way up, we had to take
the undulating soft shoulder up most of the way. We would pass groups
of people trying to reinforce the blockades, but our riders gained
us passage with shouts of:
"Don't block de road!"
"Show! Show! Showa a come true!"
(Show(a) = JLP loyalists "warcry")
Matilda's corner, by Sovereign. A particularly bad roadblock. Stones
strewn around the entire intersection, and more angry protesters.
All this time, not another car, not a single security person. The
new rabble now rushed the van and demanded that it be turned over
to block the intersection. Bruce, oblivious to this, stops to let
off the riders and navigate the stony intersection. Some sort of
conflict developed outside and some of the riders came off to defend
"Show! Showa! Ooonu move!"
The van rocked.
"Bruce, we have to go NOW!"
"ANYWHERE, JUST GO! NOW! NOW!"
He did. Fast. We took the left around behind Sovereign and the Esso
Tiger Mart, dislodging 15 or 20 of the riders who were still on,
leaving only 6 or so, including Kevin. Bruce howled the van around
the corner with the angry mob chasing us. By now, the 6 in/on the
van with us are instantly enemies of the mob, for staying with us,
and now our allies.
As we turned the corner we hit two roadblocks.
"Go roun my yout'! Fast! Fast! Dem a come!"
The first of the mob bussed the corner at a run.
"Tek it on the side Bruce! Go! Go!"
That was the first one. The second was harder. Bruce stopped briefly
then floored it. We blasted through the metal barrels in the way,
but one got stuck under the van. Not that it mattered, we weren't
stopping now. All 8 of us were in a panic. We had now drawn attention
from the onlookers in the area. As we topped that small rise in
the road, just past Lane Plaza, right by the Orchid Patch and The
Guilt Trip, another roadblock.
This one was serious. A car and a big water
tank. There were orders from Kevin for his boys to clear it:
"No! No! Tun back! Dat one deh easier!"
jumped off again to clear the debris. Fast. We were now tearing
through Lane plaza.
"Don't mek dat guy come pon de car! Drive Driver! Drive!"
"Move it Bruce! Just Drive! Floor it!"
"Bumboclaat! Si dem deh!"
rest of the mob had gone straight up Hope Rd. and met us at the
entrance/exit to lane plaza. Bruce howled around the corner and
weaved through the crowd on the road.
"Move! Move! Oonu Move!"
More roadblocks. Skillful navigation took us through them and past
the last of the mob, jumping at the van and shouting at us. As we
hit Happy Ice and Welcome Supermarket, we broke free of the mob.
We ALL broke into singing and shouts of joy:
"Rhaatid! What a hexcape!"
"We mek it! We mek it!"
This jubilation took us all the way to Papine, where Kevin and his
massive set us up with a promo. The group stood in the middle of
the road in deserted Papine and gave us a hearty "Big up Urban Vibes!"
We drove away with our lives, some interesting footage, and minus
one Canon A1 still camera - Bruce's. On the way back to Bruce's,
we stopped on Skyline drive to look out over Kingston, maybe trying
to spot someone who had a similar experience. We saw no one.
Pray for us. Pray for your country. Pray
Janet, Don't worry. Marsha is OK and she spoke to Michael, who is
also OK. Col
April 25, 1999
April 24, 1999