965 bullets, 965 lives

Local cops, US counterparts tracing players behind major arms shipment Diaspora leaders respond to call for action on gun-smuggling issue, say inclusivity key

The cache of 64 guns and nearly 1,000 bullets confiscated at the Kingston Wharves on Friday were shipped from Miami in the United States and were destined for a violent gang based in the Jamaican capital, law enforcement sources have disclosed.

The serial numbers on some of the guns were erased.

The two men now in custody were collared as they attempted to take possession of the illegal arms shipment, claimed law enforcement sources, who declined to share details of the arrests, citing the “sensitive” ongoing investigation.

Florida, where the city of Miami is located, is one of the top five American states from which guns are illegally shipped to Jamaica. The others are Georgia, North Dakota, Indiana and Texas.

Deputy Police Commissioner Fitz Bailey declined to comment on the investigation when contacted by The Sunday Gleaner yesterday, but confirmed that local detectives are working with American authorities to identify “all the players”.

“The guns were purchased in the United States. Somebody must have purchased the guns, put the consignment and concealment together … . The firearms did not just automatically go to a shipper,” he said.

“Those are questions that will have to be answered and we are putting out all the resources and making all the appropriate contacts to ensure that justice is done,” added Bailey, head of the crime security portfolio.

He used the interception of the latest cache of guns and bullets to turn the “searchlight” on Jamaicans in the diaspora, urging them to utilise their community groups and social media influence to do more to help stem the flow of guns into the island.

A total of 64 mostly pistols, 965 assorted rounds of ammunition and 107 magazines – almost two for each gun – were seized during an operation at the wharf with assistance from the Jamaica Customs Agency, the police reported.

“We are talking about 965 rounds [of ammunition] … . We are talking about at least 965 lives that could have been lost,” Bailey noted.

He also questioned: “How many of them (Jamaicans in diaspora) are aware of persons sending weapons to Jamaica and ever alerted authorities in the United States?”

“The diaspora complain about the level of crime and violence in Jamaica, but they need to do something, too. They have a responsibility,” the deputy police commissioner told The Sunday Gleaner.

“Jamaicans in the diaspora have several platforms, including social media, which they can use to dissuade people from destroying their country. Instead of criticising the state of violence in Jamaica, they can play a part.”

Irwin Clare, a New York City-based long-serving leader in the Jamaican diaspora, agreed with and welcomed Bailey’s suggestions, but cautioned that this has to be done “in a spirit and environment of inclusivity”.

“Meaning that there is involvement by all and sundry who have the appetite or the requisite skill set and understanding of crime and violence. We have expertise here,” Clarke explained.

He charged that for “too long now”, there has been an impression, “deliberately or otherwise”, that Jamaicans with the requisite law enforcement skill set who live outside their homeland “are not invited to the table”.

“That needs to be cleared up. Whether it is factual or otherwise, that is the perception, and for many, it’s a belief that has led to a lot of angst,” he added.

“That is how we begin to build a trust factor because there is a deficit, a serious trust-factor deficit.”

Irwin said personally, he does not know anyone smuggling guns to Jamaica, but said he believes that “many of us in leadership would report such activities” if they had knowledge of it.

However, Wilfred Rattigan, a Jamaica-born retired US Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent, believes the suggestion by Bailey is misplaced.

Instead, Rattigan, who hails from the tough community of Waterhouse in St Andrew, believes Jamaican authorities should make greater use of the Global Diaspora Council (GDC), which has representatives covering the entire US.

“When you make a statement that the diaspora is supposed to do this or that, are you referring to John Tom, who has a 9 to 5 at a factory, and saying to him that if you know anything…?” Rattigan questioned.

“No, you should go to your representatives,” he said, explaining that Jamaican authorities should place more reliance on members of the GDC.

“I am yet to hear of a situation where they (Jamaican authorities) have gone to the group that they created and say, ‘Listen, we need you to reach out to your constituents, set up a plan, identify sources within your constituencies and have regularly scheduled meetings with them regarding this issue’,” he said.

Further, Rattigan said he is yet to see the GDC move to establish a liaison with shipping companies in the US to create a proactive programme that would monitor “who is shipping what so that we can stop the guns before they even leave the shores of America”.

“So, challenge the people that you have put in place. Don’t come and say ‘the diaspora’ because now you make it incumbent upon everyone to become a detective, and you don’t do it that way,” he charged.

The 64 guns intercepted on Friday – one of the largest in recent times – is the second major seizure made at a Jamaican port in a week.

Fourteen guns and 15 magazines – concealed among household items in a plastic barrel – were seized at the Freeport Warehouse in St James on February 9 during an operation carried out by the police and the Customs Agency’s Contraband Enforcement Team

This shipment also originated in Florida.

In the last six years, the police have intercepted nearly 400 guns and more than 5,000 bullets at the country’s ports of entry, mainly in Kingston and St James.