On Thursday 13 March, Vybz Kartel (real name, Adidja Palmer) was found guilty of murdering former associate Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams following a 65 day trial – the longest in Jamaica’s judicial history, writes Nadine White.
To give a brief run-through of the facts; it was alleged that Williams was beaten to death at Kartel’s home after being summoned to the premises to discuss the disappearance of two of the artist’s guns.
Although no body was found, substantial evidence linked Kartel to the crime, including text messages outlining how Williams would be disposed of and ‘cut up fine, fine into mincemeat’.
Kartel, also known as ‘Adidja the Teacher,’ was arrested in the autumn of 2011 and since then, there has been a widespread (primarily internet-based and verbal) campaign for his freedom, particularly among young people.
Following the jury’s verdict, calls for his release intensified, escalating into a mini-riot outside of Kingston’s Supreme Court (where the case was heard) and allegations that schoolchildren left their classrooms to protest on the street while chanting ‘No teacher, no school’.
Perhaps that time would have been better spent coming together to demonstrate over the country’s soaring youth unemployment rate of 13.2%; exchange rate of JMD$180.71 to the pound; or poor healthcare services?
While the overwhelming influence of popular culture is prevalent in most countries, the case seems to be exaggerated on the small island of Jamaica. Has Kartel’s celebrity made him exempt from any possible wrongdoing?
The Teacher is responsible for a countless number of international hits, including Clarks, Ramping Shop, Summertime (above), and has been at the forefront of the dancehall scene for over a decade.
He is dancehall’s leading proponent, a global brand and in many ways viewed as a Neo-Bob Marley. Subsequently, this highly publicized court case has emphasized and perhaps added to the longstanding social divide that exists between ‘the system’ and people of Jamaica.
Although this situation is far less drastic, it is reminiscent of the incursion in Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston back in 2010, when US and Jamaican armed forces sought to capture and extradite gang leader Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke for gun and drug-running.
A two-day stand-off ensued between the local community and armed forces, resulting in 76 deaths and Dudus’ arrest.
While it is widely-acknowledged that Dudus headed one of the world’s largest international crime syndicates, his supporters defended him because he served his community well, providing jobs and financial support to hundreds and possibly thousands of people.
Similarly, Kartel has serviced a generation of party-goers and young people through his singles, albums and videos, in a country where music is its greatest triumph, pastime and export.
His various business ventures include Street Vybz Rum, Daggering Condoms, shoes and, of course, his music label, which launched the careers of talented stars such as Jah Vinci, Popcaan, Gaza Slim and Tommy Lee.
He is regarded as a voice of the ‘ghetto youth’ and deemed as inspirational. This, plus his entertainment value, guarantees mass support, despite his heinous crime. Apparently, people back the artist in response to what they deem to be an even more depraved government.
The power of notoriety and celebrity can be immense. Just as a Tivoli Gardens resident held up a sign during the riots of 2010 which read: ‘Jesus died for us, so we will die for Dudus,’ so the ‘Teacher’s’ moniker evokes similar Christ-like devotion.
Influential men, such as Kartel and Dudus are often viewed as untouchable, immortal and almost God-like. Despite a huge amount of pressure from the US government, few people expected the Jamaican gang leader to be extradited. The rude awakening experienced in both situations only adds fuel to an already volatile fire.
The ‘Free Kartel’ movement advocated by the artist’s protégés and peers has been vocal, and yet there is little mention of the victim.
At the Sting concert back in December, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean sang ‘Free Vybz Kartel’ and got one of the biggest forwards of the evening. Where are the forwards and movements for justice for Clive Williams? There are none.
Both Dudus and Kartel prove that in Jamaica, charisma, personality and community servitude can help you override almost any moral or ethical obstacle.
A similar mentality can be found among people of Jamaican descent living in London who have a painful and bloody relationship with the Metropolitan Police force.
Over the past 50 years, dozens of people have died in London as a result of police brutality and racist attacks, which often appear to be condoned by ‘a system’ that fiercely protects its institutions, even when they act in an untrustworthy or unscrupulous manner.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in London there were 210 murder victims of black-on-black crime that same year, and yet no uproar in response to these fatalities.
It would appear that Jamaicans and their descendents accept violent crime within their own communities, but are intolerant of similar offences committed by ‘the system’.
On average, three people are murdered everyday in Jamaica. Should we assume the island’s citizens have become so desensitized to murder and the loss of life that little regard or sympathy is shown for genuine victims such as Lizard (above)?
In the aftermath of the trial, Kartel’s mother and sister were interviewed on their thoughts and feelings, but I am unaware of much (if any) coverage on Lizard’s family.
Kartel is alive, well and enjoys the status of a modern-day martyr. Fortunately for him, he remains the dancehall scene’s most popular artist, regularly releasing new songs from captivity.
His influence stretches beyond the confinement of prison walls; he has gained weight and has somewhere to lay his head at night.
Legions of dancehall patrons say ‘Free Kartel,’ but in light of the facts, I ask: ‘Is he really incarcerated’?