The term Yardies has come to be the descriptive word for Jamaican gangsters, particularly in the places where they have settled abroad – most notable the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The word derives however, from a more general term. Following the damage caused in the Caribbean in 1951 by Hurricane Charlie, Trenchtown in Kingston was rebuilt, featuring developments constructed around a central courtyard. Trenchtown soon became a poverty stricken area and the occupants became known as ‘Yardies’.
Without delving too much into Jamaican history, it became independent from the United Kingdom in 1962. The first years of independence were economically successful but there was a perception of inequality – that new found wealth was not making its way into the hands of those who needed it most.
Two political parties, the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) dominated the political arena and began to use gangs from the poorer districts (such as Trenchtown) to intimidate locals into voting a particular way. In return the gangs, led by a ‘don’, were rewarded with money which enabled them to arm themselves and become criminal operations. The politicians had created a problem which they now lacked the power to deal with.
Violence between the gangs, mostly related to the burgeoning and lucrative Jamaican drugs trade, reached almost ludicrous proportions in 1980 when 1,100 people were killed. The international community became involved, not least because of the vast amount of drugs emanating from Jamaica and the party in power, the JLP led by Edward Seaga, knew they had to act.
Seaga, rather than attempt the largely hopeless task of taking on the gangs head to head, decided on the innovative solution of exporting their problems. He persuaded large numbers of Yardies that it would be better for everyone if they went abroad and so the first wave of Jamaican criminals headed to the place they knew they could fit into the local community, the United States. Thus the U.S. became the first country to tackle the Yardie problem.
Part two follows…