I remember when I was 16, I was dating this girl who used to live just below Grants Pen, off Upper Waterloo Road. She was my second serious girlfriend. I remember how sometimes I used to stay there so late, I just slept over. Neither her parents nor mine knew this happened, because I would get up at about 4:30 AM and walk through Grants Pen to Constant Spring Road, where I'd catch the first bus for the morning and get home before my parents awoke. I'd sneak in and lie down in my bed and pretend I had been there all night. Now don't get me wrong, I don't want to besmirch her honour, as we never did go all the way (though I really wished I had at the time!), it was just that I could barely drag myself away from her. It would get late, and she didn't want me to leave because it was dangerous to walk home that late through Grants Pen.
Even then (twenty years ago), Grants Pen was dangerous. Nothing like today, of course... If I was to try that 4:30 AM walk today, I'd better have written my will first, but it was bad even then. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to intimate that all the people of Grants Pen are dangerous, or bad, but there definitely were some bad eggs there. Even then drugs were being sold there. I had a friend who used to use a lot of ganja (marijuana) and he got involved in coke at about that time and he used to buy from dealers in Grants Pen. He eventually flipped out, and has since died.
And it has progressively gotten worse. Grants Pen has a majority JLP voting population, but with a PNP minority (Morgan Lane), and both sets of people seem to be belligerent in the extreme. Guns have been firing in that community for a long time.
About five years after that girlfriend left me, say about 1981, I was entangled in an even more serious relationship. One night, my girlfriend and I went out to a session, and on the way home, I developed a flat tire. Guess where? In Grants Pen, man! Let me tell you, my girlfriend insisted that I drive home with the flat, but I knew that the tire would be utterly destroyed if I did as she wished, and my father would be mad if I destroyed the tire, so I stopped to fix it (I was more stupid then ). Grants Pen had such a bad reputation that she immediately burst into tears, and she cried uncontrollably throughout the time we were there. Luckily, another girl I knew was going home with her boyfriend, and they stopped and helped me change the tire, and we escaped unscathed. Some years later, another couple was going home from a party and they stopped at the same spot where my tire had gone flat, and a gunman attempted to steal the car. The man drove off when the gunman ordered him to stop, and the gunman shot him. I don't remember now if he survived. But don't think I was exaggerating, Grants Pen was pretty hot back then too.
I didn't have much to do with that area for several years except for just driving through it, then I got married and moved near there.The apartment complex we lived in was ok, but hey, we were near Grants Pen. Our complex was plagued by thieves. They took to breaking into cars from a few apartment complexes in the area and stealing out the radios (probably to buy crack or something). A friend of mine who also lived in the area said to me "Its as though we are back in cave man days... We live near the dinosaur's den. When he gets hungry and comes outside and raises his nose into the wind, sniffing the air for the scent of prey, it is us that he smells". Yessir, we basically were reduced to the state of prey animals. They raided the complex regularly. One night someone saw them and raised an alarm. The would be robber fired a shot at the person, narrowly missing them. The bullet eventually lodged itself into the wall above where his wife was sleeping...
This eventually culminated in the death of the security guard who worked at our complex. One night, everyone else in the complex was asleep. I was on the internet, so I was awake. I heard the security guard say "Who dat?!!" or something like that, then I heard a single shot. The security guard ran down to the apartment buildings from the gate, screaming and shouting for help... I felt awful, because I really wanted to open my door and let him in, but I thought that the shooter might have followed him. If I opened my door to help him, they might come in on my wife and I. I could do nothing, just sit and listen to him crying for help. Let me tell you, that was a horrible feeling. My wife awoke, and so did the other people in the complex. She'd heard the shot, and awoke disoriented. I basically had to explain what had happened, and told her to call the police. I stood at the door, listening to the man crying for help, thinking about what I could use as a weapon should they kick in my door, and about how I wished I could help the guard. Eventually, his cries for help subsided, and we stayed indoors, wondering what to do. I thought he must have run away because I couldn't hear the guard anymore.
The police came. Many police, at least 5 cars of full of them. We went outside, and I explained what I'd heard. They searched the complex and found the guard's body right by an apartment door. He had been knocking and scratching at the door, begging for help and to be let in, but the resident, (who is a friend of mine) was too afraid to open the door. The guard died right there...
The police were still there, questioning, us all, when a shot was fired on a street adjacent to our complex. Apparently when the men shot the guard and ran, they didn't make good their escape, but rather, they hid in a bushy open lot next to the complex... Someone who lived on the street adjacent the complex had seen movement in the open lot and, having heard the shot at our complex earlier, decided to squeeze off a round. The police (who we were still talking to) bid us go inside, and they piled into their cars and went in hot pursuit to find out what the shot was fired about. Trust me, it was the quickest either my wife or I had ever negotiated the stairs to get inside my apartment. We turned out the lights, and got "flat", hoping that any stray shots would pass safely overhead. Almost as soon as we lay down, we heard the police challenge the man in the bushes, then we heard a barrage of shots... I still remember how I cheered when I heard it, like I was at a football match, and my team had scored a goal. We found out later that the police had found one man hiding in the bushes. It is alleged that they asked him to throw down his arms and to come out with his hands up, but he opened fire upon them. They returned the fire, and he was fatally shot.
While the car break ins fell in number, we were still affected by members of the Grants Pen community. One night some gunmen came to the complex with a small truck. They held the then security guard at gunpoint and forced him to open the gate. They then drove through the gate and drove up to a motorcycle (a Ninja) owned by a resident of the complex... About five men alighted from the truck and they simply lifted the bike into the back of the truck and jumped in after it, then drove back out... At least no-one was killed that time though.
Since then, my wife and I moved to a new complex, which is also near to Grants Pen, but fortunately for us, it has not yet been attacked like the last one we live in. (I pause here to knock wood. I wonder if the strata paid protection money to the Don.). We often hear barrages of shots from there though, and we are always having flyovers by the JDF helicopters as the authorities enforce curfews and/or searches in the area. Police and the army seem to be constantly deployed in the area. More recently the "Area Leader" (Crime boss might be an apt interpretation. They say he was involved in cocaine, protection rackets and other such "area leading activities.) of Grants Pen was killed in what appears to have been highly questionable circumstances by the Crime Management Unit (The CMU) commanded by Renato Adams. This is not the first questionable killings attributed to this police squad. The people of the community began riotting, blocking roads, throwing stones at cars passing through the area, and they have actually reduced one vehicle to a crisp. When I started writing this, Grants Pen was under curfew. I heard many police sirens racing back and forth in the area.
I remember when the seven youths were shot (seemingly murdered) in Braeton by the Crime Management Unit (which some call the "Death Squad', (An enquiry into that series of murders is currently taking place, see the Gleaner Newspaper at http://) I was very vocal in criticising the CMU. Now their activities have brought them closer to home. Truthfully, I think we as a society can do without Andrew Phang (the "area leader" in question) though I hear that all hell will now break out as other criminals try to succeed. At the same time, I dislike the way the police are alleged to have "rubbed him out". Many are wondering whether acts such as these constitute the only way of fighting crime in Jamaica today, and I can understand how they are thinking. I've found out that when the shots are falling around your legs, you're likely to respond differently to acts such as these than when its all taking place remote to you.