Best News & Current Affairs Blog (2011 & 2012) and Jamaican Blogger of the Year (2011) at The Jamaica Blog Awards.

Guilty! : How the Kartel Trial Shamed A Nation


After deliberating for just under two hours, the 11 member jury returned its verdict. The three men and eight women found Adijah Palmer, and three of his four co-accused, guilty of the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams. The verdict has put to rest a legal drama that began in 2011, one which fascinated and mystified the nation, but there were more sinister undercurrents at play here. As much as my own conscience tells me justice has been done, and as much as I would rather not see any selfless heroism in a convicted murderer; I am unable to shake the feeling that in the end Vybz Kartel was able to serve as a living testament, a sacrificial lamb of sorts, for many of the realities dancehall music has explored over the years. Kartel’s arrest, trial and conviction put the very state on trial, and on nearly all counts, Jamaica was found guilty.

Many of Jamaica’s chronic problems, particularly our structural and socio-economic challenges, were forcefully brought to bear over the 65 days that Kartel stood on trial. In many ways the proverbial mirror was held to our collective faces and we were invited to confront a society in ruins, and a country dangerously close to failed state status. The massive throng of “Gazaites” that descended on the Supreme Court, in the middle of the work week, was more than just a base of support for the embattled entertainer. Rather, it was the harsh reflection of a country struggling with a massive unemployment crisis. Those fans were symptomatic of the 15% of the population who have such precious little to do that banding together as a chorus with shouts of “Free Kartel” and “No Teacha, No School” was a legitimate use of their time and productive energies. As the security forces struggled to restrain the maraudering masses, the imagery was striking. We were witnessing the state and its agents struggle, and in one instance, fail to control runaway unemployment; and even worse, the anxieties and frustrations that necessarily come with it. Kartel, of course, had highlighted this reality; for him, it was an emergency. He saw suffering and earnestly questioned the nation’s leaders for answers and solutions on behalf of his constituents, on behalf of his loyal fans. How ironic, then, that his trial should put on display, for all the world to see, the real emergency Jamaica faces where unemployment is concerned. On count one, Jamaica was found guilty of negligence and economic instability.

ImageEven more shocking than the display of rampant unemployment was the blow this trial did to the legitimacy of the justice system in the eyes of the masses. For many, myself included, our cultural prejudices could reach no other verdict in the Kartel matter but guilty. However for many, indeed for most, it was never that simple. It was a matter of the system vs. the poor. Perhaps no one was more aware of this reality than Kartel’s lead defence attorney, Tom Taveres-Finson. Mr. Finson crafted an entire strategy grounded on the idea that the police cannot be trusted, and a conspiracy existed against Kartel because of who he is. Mr. Finson manipulated a most basic sentiment among the masses of our population,  the idea that “di system corrupt.” Finson’s strategy was never for those of us who wanted Kartel gone, it was for those who have an abiding distrust in the state’s law enforcement apparatus. For so many their doubt was reasonable enough – there was no legitimacy, there is no justice. While the jury may have avoided the bait, the masses who looked on took it hook, line and sinker. Many observers saw  nothing more than a system which conspired and colluded to put a “ghetto yute” behind bars. In their eyes, there was no justice, but rather there was a chronic failure of justice, a bias against the poor. Undoubtedly, this sets back confidence in the constabulary force and the criminal justice system ten fold. The allegations of evidence tampering may have cemented in the minds of inner city youth the legends of police planting evidence, the stories of extra-judicial killings bolstered and legitimized by planting guns on dead men. For those who already disliked and distrusted the security forces, the claims of shoddy policing in this case was the clearest evidence yet that their fears and distrust had been justified. So while we all celebrate a triumph for the prosecution, let us be mindful that Jamaica may have won the battle, but as a country we lost the war. On count two, Jamaica was found guilty of the absence of a credible justice system, certainly in the minds of the masses.

ImageFinally, there was a certain callous disregard for human life. As a society, we were collectively tried and found wanting for several reasons. Firstly, I admit myself disappointed that in the unfolding media coverage and hype surrounding this trial, the victim, Clive Williams, was all but forgotten. When the media did mention the man who was allegedly “chop up fine fine fine”, it was with disregard and in passing. It is disappointing to me that what should have been a trial in search of justice for Williams, became the Kartel show; it had less to do with the brutal death of a man, and more to do with the infamy of Vybz Kartel. As a society, we were almost willing to free Kartel, in spite of Clive Williams. Our selfish need to consume violent lyrics and degrading references to women took precedence over a man’s life. We ought to be ashamed. Kartel’s trial betrayed the ever declining value we place on human life in this country. For many Jamaicans, it was okay to disregard Lizard, because “he was no angel”,  but for me it was never about Lizard’s character, it was about the fact that murder, no matter the victim, must never be treated with callous disregard. On count three, the value we place on human life, we were found wanting. Have we become so immune to violence that life means nothing? You can decide our innocence or guilt as a nation.

ImageIn the final analysis, Adijah Palmer has served a greater purpose than he may have realized. While he perhaps only sees the fact that he is facing 25 years to life, he can take solace in the fact that he presented, by way of his trial, evidence that his art did reflect life, it reflected Jamaican life. Whether our leaders will treat decisively with these issues is to be seen; but while we wait, let us be mindful that Kartel wasn’t the only one found guilty, our country, the entire state is guilty, in some way shape or form.


6 responses

  1. Jamaika Wise

    Yo first of all me is a reggae and dancehall fan overall. i dont favour anybody whether kartel or damian marley a jus music me say. If u do the crime pay the penalty thats jus it. I will say this tho. the jamaican system is known for its lackadaisical traits and cover ups. they see vybz kartel as a threat..young black ghetto youth with power. I wont lie..his image is a bit sketchy yes..but think about your minds for one minute and think as educated people.. If you were a business man selling bags..wat would you do? Make the bags appealling according to what the public is gravitating towards… The same with musicians..rappers..djs..rnb singers..pop stars u name it.. Dont blame kartel for violence in jamaica because killings n robbery a gwaan long time from befone me and you born..chronixx did a song saying he gona burn the vatigan..why isnt he been brought up for his ungodly lyrics?? The people demand a certain profile from kartel and thats is what he gives through his music to put food on his table..thats just it..

    The court case was very very sketchy. Im not saying this because im a fan im sayin this because clearly their case was weak but simply because its outcome was already heavily influenced thats the outcome we are seeing now. Evidence tampered with is jus a no no. Hw can u extract information from a blackberry? Dont the president of united states use a blackberry? Why because of its impecible encryption? Wat kinda a machine dem talking about? Tell me? Because it was said that terrorists used Blacberry phones to avoid their informaton being looked at.. The security minister clearly blamed kartel for the crime in jamaica and that i was disapointed in..People react to the treatment they get from the government..People a tief light, a kartel fault that too? Priest a rape likkle bwoy a kartel fault to? rubbish.. the police and the system had planned to get him from day one..they planned it all..I just cant see how they found him guilty based on that kinda circumstantial evidence .. i jus cant. I would like to see an appeal done in a court that cannot be manipulated.. This one clearly was.

    March 14, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    • Artistes (just like bag sellers) also have a social responsibility as citizens, not just profiteers. They’re supposed to help improve society, not contribute (actively) to its destruction. I’m not saying Kartel is single-handedly responsible for the decline of Jamaican society (would never give him that much credit) but he is most certainly not doing much to elevate it. He’s just reinforcing the same level of corruption and stagnation we’ve been stuck at for decades.

      To address your point about his song lyrics – if you have several songs about murdering people and you suddenly come on trial for murder those lyrics take on a whole new meaning. I can promise you that if the Vatican were to burn down tomorrow and they suspected foul play all eyes would turn on Chronixx (and every other artiste who ever sang about burning that place down).

      It comes back to image. Of course the violent image of the worl’ boss sells – as you said, that’s what people want to hear. But your image affects your reputation. No one escapes this. Not the medical doctor with explicit carnival pictures on FB and certainly not people on trial for murder.

      Lastly, if the court was manipulated, the manipulation came from both sides so I completely agree with you. Let’s go somewhere far out of reach of Adija’s scrawny, tattooed fingers and where Jamaican social pressure doesn’t have as much of an effect.

      March 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm

  2. I can’t get behind the idea that this battle against Vybez Kartel represents the outcome of the state’s disregard for the poor. If Babylon is really fighting the ghetto yute, I am sure they could fight yutes way more ghetto and downtrodden than Vybez Kartel. The man has such considerable power and influence as to elevate him way above the usual victims of those alleged crimes. He lives in Cherry Gardens, for goodness’ sake.

    The state may be corruptible, yes, but I think the pervasively corrupting force in this case was Mr. Palmer – mostly because of the last minute bribery charges levied against one jury member. I don’t think it’s likely that that man had $500,000 lying around to try and free worl’ boss. That smells like a set-up.

    Similarly, the tampering of evidence on which TTF so strongly based his arguments is likely to stem from the long arms of di Teacha reaching from behind prison bars to grease the pockets of a few desperate cops. Not a far off assumption. They did find the man guilty, after all.

    As painful as it is to admit, we really have been weighed, measured and found wanting. But this is nothing new. Whenever Jamaica is held up to a mirror, our reflection is terrible to behold. Here’s to hoping this recent “Kartel Show” will galvanize more than just some half-assed bubble-gum and duct tape solutions to our socioeconomic crises.

    March 15, 2014 at 9:56 pm

  3. Youth Messiah Jamaica

    I don’t believe your blog could have made the social problems we have any clearer. When a woman, (who herself may have child) can come on national television and say “the yute Wey him kill a yute Wey him and him use to run up an dung suh dem cudda look pass it”, then you know we have a serious issue. It has even made clearer the fact that we are fighting crime from the wrong angle and that crime is something that is deeply entrenched in some of the Jamaican sub cultures. The state indeed lost the war in these one, but if analyzed correctly, we may find the answers we’ve been looking for to solve the crime problem. As far as the gaza is concerned, Clive Williams wasn’t a person. As far as they are concerned, he is the product that the state used to take down the teacher.

    March 15, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    • We do face a serious problem as a country. At the heart of it is the reality that there are two Jamaica’s, divided by class. We have a far way to go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      March 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

  4. Still shocked about the whole scene

    March 21, 2014 at 6:01 am

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