The conviction of an infamous gang boss in Jamaica's biggest-ever gang trial marks a win for the country's anti-gang legislation. But the group's downfall has not brought peace to the area it terrorized.
Andre Bryan, alias "Blackman," was found guilty on March 7 of being the leader of the One Don gang, an offshoot of the Klansman gang based in St. Catherine Parish, west of the capital, Kingston. Earlier in the trial, which began in September 2021, Blackman was found guilty of being behind several murders that took place in 2017 and 2018.
The conviction of another 14 defendants for being members of the gang made the trial Jamaica's most successful case against gangs since the introduction of the anti-gang Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act in 2014.
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Eleven others were found not guilty of being gang members, while only 26 of the 33 original defendants made it to the final sentencing stage. Charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence, and one defendant was shot dead while out on bail.
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The conviction of the One Don gang members demonstrates the efficacy of Jamaica's gang-fighting legislation, yet the power scramble resulting from the group's demise shows, once again, that the fall of kingpins can have violent ramifications.
From 2014, to 2019, Jamaica's anti-gang legislation led to just two convictions. In a 2020 trial, one gang leader was convicted while 15 other defendants, including a police officer, were acquitted after witness testimony was found to be deficient.
But in 2021, amendments made to the legislation broadened the definition of gang involvement, permitting authorities to charge those who facilitate and help gangs, not only the perpetrators of gang crime. It also added extra protections for witnesses -- including former gang members -- dramatically enhancing the legislation's force.
One Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) officer, who spoke to InSight Crime on condition of anonymity, said that the amendments made a huge difference in securing witnesses for the case.
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"We learned from our mistakes in the previous gang cases," they told InSight Crime. "We realized we needed people from inside [the gang] who could testify about criminal activity within the group. Jamaica is a small country which means it's harder for undercover officers to infiltrate gangs. Gangs know the people, they come from the communities."
"This is a huge win for law enforcement," they added. "I think moving forward it sends a message to gangs that we are able to get them using this legislation."
Yet away from the courtroom, gang activity continues unimpeded. In fact, the JCF officer said that the arrest of Blackman and other One Don gang members in 2018 had caused splinter groups to form. The One Don gang is itself a result of an internal battle within the larger Klansman gang.
Homicides have climbed in St. Catherine Parish since Blackman and gang members were arrested in 2018. That year, the parish registered 194 homicides. In 2021, that figure rose to 231. And in 2022, homicides increased again to 258. In the St. Catherine North district, murders jumped almost 50% last year to 145, the second highest of any of Jamaica's 19 districts.
This uptick in violence echoes the events that followed the downfall of the Shower Posse, Jamaica's most important criminal organization, at the start of the last decade.
Homicides initially dropped significantly after police dismantled the Shower Posse and arrested its leader Christopher "Dudus" Coke.
But splinter groups soon formed across the country, leading to a proliferation of gangs that lacked the Shower Posse's sophistication and transnational reach, but were more than willing to employ violence locally. While the JCF registered 191 gangs in 2010, this number had more than doubled a decade later.
Anthony Clayton, a security expert and professor at Jamaica's University of the West Indies, acknowledged the importance of the Klansman case and of the 2021 amendments to Jamaica's anti-gang legislation. But he warned that the country's gangs have rebounded from setbacks before.
"The judgments now being handed down will largely dismantle one of Jamaica's most vicious gangs," he told InSight Crime. "The judgments will probably have a chilling effect on gang activity, but it is likely that this will only be temporary. The gangs have experienced setbacks before. They evolve, learn, and regenerate."