The following is an excerpt from Stir It Up: The CIA Targets Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Progressive Manley Government. A novel by David Dusty Cupples (https://stiritupbob.wix.com/stiritupcia)
[note: It is 1976. The Wailers have just returned to Jamaica after the Rastaman Vibration tour. Scott is a 16-year-old white American in Jamaica with his father Matt, whom Scott begins to suspect is CIA chief of station in Kingston]
Cindy dropped Bob at Hope Road and a football scrum was shortly underway. Scott Gallagher showed up and worked himself into the action. Soon a yellow VW Bug puttered into the yard. Rita got out as if bearing bad news and spoke privately with Bob. She left and Bob went in to the house and came out wearing fresh jeans and shirt. He got in the BMW and started it up. Halfway down the driveway, Bob poked his head out the window.
“Oy, Scotty. Haffi do yuh homework?”
“Fuck that shit.” Scott dashed around and in the passenger seat before Marley could change his mind. Bob turned right on Hope Road and headed toward downtown.
“Hear ‘bout this Gun Court business?” said Marley as the Beamer hummed along.
“Get catch with gun, automatic life sentence.”
“If you shoot somebody?”
“Nah haffi shoot nuhbody. Them find yuh gun them lock yuh up and throw away the key.”
Marley hung a left on Half Way Tree Road, cruising for Cross Roads.
“Woman friend of Rita son get lock up. Only 18.”
“Eighteen and life in prison. Damn.”
“There always gun in Jamaica, but nuh like so. Dam a go bust. Rifle, handgun, machine gun… folk think CIA bring them in.”
“Nah, I don’t…” Scott began, stopping short as Bob glanced over with a bit of a screwface.
“Why do people lie?” Scott asked.
“Them afraid of the truth.”
The BMW passed Cross Roads en route to Up Park Camp and there was Gun Court: a big red monstrosity in the heart of the city, a prison-camp with armed guards on watchtowers and big bales of barbed wire atop the walls. Michael Manley’s heavy-handed attempt to deal with the spiraling violence.
As Marley approached the wire-fence gate with the words GUN COURT emblazoned in huge letters, Scott snapped to attention. Two women were standing outside the gate arguing with a guard.
“Look!” Scott cried. “It’s Marva.”
Scott stuck his head out the window and called to her. The young woman turned but got back to her business with barely a frown of recognition.
Bob pulled the BMW over and Scott hurried to his sweetheart.
“Marva, what are you doing here? Hi, Mrs. Morrison.”
Mrs. Morrison scowled as darkly as her daughter had done an instant before. They were dressed in their Sunday finest and looking none too happy.
“What’s up?” Scott asked.
“My brother got mixed up in some trouble,” Marva said.
“Troy? That cool guy who dropped you at Victoria Pier that day?”
“You all right?” Scott taking his girl by the arm.
“No, I’m not all right. Why did Joshua have to start this stupid Gun Court? Yes, there’s violence but don’t lock the youth up. Why should they have to pay?”
Marley came over and read the pain in Marva’s face. He clasped her hands firmly in his.
“Keep a song in yuh heart, likkle daughter,” he said. “Jah Jah see yuh through.”
Marva’s sad eyes took flight as if a soothing balm lathered her soul. A pedestrian door in the gate opened and Marley was waved in. A guard came over to chase the women away but Marley simply held up his hand and they all walked in together. Once inside the women had to wait as Bob and Scott were ushered into the lockdown area. Scott tagged along a step behind as Bob was passed through several locked doors and into the office of the prison warden. A young black in prison garb was promptly shown in. Scott was shocked—the kid couldn’t have been any older than he was. Marley gave his testimonial, saying the youth, Mikey D, had been known to him since he was a pickney, a decent bwoy who had never been in any trouble until he’d gotten involved with the wrong crowd. Marley asked about a pardon or early release. Finally the prisoner was led away and Bob and Scott were shown out. Marley asked the warden to grant audience to the women waiting outside for—
“What that boy name, Scotty?” Marley asked.
Exiting, they passed Marva and her mother on their way in. Scott gave Marva’s hand a squeeze for luck.
Back in the BMW, Marley started up and drove.
“Why all this violence, Skip?” Scott asked. “I don’t get it. Why don’t people appreciate living on this beautiful island? Jamaica is paradise, yet there’s so much hatred. You say the CIA is behind it. In America we have a saying, ‘guns don’t kill, people do.’ Who’s pulling the trigger? It’s not Americans, it’s Jamaicans. Don’t see how you can hang this on Uncle Sam.”
“I-man show yuh something. Check it out.”
As they neared Heroes Circle, Marley turned onto Orange Lane and drove slowly past the smoldering charred hulk of what once had been peoples’ homes.
“Orange Lane,” the Tuff Gong said. “Hear ‘bout the fire?”
“Little bit,” Scott said as he stared at the desolate ruins that stretched on and on.
“Ten, eleven people die here. Baby asleep him bed, old woman… them a run out get shot.”
“How could anybody do this? See, this is what I’m talking about.”
“Baby nah born with hatred. Pickney must learn fe hate.”
“Do they know who did it? Marva says it was the JLP fighting against Manley but I read where the deputy leader of the JLP claimed trucks came in earlier that day and evacuated all the PNP supporters. That true?”
“Who know? All them politician fuckin’ liar. Me a show yuh one t’ing more.”
Marley turned from Orange Lane onto the main Orange Street thoroughfare, heading for the yards of West Kingston. He purposely drove past the worst slums in the city, where human beings were jammed like cattle-car herds into festering zinc-roofed hovels and cardboard lean-tos. Marley slowed to let his young born-of-privilege friend get a good look at the hollowed cheeks of emaciated children, their swollen malnourished bellies, the vacant hopeless stares of crushed souls living lives of utter desperation, their numbers reduced but by no means eliminated by Michael Manley’s social programs of the last three and a half years.
“Fuck,” Scott cringed at the gut-wrenching squalor.
“Satan make easy work on empty belly,” Marley said.
“Why doesn’t somebody do something? Government, Red Cross, somebody.”
“Poli-tricks. Devil work through the system. Shit-stem. Nothing ever change beca’ shit-stem never change. Gun only thing the youth-them know.”
Some thought that it wasn’t poverty alone that corrupted the ghetto youth. More than a few pointed at movies and TV bringing American programs glorifying gunslingers and ramming material gluttony down the throats of young people who saw for the first time what they didn’t have and could never get. It was like whiskey to Indians as white men killed off the buffalo and drove them off their land.
“One more thing I-man show yuh,” Bob said.
Marley turned the BMW toward familiar streets of his youth—the Ghost Town section of the Trench Town ghetto. They arrived within minutes. A slum, it was nevertheless a couple steps up from the abject misery of the worst garbage can alleys. The place had a life to it despite the deplorable conditions. People smiled and waved joyful greetings as Bob passed. He parked in the shade of a mango tree and got out, leaving the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition.
“Want me to watch the car?” Scott asked.
“Nobody bother I ride.”
As they walked the streets, folks kept coming up to slap Bob some skin.
“Wha’ gwan, mi bruddah?”
“The I make de hardest music, fe true.”
Scott was dumbfounded that in the midst of such suffering, in these godforsaken snake pits of human existence, this Calcutta of the Caribbean, there could be such a spontaneous outpouring of life, call it nothing else. Raw, orgasmic, sweat-and-guts-and-never-say-die life. The human longing to endure and prosper. Blood-in-tooth-and-claw animal instinct alongside all the lofty higher human values. It was bursting everywhere, this crackling, slapdash, ragamuffin life. A woman singing as she hand-scrubbed her clothes. Another tremendously fat woman waddling naked under a backyard water pipe. An industrious fellow re-soling raggedy sandals with a patch of tire tread. Men playing dominoes at the corner shop, slapping their pieces down on the board, wham! Barefoot pickneys threading string through an old plastic bottle and calling it a toy; older kids, equally shoeless, playing cricket in a bumpy zinc-fence lane with a twig of wood for a bat; folks moving and grooving to riddims blasting from a boom box somewhere. Jamaicans living hand to mouth and eking out a life in poverty, but rip-snorting alive. This too was the ghetto and Scott looked and learned.
David’s Web and FB pages: https://stiritupbob.wix.com/stiritupcia – https://www.facebook.com/StirItUpCIAJamaica –
Watch a video trailer for Stir It Up at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0EUqR2SQEg .
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