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October - 2000
Vol# 16 - Issue# 45

The Emerging Yardie Problem

-Mitchel Roth

The bonds forged by colonialism between Great Britain and Jamaica have inextricably linked the histories of both nations over the past two centuries. This relationship has created an environment for the development of Afro-Caribbean organized crime in Great Britain. A recent report by England's National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) indicates that "West Indian drug trafficking groups are becoming more organized and are branching out from their more traditional areas in the major British cities, setting up in some provincial towns and cities." Foremost among these groups are the so-called "Yardies," the moniker reserved for the branch of organized crime operated by Jamaicans in Britain. This term can be traced back to its slang origins in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. In America the name Posse refers to similar crime groups. This past August Southeast London was the scene of a Yardie drive-by shooting that resulted in the wounding of five women and three men in front of a trendy nightclub. Such violence is becoming more frequent in London as warring cliques battle over the drug trade. Law enforcement officials fear that the number of Yardies will increase as criminals flee their main base in Jamaica for the UK and other countries with large Caribbean communities to prey on. According to the NCIS, "A crackdown on organized crime by the Jamaican authorities may have already led to the displacement of Jamaican criminals to other countries including the UK."

The conclusions by the NCIS were released just three days after a suspected Yardie attack wounded the eight party-goers in southeast London. Yardie gangs have been linked to more than twenty murders in London in 1999 and six more in the first half of 2000. The increasing Yardie violence within the Caribbean community concerns British law enforcement because of the perceptible increase in the number of firearms used in crimes as well as the concomitant number of innocent victims. One new feature of the emerging Yardie crime problem is the penchant for gangs to relocate their major operations from a traditional urban environment to more rural communities to evade the increasingly more sophisticated police operations. Authorities suggest that the Yardies are moving their base of operations to expand their trade in crack cocaine into provincial markets. The NCIS predicts that these crime groups can no longer be regarded as "disorganized." Yardie drug gangs first came to the attention of British law enforcement in 1987, operating crack cocaine operations in black housing estates. They maintained dominance through ruthless violence. According to a 1993 report, "unless there is a consistent, aggressive, and long term strategy," drug related crime would soar. Despite a meeting between UK police officers and the New York office of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1989, Scotland Yard's Yardie strategy had little impact on Jamaica influenced crime. By 1998, a network of drug dealers, with direct links to the Yardie gangs in the English Midlands, had expanded into Fraserburgh, regarded by authorities as "the new heroin capital of Scotland." British officials estimate the heroin and crack cocaine market in this region to be worth UKP10 million a week. In the late 1990s crack cocaine was being sold in Scottish clubs presaging a deadly drug epidemic. According to the Grampian Health Board, Fraserburgh developed the highest percentage of opiate users in Scotland. John Davison chronicled some of the anti-Yardie operations of the British police in his 1997 book Gangsta that described the strategic methods of Operation Dalehouse, which combined intense surveillance with computer analysis.

In early August of this year, the London Metropolitan Police responded to the rising tide of "black-on-black" shootings in London by changing the direction of "Operation Trident," the specialist squad focusing on gun crime in London. The new mandate of the 160 Trident officers will now target their efforts towards reducing "black-on-black" violence. During recent years the London Metropolitan Police claims to have developed a more complex image of what the Yardies are about through the use of paid informers. An unforeseen problem occurred with the informant network when in some cases these Yardie informers reportedly went AWOL and began committing freelance crimes on their own. Despite the rising violence associated with the Yardie turf, the London Metropolitan Police still remains cautious about putting the blame on organized crime or drug wars. Some reporters have suggested that the "Yardie gangs are being blamed for what is really an outbreak of anarchy among young urban black men." In prior years the killing fields of London were located in Hackney, northeast London, and Harlesdon in the northwest. A substantial AfroCaribbean population resides in south London as well. Both AfroCaribbean communities are relatively poor inner-city locales, which in many areas are in a state of gentrification. While upwardly mobile white professionals now reside in these communities and partake of the rich Afro-Caribbean cultural nightlife, young black men have become increasingly trapped in the same neighborhoods, bedeviled by high unemployment. At the same time the traditional community structures have fallen by the wayside.

There is little consensus concerning the sophistication of Yardie activities or whether they represent a monolithic form of organized crime. Until recently the Afro-Caribbean community regularly offered outlets for young people in conjunction with various radical organizations run by local activists. However, as traditional black radicalism found a voice in mainstream politics, this outlet is no longer available. According to a resident of the black community in Brixton, "There's no Black Panthers UK," and the "Nation of Islam has lost credibility..." One black barrister suggests that a new generation of violent young men look up to "cultural heroes who think nothing of shooting people who ?diss' them."The only thing that Scotland Yard and police authorities can agree on is that Afro-Caribbean gangsters have made the transition from urban drug markets to smaller communities as they continue to flee more proactive policing regimes in the Caribbean.