Tue | Nov 24, 2020

Haunted by 1980 | Violence triggers mass exodus from Olympic Gardens

Published:Thursday | October 29, 2020 | 12:12 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Sixty-four-year-old Bradley McCallum Jr recalls the 1980 violence which caused many Olympic Gardens residents to flee to the United States.
Sixty-four-year-old Bradley McCallum Jr recalls the 1980 violence which caused many Olympic Gardens residents to flee to the United States.
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When political violence erupted in the Olympic Gardens area of St Andrew West Central in the 1980s, Bradley McCallum Jr, who was living in the United States, saw the greatest exodus his community would experience.

As the nation was gripped by bloody political tribal violence, houses were fire-bombed and many citizens killed, many in multiple-shooting incidents.

McCallum Jr, 64 – the cousin of the world-renowned Jamaican boxer Mike ‘The Body Snatcher’ McCallum, who was also born there – said that Olympic Gardens was like a war zone in those dark days. And though many miles away, he was still gripped by fear as terror reigned.

“I was living in the States, and my family members were living here (Olympic Gardens), but we were definitely terrified because it was part of like a communist war taking place in the country – a lot of killing. ... Guys that I grew up with lost their lives. They got mixed up in the party stuff – politics, definitely politics – and lost their lives!” he told The Gleaner.

He recalls many persons from Olympic Gardens jetting off to the United States out of fear.

“They had to flee the country. Their family members had to leave this community and then we met up abroad. I didn’t really know what was taking place here. ... They had to splurt,” he said, adding that many persons went to Canada before sneaking into the United States.

Forty years on, McCallum thinks politics in Jamaica has come a far way.

McCallum Jr returned to Jamaica several years ago and is now actively involved in efforts to build the community, working with schoolchildren.

STILL GOING TO WAR

Three days before our interview, Olympic Gardens witnessed yet another murder, McCallum believing political motives are to blame.

“Somebody died a couple days ago down there,” he said. “It’s part of that (politics), too. They want to control that specific area ... . So is like you going to war and they want that hill, the bunker hill ... .”

In May of 1980, Olympic Gardens was placed under increased surveillance by the security forces as St Andrew West Central was rife with political violence in that election year.

Acting Prime Minister P.J. Patterson was reported by The Gleaner as saying, “Several strategies were discussed at an emergency meeting held by the Police High Command to deal with the state of violence.”

This came on the heels of five people being killed by heavily armed gunmen in the community.

Residents were asked to remain calm and cooperate with the security forces.

More than 800 people were reportedly killed in politically motivated violence during the campaign between February and October 1980 alone.

When the dust settled on October 30, 1980, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) secured 51 of the 60 parliamentary seats across the island.

In St Andrew West Central, JLP businessman Ferdinand Yap defeated trade unionist Carl Thompson of the People’s National Party (PNP) by 2,864 votes to give the JLP its first hold on the seat.

The JLP held the seat until 1989, when A.J. Nicholson defeated Yap, returning the seat to the PNP’s winning column. Nicholson retained the seat in 1993 for a second term.

In 1997, the JLP’s Andrew Holness defeated the PNP’s Warren Blake by 65 votes (5,328 to 5,263).

Holness has retained the seat since, currently serving his sixth term.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com