Yardie (or Yaadi) is a term often used, particularly within the Caribbean expatriate and Jamaican diaspora community, to refer to persons of Jamaican origin, though its exact meaning changes depending on context. The term is derived from the Jamaican patois for home or "yard". The term may have specifically originated from the crowded government yards of two-storey concrete homes found in Kingston and inhabited by poorer Jamaican residents.
However, especially outside of Jamaica, "yardies" or "the Yardies" usually specifically refers to Jamaican gangs or organized crime groups and gangsters of Jamaican origin, nationality, or ethnicity. The term is often used interchangeably with the term "posse" or "Jamaican posse" to refer to crime groups of Jamaican origin, with the term "Posse" used more frequently in Jamaica, the United States, and Canada to refer to Jamaican, Jamaican-American, and Jamaican-Canadian crime groups, and "Yardies" being deployed more frequently in the United Kingdom. Yardie gangs or "posses" are involved in a wide array of criminal activity depending on their location, ranging from political corruption, political violence, and assassination in Jamaica to drug trafficking and gang violence in the U.S., Canada, and U.K.
Derived from Jamaican Patois, the term "yardie" can be ambiguous, having multiple meanings depending on context. In the most innocuous sense, "yardie" can simply refer to a Jamaican national; as "yard" can mean "home" in Jamaican Patois, Jamaican expatriates who moved abroad to countries such as the U.K. and U.S. would often refer to themselves and other Jamaicans as "yardies". "Yardie" may also more specifically apply to those Jamaicans originating in the impoverished "government yards" or courtyards of Jamaican public housing, and the term was eventually applied to criminals and gang members originating from these "yards." As the term "yard" in Jamaican Patois can also refer to a territory, turf, or piece of land, "yardie" further gained gang or criminal connotations as Jamaican gangs or criminals claimed certain "territories" or "turf" and referred to such territory as their "yards." Subsequently, in the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, North America, the term "Yardie" most frequently refers to gangsters or gangs of Jamaica origin, though these gang members themselves may refer to their gangs as "posses" or "crews." The term is especially common in the U.K. to describe Jamaican or British Jamaican organized crime groups and gangs, while "posse" has become the more common term in North America.
In the 1950s in Trenchtown, Kingston, Jamaica, the government created social housing developments employing large public courtyards, and the courtyard areas soon became the hub of social and recreational activity in the crowded housing of Trenchtown. With increasing overcrowding and poverty, however, squatting and homelessness developed within the yards. Crime, drug abuse, and violence overran the yards, while political corruption and clientelism led to local politicians buying and selling patronage within the community and paying gangs and violent political supporters to intimidate voters and threaten, assault, or kill political opponents.
By the 1970s and 1980s, political violence and politically-affiliated organized crime groups and street gangs became increasingly common in poorer areas of Jamaica, with gangs often led by older bosses known as "dons" (in reference to the Sicilian Mafia don) and participating in both apolitical drug trafficking and racketeering and political violence and political intimidation. These gangs became known as "Yardies," "posses", or "crews".
By the 1980s, a drop in government budgets resulted in less money being paid by political parties to their gangs of armed supporters. These political Yardie gangs thus increasingly turned to apolitical criminal activity, such as drug trafficking, to bring in income. At the same time, the Jamaican government severely cracked down on Yardie gangs and political violence in general, leading many so-called Yardie gangsters to immigrate abroad and establish gangs the U.K., U.S., and Canada. The establishment of Yardie gangs abroad coincided with the rise of crack cocaine in both North America and the U.K., and Yardie and Posse gangs from Jamaica became heavily involved in the trafficking of crack cocaine and other drugs, in addition to illegal gambling and other criminal activity.
During the 1950s, the British government encouraged immigration to the country to fill existing job vacancies. Within the Caribbean community, new arrivals from Jamaica were sometimes referred to as "Yardies" due to reference of Jamaica as "back a yard" (or "back home"). A large influx of inner city Jamaican immigration to Britain during the 1980s led to the rise of gang violence or behaviour on the part of Jamaicans which became known in wider British society as "Yardie culture" and the participants "Yardies". The terms "Yardie gang" or "Yardie gun violence" were largely used by the British media to describe violent crimes in London's black community. The gangs in London are specifically known to have occupied and operated in their infamous grounds of Brixton, Harlesden, Hackney, Tottenham, Peckham and Notting Hill.
Yardie gangs are notorious for their involvement in gun crime and the illegal drug trade, notably marijuana and crack cocaine in the United Kingdom. In 1993, Yardies were blamed for the murder of Police Constable Patrick Dunne, shot dead while patrolling in Clapham.
British police are hesitant to categorize Yardie gangs as organized crime, since there appears to be no real structure or central leadership; gang affiliations can be described as loose at best. Neither have Yardies made any attempts at setting up fronts for their illegal activities, nor any serious attempts to corrupt and infiltrate law enforcement organisations. Academics have noted a tendency to over-label black British crime as "Yardie"-related due to stereotype and social narrative.
A number of operations to combat Yardie gun crime have been set up, notably Operation Trident in the London area. Yardies (or imitating) gangs also appear to be active in Bristol, Birmingham, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Nottingham but to a lesser extent.
Some maintain that the supposed reach and influence in communities of these "Yardies" is a myth.