Last Week’s News: A Year Later – Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica
A year ago today the Government of Jamaica launched an operation into the JLP “stronghold” of Tivoli Gardens. On the surface the operation was to quell protests and police station burnings being conducted by those who opposed the GOJ’s decision to finally grant the US extradition request for Christopher Coke and issue a warrant for his arrest. I sat in my living room in my quiet suburban DC Metro neighbourhood glued to Twitter, Facebook, TVJ, CVM TV, JNN, a kind person’s nightly stream of the Jamaican news, On The Ground News Jamaica, The Jamaica Gleaner, and the The Jamaica Observer. I saw pictures of dead people lying in the streets or piled up in morgues, the back of pick up trucks, and in hospitals. I also saw pictures of a few “uptown” folk lounging and laughing it up beside their home pools…without reservation or any regret I distanced myself from them. I knew that they would not understand my emotion or reason, and convincing them was far down the list of my priorities. For me it seemed beyond callous and inexplicably apathetic for such behaviour when not 20 minutes from their homes other Jamaicans were dying as a result of the all out assault. Incongruent. Surely this was above and beyond the “routine” police-gunman battles or other criminal activity to which so many Jamaicans have become accustomed.
For years I’ve watched news unfold about war zones and civil war/violence in far off places but never in my country, and I simply never thought that could happen there. Not in this way. Naive, perhaps, but there it is. I was scared for my family and friends but also for the many Jamaicans who I do not know. I constantly called my family to find out what was going on, and grew more nervous as gunshots and burnt police stations crept closer to where some of them lived. I wondered what those who lived in Tivoli were going through as their neighbourhood was assaulted during the Jamaican armed forces’ (the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF)) search for Mr. Coke. For a week, Tivoli Gardens and its residents as well as most of Kingston was under siege. Sounds like an invasion of another country, doesn’t it? Well, some say that it was since Tivoli could then have been considered a state within a state.
You know, a year later I find this post now particularly ironic to write. I drafted it a week ago to get my thoughts on paper and allow them to distill…to fiddle and to collect reporting by local Jamaican newspapers. Yet this post is difficult to write. Why ironic? Because as I mulled things over, I recalled the avid interest with which many Jamaicans (including myself) followed the events in Thailand last year…then Tunisia and Egypt this year…and the ongoing events in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. The pictures from Egypt were particularly stunning — sleeping under and surrounding tanks to prevent their relocation, marching in Tahir Square, crossing the bridge, the trust they placed in their army not to brutalize them as the secret and polices forces did. This was the Egypt many of us only knew as the land of Kings and a cradle of civilization, many of us longed to visit…and we watched them — mostly young people — get up, stand up. Yet the all time worst assault on Jamaicans happened amidst much consternation…and then….nothing?
Say what you like about area dons and the power they wield but we cannot hide from the shame they shove in our faces: that they provide for their communities and residents in ways that the Government of Jamaica and its institutions fail to do. Law & order. Justice. Security. Clean roads because of organized garbage collection and emphasis on community work and ownership. Children encouraged and expected to go to school and do well. Strong and well-recognized sports and cultural institutions. I don’t romanticize Mr. Coke at all. In fact I think that the extradition request should have been granted, and surely the request should not have been allowed to languish for 9 months. Based on my reading of the Extradition and Mutual Assistance Treaties between the U.S. And Jamaica, Jamaica had little choice but to grant or deny the request for extradition. Dilly dallying especially with as high profile and politically charged man as Mr. Coke was certainly not an option. It was dumb. Yet, that’s what the GOJ and JLP chose. But that’s another story, eh?
One year later I have so many questions. I try to remember that today’s story should be about the people of Tivoli Gardens, those living and dead as a result of May 24 – 31, 2010 (not about visa cancellations and Opposition cabinet reshuffles): What’s happening to them now? What does their community look like now? Compared to then? What’s the relationship like between residents and the (occupying?) police force? What investigations have been done into allegations of excessive use of force by the Jamaican Defence Force against Tivoli Gardens residents? Were we really in a war? If so, were the rules of law in effect? Were civilians protected? Were enemy forces accorded proper treatment under applicable treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions? Who was (or is) the enemy and who was (or is) the invading force? What about allegations of the use of weapons far above and beyond guns? OK, it wasn’t a war? What about the number who died? Was it really only 73? And even if it was only 73 why so many? For an intervention to get one man? How? Where is the Commission of Inquiry For the Truth About What Happened In Tivoli Gardens In May 2010? What about Keith Clark? Have autopsies been performed to ascertain the causes of death? Have any charges been brought? What are they? If not, will charges be brought? What attempts are being made to assess those charges of extrajudicial killing? What about the children? Has any counseling been provided for them? At least the children…they are, after all, only children.
A litany, I know…and I’m sure that I’m missing many.
To the best of my knowledge none of these questions has been answered….they have not been asked by the Jamaican people. Once again no accountability was demanded for “them.” (Don’t mention the Manatt circus, please. Don’t do it. That exercise in futility had little to do with those from Tivoli who died…it had a lot more to do with those in Gordon House trying to one up and show off on each other.) And the JCF’s own report is not being released to the public, not even a summary. Accountability is an empty word in Jamaica. So too is justice.
Back to the 73+ who were killed. Seventy-three people in a week? Fellow Jamaicans brutally killed. And nothing demanded in their names? Because best believe those guns could turn on you any day at any time. You really think you’re safe because you’re not one of “them”? O, I hear you mumbling, “But they were told to leave. Buses were provided. They chose to stay. They marched to say they would defend Prezi. Serves them right.” O, casualties of war then. So can you explain why there was a war in the first place? Inasmuch as most Tivoli residents (willingly?) stayed and staunchly (and willingly?) defended their leader we too defended their leader by time and time and time again allowing successive governments of Jamaica to do as they liked, which rarely amounted to actions in the best interest of Jamaica.
Three things I know: (1) nature abhors a vacuum; (2) the people get the government they deserve; and (3) elections alone do not a democracy make. When Mr. Coke and those like and before him — unelected leaders — stepped in to fill that vacuum left by the central and local government institutions we all let it happen, because we let elections alone stand as good governance. So every Jamaican everywhere got the government they deserved: one that can launch attacks into communities, leave behind many dead bodies and souls, and answer to no one for it; a country of fear populated by so many who barely scrape by when we could and should be doing so much better. Yes, exercise the state’s police power but what happened to people power? What check is there on state police power? Instead, we legitimized a system and practice of partisan politics, corrupt political culture and accepted no accountability. Yes, we get the government we deserve because voting every 5 years is what most focus on, forgetting that that voting is when we EMPLOY people to WORK on OUR BEHALF. What happens when YOU’RE not doing your JOB? Does your boss just indefinitely pat you on the back with no demand that you improve or change…or be fired? Why should it be any different for ELECTED Members of Parliament?
But I digress again. Truthfully it’s hard not to because what happened in Tivoli Gardens a year ago has a lot to do with governance and politics in Jamaica and what we’re willing to accept. In my opinion, what happened in Tivoli Gardens should make any Jamaican ashamed and demand action at least in the name of those 73+ people. I know that I am ashamed and angry. But I am honestly at a loss about what to do because truth be told this is one issue where I feel I can only support those in Jamaica who are willing and able to act, and who do act. I wonder how much more Jamaicans on The Rock will accept, and how much longer they will accept this status quo and its inherent injustices.
Articles in Jamaican Newspapers about Tivoli, a year later
Silent Soldiers - about the JDF’s refusal to release anything from their report on the Tivoli Gardens Operation. (The Jamaica Gleaner)
“We Were Willing To Die For Dudus” – Women who participated in last year’s protests — with the infamous placard on the dog. (The Jamaica Gleaner)
Keith Clarke Probe Langusihes – About at least one investigation into a Tivoli-related death. Mr. Clarke was killed in his Red Hills home by the JDF who thought that Mr. Coke was hiding there. (The Jamaica Gleaner)
Going For Dudus – A take on how the Tivoli Gardens Operation began. (The Jamaica Gleaner)
Tivoli Gardens Residents Turn to Art for Therapy – Jamaican Labour Day projects and therapy for Tivoli Residents. (The Jamaican Observer)
Amnesty backs Tivoli commission of enquiry - About a report by human rights group Amnesty International on Jamaica and the Tivoli Gardens Operation. (The Jamaica Observer)
West Kingston Violence Last May Cost $22-B - The PIOJ’s estimation of the monetary cost of the Tivoli Gardens Operation. (The Jamaica Observer)
Cops say Tivoli residents are learning to trust them more - About the relationship between Tivoli residents and the Jamaican police forces.