by Ken Chaplin
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
PRIME Minister and Minister of Defence Bruce Golding, in declaring a limited state of emergency in Western Kingston under which the security forces carried out a massive operation to arrest Tivoli Gardens don Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who is wanted by US authorities on charges of drug and gun trafficking, could not have anticipated that the exercise would have turned out to what appeared to have been a massacre by the security forces.
At the time of writing, May 28, from Philadelphia, USA, official reports put the number of people killed in Tivoli Gardens and Hannah Town at 73; 22 firearms and 8,550 rounds of ammunition seized and 500 people detained. Three members of the security forces were killed and 58 injured.
The figures of the civilian fatality suggest that it is either that some of the gunmen escaped with their weapons or people were killed randomly by the police and soldiers. In either case it is a worrying matter, and some local and international human rights organisations have rightly called for an inquiry into the incursion by police and soldiers. Golding has appointed a group headed by public defender, Earl Witter, to inquire into what happened.
A great deal of the problem in the operation was caused by lack of reliable intelligence. Normally, before such an operation is undertaken, intelligence agencies of the army and police acting jointly, would seek information like the possible location of Coke. Is he still living in Tivoli Gardens or somewhere else in the island? Here in Philadelphia, the word among Jamaicans was that Coke, disguised as a woman, had left Tivoli Gardens before the raid.
A second messy work of intelligence or lack thereof concerned the killing by the security forces of an innocent citizen in his house at Kirkland Heights, an upscale community in St Andrew. Police and soldiers are reported to have rushed into Keith Clarke's house and killed him, believing he was Coke. This incident demonstrated the need for carrying out careful intelligence work prior to any such raid. The people living at that house and surrounding ones should have been checked before.
While I was serving as a volunteer in the Third Battalion of the Jamaica Regiment (National Reserve) in 1961, our training officer, Major Allright (British Army) told us that any incursion must have two prerequisites -- clarity of purpose and reliable intelligence. The security forces which went into Tivoli Gardens had clarity of purpose -- to find and arrest Coke and other wanted criminals. What they did not have was reliable intelligence on the likely places to find Coke. Apparently the intelligence system needs upgrading. The amount of money available to pay for intelligence information needs to be increased and properly used. Years ago Sam McKay, deputy commissioner of police (crime), now retired, had a sizeable fund for intelligence which he used judiciously.
The country has been calling for the dismantling of garrison communities for some time. Tivoli Gardens was set up many years ago by Edward Seaga, then MP, as a normal community. The people voted overwhelmingly for Seaga in general elections. Seaga instituted social and cultural improvements to the community. Soon the residents came under severe violent attacks from political gangs and were led by community leaders called dons in their attempts to fight off such attacks. The PNP's Tony Spaulding, taking a leaf out of Seaga's book, created the second garrison, Arnett Gardens. Now there are about eight garrisons, the majorityof which support the PNP. The purpose of these garrisons is to perpetuate the representations of the political leaders. It must be pointed out that if Tivoli Gardens was not a garrison community with strong defenders, it would have succumbed to political attacks and been wiped off the map long ago.
Most of the people of Tivoli Gardens are law-abiding and talented, with high achievement in such areas as education, sports and the performing arts. It has one of the best marching bands in Jamaica. However, for many years the community, held captive by criminal elements, has been stigmatised as "a dangerous place", but in fact it is one of the most peaceful communities in the country. The problem is that the operating base of Dudus, like that of his father Lester Coke (Jim Brown), was in Tivoli Gardens. Lester, who was wanted by the US government for drug trafficking, died in a fire in prison while awaiting extradition to the USA. During the more than 18 years of the PNP government, the economic situation of the community deteriorated. The kind of support when the JLP government was in power reduced dramatically and other businesses of Coke's helped to contribute to the survival of many people who could not find work. Things have been better since the return of the JLP government. Coke has been able to feed people and send their children to school. But the Robin Hood situation cannot work in Jamaica -- at least not for long.
A new development has disturbed the people: wanted men from other areas have used Tivoli Gardens as a hideout which boosted Dudus' power and strengthened the criminals to hold the community to ransom.
Discipline in the community has not been at the high level it was when Jeanette Woodham was headmistress of Tivoli Gardens High School, nor since Seaga retired as MP. What is happening in Tivoli Gardens presents a golden opportunity to begin the dismantling of garrison communities, being called for by many organisations and leaders.
However, this must be done in a planned and civilised manner. The state must put in systems and facilities which will replace the support given by the dons, or the people will rise up against the state which will have far worse consequences. Prime Minister Golding needs to move carefully on the matter. It must be said that Golding is a man of courage for sending in the security forces into Tivoli Gardens, his political base. This was a bold and necessary move, but the result is bound to affect his standing in the constituency. The people must understand that it had to be done sooner of later, but not in the way in which it was done.