Thursday, May 27, 2010
Sign in Barbados
Well, the Gideon (local slang for Armageddon) continues. Last night it seemed as if things in Kingston had simmered down but this morning i checked into Twitter to hear that the armed forces were lobbing grenades and perhaps bombs at a house in E. Kirkland Heights, a very upscale neighbourhood in Red Hills, Kingston. “The template of violence in jamaica has changed ova d las week. Its now an insurgency with all the relevant weaponry” tweeted one of the people i follow. “I wanna see the police deny this one. Grenades an bombs are the new weapon of choice for the state now.”
No idea whether the Police suspect that Dudus is holed up in there or some other Don. Things unravelled very quickly. On May 17th Prime Minister Bruce Golding addressed the nation saying apologetically that he was finally giving the go-ahead for the signing of the papers to extradite Dudus to the US, something he had resisted for 9 months. To many of us it was clear that the US had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse; pressure from the local media, business and other interest groups had also mounted in the weeks leading up to this astonishing about-face.
As i said before Dudus’ lawyer Tom Tavares-Finson was furious. He would take the matter to court the next day he said but the following day we heard that he had removed himself from the team representing Dudus due to conflict of interest issues; issues however that had always existed. All I can say is, do not use this as an excuse to slaughter innocents in Tivoli, an angry Finson was heard saying in interview after interview on radio and tv. His words would prove prophetic.
The day after Golding’s speech it was announced that a warrant had been issued for Dudus’s arrest. That would have been on May 18th. The rest of the week was tense with everyone expecting the Police and Army to invade Tivoli at any minute but the armed forces seemed unusually tolerant, waiting patiently for Dudus to turn himself in. Actually they were waiting till the weekend of the 21st, a long weekend with the 24th being a holiday in Jamaica--Labour Day--to make their move.
On the 23rd a number of colleagues and i were at the airport waiting to catch a flight to Barbados to attend the Caribbean Studies’ Association's 35th annual conference presciently titled “The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean” when i saw a tweet saying that shots were being fired in the vicinity of Tivoli. It’s going down i said to one of my colleagues, a leading Jamaican criminologist, the war is beginning.
I wouldn’t say so he said calmly, assuring us that his information was that Dudus was willing to turn himself in to the US authorities and was expected to do so any minute now. Well, that turned out to be misinformation of the highest quality. By the time we reached Barbados we heard that a state of emergency had been imposed and I’ve literally been glued to Twitter and online media ever since.
In fact I’m happy to report that my tweets were actually picked up by the New York Times blog The Lede in an article called Following Jamaica’s State of Emergency Online. Channel 4 in London contacted me to see if i could write a piece for them on Dudus which i did. My comments appeared in their story Jamaica death toll rises as unrest continues.
Here is an excerpt from it:
Dudus has been an extraordinary provider for the inhabitants of Tivoli.
What makes him exceptional is that he has also managed to forge coalitions between gangs across party lines and across the country when needed because of the respect he commands. His reach extends beyond his immediate community across all kinds of borders and is a testament to his abilities as an astute leader.
Had he been legit and able to run for election he would have probably created a modern, efficient Jamaica the likes of which have yet to be seen, but of course one where personal freedoms may have been more circumscribed than they are today.
The problem is his links to the underworld do not permit the state to continue the tacit alliance with him and others like him that have persisted to this day.
The question is how do you take the milk out of the coffee once the two have been mixed. That is the predicament Jamaica finds itself in.
Meanwhile the Gideon continues and while many of us would like to comfort ourselves by thinking that this is a necessary bloodletting, a purge of the criminal elements in society, the truth is otherwise. Discriminating between criminals and law-abiding citizens is not as easy as we think particularly for the Police force, members of which are known to wield their ‘license to kill’ with wanton disregard. i received a heartbreaking message from a friend about the execution of a young man she personally knew, by the police, a story which was reported in the media under the headline “Cops kill three men in Back Bush.”
One of the men was well-known to my friend and no criminal. Here is part of the heartbreaking message i received from her this morning:
"Picked up one of my neighbours on the road only to hear that Ian Gordon, a sweet young dread who ran a little "venue" in Irish Town square was killed by the police. Hard to believe he would be involved in anything - he would always ask me if I had dominos, or other games, that I could give him because he liked to have lots of games for people coming to his place. On Sundays I would sometimes take him down to town and he always said he was going to visit his 2 daughters. He had a lovely girlfriend, also a dread, and it was a joke in Irish Town how they were always together. Anyway I'm sure this Observer story of how he died is accurate, and this is probably happening to young men all over Kingston. Very depressing. "
It turns out also that the early morning raid on Red Hills i mentioned earlier was in pursuit of Dudus who was believed to be holed up in a house there. In the process of flushing him out the armed forces have killed another innocent man, Keith Clarke, the brother of former minister Claude Clarke, who lived nearby, by mistake.
Mr. Seaga, former Prime Minister is also concerned about the safety of the residents of Tivoli Gardens, his former constituents and has broken his silence. I conducted an interview with him in January this year in which i asked him about his relationship with Dudus and the fact that he had once placed him at the top of a list of wanted men that he provided the Police with in 1994. I'll post relevant portions of the interview later.
Time doesn’t permit for me to write much more right now. I’m still at the conference in Barbados but will end with two lighthearted takes on what is a truly dread situation back home, (to use Jamaican parlance).
The photo posted at the top of this blog is actually a piece of graffiti seen in Barbados on the day the armed forces went into Tivoli Gardens in pursuit of Christopher Lloyd Coke--Dudus. The blog that carried it said “This sign was seen today (Monday May 24 Bank Holiday) on the left-hand side of Collymore Rock Road going towards Wildey from Bridgetown.” Dudus's reach clearly extends beyond Jamaican shores.
And of course Jamaicans being Jamaican still have a mordant sense of humour. The following dance poster was making the rounds on email and facebook.