Monday, June 28, 2010
Ambassador Dudley Thompson in African-style shirt
Why is Dudus called Dudus? And what is the right way to pronounce his name?
Unfortunately the answers to these questions are to be found in the New York Post rather than any organ of the Jamaican media. People in the know here, or people with a working knowledge of runnings in Tivoli Gardens have always said that the name is prounounced Dud-dus (thanks @JustSherman) to rhyme with 'cud' or 'bud' and not 'Dud' to rhyme with 'good' or 'wood' which is how most people here pronounce it.
You'd think local media would make an attempt to get it right but of course very few have done so. As for speculating on the reasons for Christopher Coke's nickname it takes the foreign media to do that. The New York Post tells us that of Jim Brown's three sons:
The youngest was Christopher, who earned his nickname "Dudus" -- pronounced DUD-us -- because he wore an African-style shirt favored by Jamaican World War II hero and Cabinet minister Dudley Thompson.
Dudley Thompson is a character in his own right (see above), so its rather interesting that Cuddly Duddly might have inadvertently lent his name to Jamaica's most notorious don. Of course some might say Dudley is no angel either...but that's another story.
Read more of the NY Post article here:
Fortunately for us there is a ray of hope on the media horizon in Jamaica with the establishment of On the Ground News Reports (@onthegroundjm), an invaluable source of news in the wake of the May 23rd assault on Tivoli. At first i was wary of the tweets coming from OGNR but then i noticed that almost everything they tweeted was later confirmed in the mainstream media. OGNR was providing the news live and direct almost as it happened.
In fact they were the 'social media' that the information minister Daryl Vaz was fulminating against when the government cracked down on media here denying them access to Tivoli and its environs.
Las May, The Gleaner, June 28, 2010
There has been some speculation as to the people who started ONGR and whether its a new kind of political high jinks but an interview with the founder today provides a lot of information on the way this innovative news gathering service operates. Check it out here.
Meanwhile i was happy to be quoted again in the international media (The New York Times' Lede blog, a Village Voice blog and in an Associated Press article ) on the Dudus imbroglio. Channel 4 News in London also asked me to contribute a piece which i did, see it here:
And for a laugh check out ONGR's spoof on the Jamaica World Service with Paleface, Tony Hendriks:
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Christopher "Dudus" Coke arrives in New York to face drug trafficking charges on Thursday June 24, 2010. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)
In Jamaica farce, intrigue and tragedy remain inextricably intertwined. The fugitive don, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, on the run since May 24th, is finally in the United States where he arrived earlier this evening (see photo above). Coke was intercepted on the outskirts of Kingston on June 22nd by the Jamaican police while they were supposedly conducting random spot checks on passing motorists. There was a J$5 million dollar bounty for information leading to his arrest.
We’re told that he was being escorted by charismatic preacher Reverend Al Miller to the US Embassy in an abortive attempt at surrendering to American authorities who were clamouring for his extradition. We’re also informed that he was sporting a curly black woman’s wig when the police stopped the car and that he thanked them for sparing his life. These are titillating details but who knows if we’ll ever know the whole truth?
Meanwhile jokes abound about the principals in this sordid drama with imaginary headlines such as “Miller to be charged for attempting to export Coke!” being bandied about the public sphere. The irrepressible Reverend has subsequently been charged with harbouring a fugitive but didn't let that prevent him from going to watch The Karate Kid this evening.
In an irreverend post titled Bad Man Nuh Dress Like Girl Kei Miller ruminated on the reports of cross-dressing by gunmen and dons:
That’s why this sentiment of ‘bad man nuh dress like girl’ is always kind of funny – because in a country where Dudus and the dear departed Natty could wear wigs and frocks whenever their minds took them to do it; and in a country where any tour of dancehall will feature a few male dance crews who always offer, on public display, the most profound and sometimes magical performances of Jamaican queerness; and in a country where bad men run across garrison communities – one hand holding onto their uzi guns, and the other lifting up the hem of their frocks so as not to trip, then we know the real truth – that bad man dress however de rass him want to dress. And that’s exactly what makes them de real bad men.
In a matter of weeks Coke has gone from being the most feared gang leader or strongman in Jamaica to a figure of scorn and ridicule after Police released photos of him wearing a wig and looking like an earnest church-going matron. Many are convinced that the police deliberately placed the wig on his head before photographing him in order to humiliate him and raise doubts about the awesome powers he is supposed to possess.
This morning Coke appeared before a Jamaican Resident Magistrate at a maximum security facility in Kingston. At 2 pm he was flown out of Norman Manley International Airport to New York to face charges of drug and gun running there. The nation which had waited with bated breath to see if Coke would actually leave the island alive heaved a sigh of relief. His ill-fated father, the legendary Jim Brown, was set ablaze in his Kingston cell on the eve of his extradition to the US for similar charges. That was in the nineties.
After the intense military and police activity of the last few weeks, with violent raids being conducted all over Kingston while security forces were desperately seeking Dudus, his final capture and impending extradition seem almost anti-climactic. Only in March this year the Police had worried aloud that the country's 268 gangs might act in concert to create incidents throughout the country to distract lawmen if there was any attempt to capture Coke. The violent reprisals that accompanied the raid into Coke’s stronghold, Tivoli Gardens, on May 24th have not recurred since his arrest two days ago.
Coke himself seems surprised and grateful at the restraint shown by Jamaican Police when they intercepted the car he was travelling in with Reverend Al Miller on May 22nd. The Police, once famously described by Bob Marley as being “all dressed in uniforms of brutality” seem to have finessed a textbook arrest of the country’s Public Enemy Number One with no shots fired and not a drop of blood shed. This is contrary to the way they normally deal with suspected criminals.
The unexpectedly peaceful capture of the country’s most wanted man, the sustained assault on criminal gangs and their leaders, and the cautious upward movement in the value of the local dollar have given Jamaicans cause for optimism about the future. If there are any successors waiting to pick up the reins after Coke’s departure they have yet to appear. A large number of dons and gang leaders have prudently turned themselves in to police custody since the State of Emergency which has now been extended for another month, was first declared.
Ultimately leaders such as Dudus Coke derive their power from catering to the needs of impoverished communities by providing them with versions of ‘local government’ that the elected government seem disinterested in or unable to supply. If Jamaicans want to prevent their country from slipping back into the clutches of the narco-trade they have to figure out how to deliver democratic governance to all their citizens instead of a chosen few.
Everyone is crying out for peace yes, none is crying out for justice sang Peter Tosh in his famous song Equal Rights. Ultimately its only equal rights and justice, yoked together for all citizens, that will deliver lasting peace in Jamaica.
In the meantime questions linger over why Christopher Coke didn’t turn himself in to Jamaican authorities before May 24th thus saving the 74 lives expended in the military operation to take back Tivoli from the ‘rebels’ who had barricaded it supposedly to defend Coke. It was their alleged attack on four police stations that provoked the intense assault by the Jamaican armed forces in which so many lives were lost in West Kingston.
One version of events has it that this happened just when the Reverend Al Miller was about to accompany Dudus Coke to the US Embassy on or around the 23rd of May. There were reports in the media of meetings between the US authorities and Dudus’s legal team that seemed to have fallen through.
The question is was there a deliberate attempt by interests unknown to sabotage an earlier, potentially peaceful surrender of Coke to the US authorities? By whom and to what purpose? Was there indeed a clash of differing agendas as Tom Tavares-Finson, once again speaking as Dudus’s lawyer today, has suggested? If so, what was the agenda? And whose agenda was it?
Meanwhile Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke remains an intriguing and tragic figure. Except for the unflattering bewigged photo circulated by the police after his arrest Coke was never shown in the Jamaican media wearing handcuffs or otherwise displaying signs of someone whose freedom has been severely curtailed. In contrast the very first photo of Coke after he landed in the US shows him with his arms handcuffed behind him (see photo above). The message is clear; as far as the United States is concerned Coke is a vicious criminal. In Jamaica however, his status is far more ambiguous.
Before appearing in a Kingston court today to waive his right to an extradition hearing in Jamaica Coke issued a statement to the Jamaican public asking them to pray for him:
I have, today, instructed my Attorneys that I intend to waive my right to an extradition hearing in Jamaica and to proceed directly to the United States under the terms of the Extradition Laws and treaty between Jamaica and the United States of America. I have taken this decision of my own free will and have done so even though I am of the belief that my case would have been successfully argued in the Courts of Jamaica. I take this decision for I now believe it to be in the interest of my family, the community of Western Kingston and in particular the people of Tivoli Gardens and above all Jamaica. Everyone, the whole country, has been adversely affected by the process that has surrounded my extradition and I hope that my action today will go some way towards healing all who have suffered and will be of benefit to the community of Tivoli Gardens. Above all I am deeply upset and saddened by the unnecessary loss of lives which could have been avoided, be it of members of the Security Forces and over eighty (80) residents of Tivoli or any other innocent Jamaicans that has occurred during this time. I leave Jamaica and my family in particular Patsy [Coke's mother] with a heavy heart but fully confident that in due course I will be vindicated and returned to them. Pray for me and God bless Jamaica.
- Christopher Coke
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Clovis, Jamaica Observer, June 23, 2010
“Have you caught that guy yet?” was a question frequently thrown at me in recent weeks by friends and family abroad who remembered hearing about Jamaica’s elusive don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke in the international media coverage that followed the deadly raid on his citadel in Kingston which left 74 Jamaicans dead in late May.
I was getting ready for a party I was hosting to launch a series of artworks called “The Hunt for Dudus” by Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr when a friend called with the news that Dudus had finally been captured. While the details are still filtering through to an excited public and before i actually write a proper blogpost on the subject i thought i'd share these unforgettable images with you. Soon come with the rest of the post!
Dudus as church sister, in wig...photo released by Police. Allegedly the car also contained a pink wig just in case a more preposterous get-up was required in a hurry.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
The Gleaner, Las May, June 15
While Jamaicans along with the rest of the world take in the World Cup, the media here have been poking fun at recent events such as the state of emergency and the routing of criminals from their innercity citadels. The Las May cartoon above is priceless i think, in this regard.
Crime has indeed plummeted with hardly any murders taking place although a major art heist was reported a couple of days ago when thieves raided the studio shared by artists George Rodney and Lois Lake-Sherwood making off with artworks and antiques.
Meanwhile back in Tivoli Gardens where the female population is getting antsy because of the sudden disappearance of their menfolk, go-getting women are hitting on JDF soldiers according to a story in The Star today which announced that "A shortage of men in west Kingston is said to have caused female residents to be fighting for the affection of soldiers who are now posted in the community."
A resident opined:
"Bway, to some extent yu can't even wrong dem because a pure woman deh a west Kingston now, most a di man dem run weh and dem probably naw come back, suh di woman dem affi fight fi wah dem want."
You can read all about it here.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Well, the local media have been pipped once again. According to the Guardian (UK) in an article titled From Kabul to Kingston "Army tactics in Jamaica resemble those used in Afghanistan – and it's no mere coincidence."
"For two weeks, the Jamaican army and police have fought gun battles in Kingston. The many allegations of human rights abuses committed by the security forces – including extrajudicial killings and the disposal of bodies – have received almost no international attention. Nor have the linkages between the Jamaican crisis, the security establishments in the US, Britain and Canada, and the mutations of the "war on terror".
But strategy and tactics deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being applied in Jamaica. Drones fly over Kingston, and were used in the 24 May assault to select targets. On 7 June, Tivoli residents discovered that to enter or leave the area they had to produce "passes" issued by the police (revised, after protests, to restrictions on movement after dark). There is blanket surveillance of electronic communications in breach of Jamaican privacy protections – indeed, it was the illegal provenance of some of the evidence against Christopher "Dudus" Coke that initially held up extradition proceedings."
In fact in Hubert Neal's painting mentioned in the previous post he had included the figure of a triangular shaped plane hovering over Kingston Harbour and then attempted to erase it leaving a ghostly shape. The soldiers were quite excited to see this. "The spy plane! the spy plane!" they exclaimed.
One day hopefully we'll hear the whole nine yards. I've thought from the beginning that this was a well-executed plan, with outside assistance, designed to breach the fortress of Tivoli on grounds of capturing Dudus which would bloom into an all-out assault on Dons and their gangs.
The problem is that even in times of uneasy peace the human rights of the poor were routinely violated. How can we assure ourselves that they are not victimized in this so-called war on crime?
Meanwhile in Britain "David Cameron today (June 15) issued a formal, state apology for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" killing of 14 civil rights marchers by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Derry 38 years ago."
Will we ever have closure here on the killing of 73 civilians in Tivoli on May 24th?
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Photos above by Hubert Neal Jr.
A frequently heard comment in the wake of the May 23rd assault by Jamaican security forces on Tivoli Gardens is that Jamaica Defence Force soldiers are far more civil and easy to trust than the police. The latter stand accused of shooting to kill without any consideration for whether the target is actually a suspected criminal or not. The soldiers on the other hand have been accused at the most of paying too much attention to the young women of Tivoli, an area that has remained under curfew ever since the barricades of Tivoli were demolished.
Of course the soldiers too are alleged to have participated in some questionable activities such as the hasty and unauthorized burial of bodies in makeshift coffins during the siege of Tivoli. But their reputation has fared far better than that of the much reviled and feared Police Force accused of wantonly killing young men in the affected areas. According to a Trini friend who generally knows about such things, a state of emergency is an opportunity for rogue police to go around eliminating those who are their partners in crime in times of peace--those who abet them in drug dealing, illegal taxi operations, extortion among other things. If true, this could explain the outrageously high number of casualties in the operation to capture Dudus--who of course, remains free and alive.
The Hunt for Dudus has inspired Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr., who arrived in the island on May 20, just before the 'Operation Take Dudus Alive' unfurled. Neal, an artist in residence at Roktowa on Pechon Street around the corner from Coronation Market and Tivoli Gardens found himself the recipient of an unlikely studio visit a few days ago when three groups of soldiers decided to patrol the old Red Stripe Brewery where he works along with the Haitian artists who are part of the 'Trembling Heart' project.
The soldiers allowed themselves to be detained by Neal's painting in progress, titled--what else--The Hunt for Dudus. They questioned him closely about his representation of the storming of Tivoli, disapproving of the low number of soldiers depicted (see photos above and below). On the whole however they were quite animated by the work they saw and their unorthodox art critique thrilled Hubert who documented The Studio Visit on his blog The Visual Poets Society.
Photos below by Annie Paul
The Hunt for Dudus by Hubert Neal Jr. (work in progress)
Dudus in between his bodyguards above and terrified woman and child below
A beaming Neal...
The most potent paintings i think are the two below, Hubert's depictions of the torture chamber the media described finding in Tivoli. I'm particularly moved by his interpretation of the grave found with a skeleton buried upright in it (below right).
Last Saturday we were part of a visit to award-winning writer/sociologist Erna Brodber's home at Woodside, St. Mary. As part of her Blackspace project she has documented various sites and relics dating from the days of slavery. One of the things she mentioned was the existence of what she referred to as a 'punishment hole' somewhere in the vicinity. What's that, I asked.
Well, sometimes slaves were punished by being buried upright up to their necks for days on end, said Erna. Wow, i thought, the Tivoli Punishment Hole was no doubt a variant of this time-honoured method of torture.
Erna Brodber at the entrance to the Woodside Community Centre
If you come to Roktowa next Sunday for the opening of Laura Facey's show Propel you can see Hubert's painting and work by the Haitian artists as well. In addition to Laura's marvelous drawings, prints, carving and sculpture there will also be Nine Night singing. The show is curated by Melinda Brown. Click on invite below for address and map to Roktowa.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Las May, The Gleaner
On May 8 I had occasion to talk to Tom Tavares-Finson, Chris Dudus Coke's erstwhile lawyer (who stepped down as part of his defence team on May 18, citing conflict of interest) at a mutual friend's birthday party. Can you talk about Dudus I asked, unable to resist my reporter's instincts.
"You mean that figment of the collective imagination?" Tom responded playing his legal role to the hilt; according to him, Dudus was an ordinary man on whom every abnormal event--the revoking of visas, crimes of various kinds, resignations--was being pinned with abandon. I was more than willing to engage in a spirited discussion on this unlikely portrayal of the nation's Public Enemy No. 1 but, alas, was deterred by frantic hand signals from my host who was afraid that the ensuing argument might derail his party.
I don't think anyone there could have guessed that within two weeks Tom's beloved Tivoli would be torn to pieces by Jamaican armed forces searching for Dudus who was barricaded in there. And apart from the one or two nondescript photographs circulating in the media there was hardly any information on this man now hunted on grounds of being a dangerous criminal mastermind by the United States.
This was the same man whose power enabled him some months ago to defuse the simmering rivalry between the Gaza and Gully factions by mounting the West Kingston Jamboree in Tivoli where the rival Dancehall DJs at the head of the two factions, Vybz Kartel and Mavado, performed on stage together (see video above). Dudus is also reputed to do a mean Gully Creeper but unlike our business and social elite he shuns the limelight remaining a shadowy, mysterious figure who by all reports craves 'ordinariness' and 'normalcy'.
Finally this morning, Jamaica's Sunday Gleaner has shed some more light on this retiring character in an excellent article by Tyrone Reid called "FROM MATH WHIZ TO WANTED." For once we're able to read a story like this in the local media and not in the New York Times, on BBC or CNN. The Gleaner reporter tracked down people who knew Coke at Ardenne High School, and uncovered information suggesting that the young Coke was anything but a ganglord in the making. In fact he was one of that rare, endangered species in Jamaica, a natural mathematical talent.
"The math teacher remembered Coke as one of his elite batch, picked at the end of the ninth grade.
Having breezed through CXC math Coke tackled the dreaded additional mathematics (add math) in Grade 11 and scored a Grade B - the second-highest mark."Math is the only universal language, and he spoke it very fluently," the teacher reminisced. "I taught him for five years straight. Basically, he was the model student; very quiet, and there were no problems in terms of discipline," said the educator.
Reid's story goes toe to toe against The Sunday Observer's rambling reminiscence by journalist Tino Geddes of Tivoli and its various Dons, most of whom he seems to have known closely.
Dudus is not a run of the mill ordinary Joe, looking to make some money and in search of power. He has never been and he will never be regarded by those who have known him, in that light.
I have personally known all the previous 'dons' of Tivoli Gardens. I had a special affection for Massop; I was closely involved with Bya; I watched Jah T go through high school at Wolmer's; I was particularly close to Jim Brown, and although not as close to Dudus as I was to his father, the younger Coke has commanded my respect.Dudus has undeniably captured the nation's imagination. At the recently staged Calabash Literary Festival the open mic segment was dominated by references to both Dudus and Tivoli. As news broke that his brother Livity and sister Sandra had both turned themselves in to the Police stories started swirling.
Was it true, enquiring minds on Facebook wanted to know, that Livity Coke was on Twitter and when rumours of his demise were reported he immediately tweeted saying "See mi yah"? The urban legends surrounding the Coke family continue to grow yet there have been no images in the media here of either Sandra or Livity or any further information about them.
The Jamaican media is puzzling in its tendency to conceal rather than reveal the news. Tightlipped and taciturn at the best of times, it took the New York Times to carry an article on the extrajudicial killings by the security forces in Tivoli. With the exception of Lloyd D'Aguilar, my former co-host on Newstalk 93, who took it upon himself to visit Tivoli in the wake of the assault on it, and report on what he found there, no other major news media here has followed up in a serious way on the 'collateral damage' caused by the breaching of Tivoli.
In the aftermath of the events of May 24th the BBC had footage of masked gunmen in Tivoli fortifying themselves and the community (see below). A reliable source informs me that this footage was actually shot by a TV Jamaica cameraman who had access to the individuals in question yet TVJ declined to air the exclusive video allowing the BBC an unnecessary scoop. The local television channel's reticence in airing the footage shot by its own cameraman remains a mystery.
What amazed me about this BBC footage that i watched over and over again in my hotel room in Barbados was that much of the early scenery shown, with police dodging around corners of buildings was right outside the National Gallery of Jamaica. The Gallery's walls are slightly pockmarked with bullet holes now and the fighting outside was so intense that a security guard was trapped inside the Gallery for 5 days.
"How did he survive? What did he eat?" I gasped when told this by the Executive Director of the Gallery, Veerle Poupeye.
"Well, he had access to the coffee shop. Thank God we stock three different flavours of muffins there," she replied laughing.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
they seek him there,
those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel."
Dudus is far from being the Scarlet Pimpernel but the Jamaican armed forces are certainly busy seeking the mild-mannered Christopher Coke in every nook and cranny of the country. Even the Mayor of Kingston's house wasn't spared in the security forces' hunt for Jamaica's Pimpernel.
It now appears the armed forces executed a well-planned and stealthy assault on Dudus's citadel, Tivoli Gardens, on May 23rd. The scenario didn't play out quite as feared back in March when Police expressed concern that the country's 268 gangs might act in concert to create incidents throughout the country to distract lawmen in the event of an offensive on Tivoli.
National Security Minister Dwight Nelson went on record then saying that "Government was focusing on preparing strong anti-gang legislation that would target, infiltrate and dismantle criminal gangs.
"The legislation, Nelson said, would also identify and arrest members of criminal gangs; ensure long sentences for gang members; conduct a thorough historical and proactive investigation into the activities of gang members; and develop intelligence as to each member's association with and participation in gangs."
With the speed at which Dons and gang members have been turning themselves in, one fervently hopes that the said legislation is in place to put them away for a long time. Meanwhile the security forces must be congratulated for keeping deaths down to under a hundred although the various charges of wrongful detention, wounding and killings by the armed forces must also be fully investigated with those responsible for the wanton taking of life duly punished. The New York Times had an article today about extrajudicial killings by Jamaican police, something that's a problem even when there's no state of emergency.
At the Caribbean Studies’ Association's 35th annual conference in Barbados, May 24-28, eerily titled “The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean,” many of us recalled the previous CSA conference in Kingston last June which included a commemorative walk for victims of violence organized by Sistren and the Peace Management Initiative. The walk started outside the Hannah Town Police Station (the first building to be burnt down by the gunmen protesting Dudus's arrest last week) and proceeded along Hannah Street, Slipe Pen Road, past the Kingston Public Hospital culminating in a ceremony at the Monument to Children killed in Violence outside the KSAC offices on Church Street.
As the pictures above from the Letters from the Dead walk show, it was mainly women who marched, each one holding an image of a slain family member. An article in Guyana's Stabroek News documented the process preceding the performance as recorded by Honor Ford-Smith and Alissa Trotz:
Weeks before the march took place, workshops with women from different communities explored the ways in which people remember and forget urban violence. Women discussed the different circumstances that result in the shooting and death of diverse victims and the enormous pain and waste that it has caused. For several, forgetting was an attempt to cope with the pain of loss, but it was also to avoid the desire for revenge that was triggered by remembering, raising the important question of how to link memory with reconciliation as one constructive response to violence. Participants found it difficult to share their stories publicly and in a collective setting. One woman who had lost all of her children to violence spoke of her complete isolation, of shutting herself in her house, of leaving her yard and being completely disoriented on a street that she had inhabited for years. Her story is deeply symbolic of how the violence both produces and continues to be produced by alienation from neighbourhood and community, spaces that we so often associate with nurturing and bonds of solidarity.
The performance on June 3 vividly dramatized elements of the workshops. Women, men and children gathered in the yard outside a church in Hannah Town. Dressed primarily in black, heads tied with red cloth, each person bore witness to the devastating effects of violence on families and communities. During the workshops, participants had selected images of those they had lost. As we took to the streets that afternoon, we were surrounded by faces of the dead mounted on placards, pinned to shirts, hung on a cord around the neck. On a poster held up by one elderly woman, an infant lost to gun violence stared out solemnly at those gathered in the churchyard.
As the procession began its trek through downtown Kingston, participants formed a long line, bearing 35 yards of red cloth that rippled like water, symbolizing the blood of the thousands killed in community wars over the last decades. Two young women dressed in white – cultural workers from Toronto – performed the part of ghosts or spirits, urging the marchers on to the final destination. Women led the marchers in church hymns punctuated by clapping. Some bore a coffin that had been made locally – it is tragic how many funeral parlours one can find in inner city Kingston – and that linked urban wars in Canada to those in Kingston through the use of repeating images of the black youth murdered in Toronto. Onlookers – asking questions or greeting familiar faces – were urged to join the march. Scholars who are members of the Caribbean Studies Association from around the world and who were holding their annual conference in Kingston, also joined the walk which was part of the performance programme of the conference.
The ‘walk’ culminated outside the office of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, at the site of the Secret Garden and Monument to the Children, dedicated in late 2008 to remember those killed under violent and tragic circumstances since 2000. The bronze sculpture depicts the face of a weeping child, with names of the dead inscribed around its perimeter; almost three sides of the monument had been filled with hundreds of names, children ranging in age from a few months to 17 years. As a young woman sang a tribute to the dead children, the red cloth was laid down on the pavement and placards and mementos laid along its length. Before a large gathering that had collected on the street, Sistren member Afolashade explained the purpose of the moving commemoration, and invited workshop participants to the microphones to share the letters they had written to their dead and to ‘post’ them in a specially designed letterbox. Audience members were also asked to read a few letters aloud. Others read fictional responses from victims of violence; in one particularly telling letter, a young man imagined his dead friend urging him not to link memory to retribution because that would only continue the cycle of violence. Music by reggae musicians including Ibo Cooper – from Third World – and others accompanied the readings. After the last letter was read, witnesses were invited to walk around the cloth. People pointed out faces they knew. A woman exclaimed in shock when she realized that a male friend of hers was among the dead. There was silence as people circled the monument to read the names of children. One woman who had been leading us in song along the march collapsed on the sidewalk in grief, surrounded by other women trying to comfort her.
The question is what sort of ritual will we need to hold now for the inhabitants of Tivoli Gardens and others who were victims of Operation Desperately Seeking Dudus?