Thursday, June 24, 2010

Crying out for Peace in Jamaica: The Extradition of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke

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


hubert neal jr said...

this is a wonderful piece. and i cant help but be, dare i say touched' by the humanity of mr cokes statement. it reminds me that he is not the only guilty party.


Anonymous said...

@hubert, it is a brilliant statement by a very good lawyer, and the job of a good lawyer is to humanize his or her client. It says nothing at all about a client, their true feelings, or their real nature. A good lawyer begins to shape public sentiments toward their client right from the word go, and as your comment shows, the lawyer who drafted this statement is already doing one hell of a good job doing just that.
- Olu

Anonymous said...

@hubert, it is a brilliant statement by a very good lawyer, and the job of a good lawyer is to humanize his or her client. It says nothing at all about a client, their true feelings, or their real nature. A good lawyer begins to shape public sentiments toward their client right from the word go, and as your comment shows, the lawyer who drafted this statement is already doing one hell of a good job doing just that.
- Olu

Diana Chen Thorburn said...

What a drama. I find it all quite surreal. Every bit of it.
I look forward to a critical dissection of the statement. I also wonder whose bright idea it was (actually, I'm pretty sure I know whose idea it was.) My initial reaction to it is that it's disingenuous and completely inappropriate given the scale of destruction that has taken place. I feel like this ostensive contrition makes a mockery of everything and everyone. said...

Great piece Annie. So revealing this whole affair. Thank so much for the updates.

Natalie said...

Lovely account, Annie. you gotta send this to HuffPost, if you haven't already!

FSJL said...

I don't know that I'd want to call Coke "a tragic figure." That suggests a hero with a self-destroying flaw, a man (or a woman) who brings pain and hurt to himself and those around him, and whose career must, ultimately, end in his own useless death. Coke is an entrepreneur whose enterprise has risen in the interstices of the allowed and the forbidden and who, as you point out, provides services that the state does not (because it is inhibited from doing so by its masters in the multilateral institutions). He has become a power in the land because those who should be exercising power on behalf of the people of Jamaica have abdicated their responsibility to those who elected them and chosen to be nothing more than the spokes(wo)men of an international power structure that uses them as its geldings.

In such a context, a medium-scale criminal entrepreneur like Coke, can present himself to the residents of Kingston's slums as a social bandit who cares for the poor, when those who should be speaking for them are stamping on their faces.

FSJL said...

Morgan Freeman playing the Rev. Mr. Miller in Driving Miss Dudus doesn't seem seem like that great a stretch.

Ruthibelle said...

A bit late on this one, but excellent post.

I don't know what i feel when I look at Christopher Coke, to be quite honest. And I really haven't spent time to try to figure it out except to say there is ambiguity ...

I just want to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me(/him/her/us) God ...

Really, is that too much to ask??

Annie Paul said...

No Ruthi, you're asking for the moon. The whole truth?? that will never come out...

the truth doesn't always set you free. Look at how many years Mandela spent in prison, didn't everyone know the truth about Apartheid already?

It's difficult to change the situation when you're operating in the dark though so i agree we need to know a lot more about the role of the US, about Dudus, about the system he ran in Tivoli, about our stinking, foul dangerous politics before we can easily point at any person and say he's evil or she's good.

Ruthibelle said...

that's part of why I find it so hard to flippantly cast judgment ... we all know there's MORE to the story. It needs to come out ...

... and hasn't man already conquered the moon?? :) ;)