The events leading up and subsequent to the May 24, 2010 Tivoli incursion taught me many things about Jamaicans and Jamaica. Some of them were sad confirmations of things that I had long suspected but would never have dared to verbalize in good company.

One of the things I confirmed was that a significant number of our populace have goals that extend only to eating their next meal. Regardless of the extent of systematic  abuse meted out to them or their loved ones, the lure of an immediate meal, hustle or even a promise of  “soon come” is often enough to keep them loyal and hoping.

I also confirmed that the social, political and class divides that Edward Seaga and many others spoke of over four decades ago are as pronounced and perhaps even more rigid than they have ever been, regardless of the superficial proclamations of “Out of Many One People” which has become a meaningless mantra.

I saw how misguided political agendas by both parties caused potentially great Jamaican statesmen to become liars, in some cases to become spies and informers for imperialist powers and others  complicit in ignoring the murder of innocent civilians. All in the name of politriks.

But honestly speaking, the most important thing I learnt was the extent to which the value of a Jamaican life is determined by how far above or below HWT one resides.

Just over 70 persons were officially acknowledged to have been killed in West Kingston during the operations to capture Christopher Coke by the security forces. I have heard from numerous sources, some of whom I have very strong belief in their integrity, that the actual dead may have numbered closer to 120. And to this day, almost 2 years later, not one iota of justice, recompense, reconciliation and even respect has been shown to the bereaved.

The understanding or acceptance by Jamaican society is that all these casualties were simply combatants hell-bent on the protection of their don and got their just deserves.

That is not the truth.

I am not going to fabricate fairy tales that every person killed was a churchgoing choirboy who was brutally murdered by evil security forces. The law enforcement officials came under severe fire and whatever means that they deemed appropriate to save their own lives and accomplish their mission, I as a law-abiding well-meaning Jamaican was in complete support.

The real problem is that they did not stop there. The truth is that many innocents were executed. Handcart men, vendors, mechanics, just regular working men who looked like they could be in some way connected to the Presidential System were put onto the ground and shot in their heads. Jamaican men were dragged from their homes and killed. Without charge, trial or jury…..they were shot like dogs.

Some were dumped in shallow graves in May Pen Cemetery and there are people claiming that others were burnt in furnaces over the old Public Works grounds.

The real dilemma is that no one cares. The mistake of the Jamaican populace is their largely held belief that everyone who lives in such an area, who did not leave, was a supporter of Coke and therefore deserving of death.  The real tragedy is the popular sentiment that ghetto Jamaican lives are cheap and plentiful.  Their deaths really amount to nothing but a relief to society, as we, the legitimate and proper bearers of the title “Jamaican citizen”, have merely gotten rid of a current or a potential criminal.

So when the TVJ news poll during the week of May 24 asked viewers “Should Tivoli residents be allowed to bury their dead?” it all became perfectly clear to me. No one can or will ever have to give me permission to bury my dog. I live uptown, I have my tings, mi have mi rights or so I would like to believe like Keith Clarke probably did.

But those 2 legged dogs in Tivoli need to get approval from us before they are allowed to bury the other two-legged dogs that we have killed. Michael Sharpe read that poll on TVJ and was seeking the public’s answers with a perfectly straight face. What we as a society fail to recognize is that the same knife that stick sheep will stick goat. When any human life within a country is undervalued, it undervalues all lives in that country. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. When anyone of us can be killed by the state without accountability, then all bets are off.  Regardless of what side of Half Way Tree one resides.

So herein lies the purpose of this blog post—- There was one article in the media which stood out and somewhat humanized the overall situation and the loss of life which took place in the Tivoli incursion.

It was not done by our local media. It was a piece in The New Yorker Magazine by a young white non-Jamaican male by the name of Mattathias Schwartz. He did the story that every Jamaican journalist should have been interested in doing. He did the piece that spoke to many of the issues that us as a society should have been concerned about subsequent to the incursion. Sadly we were too busy asking whether or not the dogs should have been allowed to bury their dead.

Here is a two part interview that I did with Matt. I simply wanted to find out a bit more about the opinions of the outsider who probably has done the single definitive piece on the Tivoli Incursion of 2010.


Had you ever been to Jamaica before? If so, what were your impressions?

I traveled to Jamaica as a tourist. Then I met someone in Kingston who told me about aspects of the Tivoli/Coke story that hadn’t made it into U.S. media, and I got started reporting. To some extent, Jamaica reminds me of Philadelphia—corrupt politics, insufficient housing, lots of murder, lots of exploitation by an entrenched power elite. Jamaica is what you would get if you put Philadelphia on an island in the Caribbean and left it alone for twenty or thirty years.

 How long were you here while doing the Tivoli story?

Eleven weeks, spread out over three trips.

What were your impressions of Tivoli as a community? What were some of the more memorable moments and characters?

 There are lots of “eyes on the street” to borrow Jane Jacobs’s term for informal public surveillance. If you come in from outside of the community, you need to be prepared to explain yourself and your reasons for being there to residents. “Unity” is a word that you hear a lot when Tivoli talks about itself, and it is true that the community has a great deal of spirit and unity and identity as a neighborhood. Tivoli is very closely knit.

What was your impression of Dudus’ role in the community?

It is hard for me to say with certainty. I wasn’t actually present in the community during the time that he was in charge so what I know comes from documentary sources and interviews with people who were there—police and residents. Among residents, there is a lot of love for Dudus and a lot of fear as well and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.

You must have heard an abundance of stories in your research that you eventually culled down for piece, did you get the impression people in West Kingston lied a lot?

Jamaica is a small country—about 2.7 million people the Internet tells me. So when you are looking into an event with as much impact as the Coke extradition and the Tivoli Gardens incursion, it is hard to find someone in Jamaica—let alone West Kingston—who doesn’t have a direct connection to the event. And when you or someone close to you is involved in an event, that makes it harder to give an honest, complete account when some reporter who just met starts asking you questions.

What was the most surprising/shocking discovery you made during your research?

I would meet an individual who claimed that they had never had any involvement or relationship with Dudus or his father. Then I would later learn, from another source, that they had a rather close relationship with one or the other. Or I would meet an individual who would claim that they had a relationship in the distant past that was now over. Then I would turn up a piece of evidence that the relationship was far more current than they had let on.

The first part of my answer to this question does not apply to the dead of May 2010, however. I remain convinced that Radcliffe Freeman, Andre Smith, and dozens of others who died during the incursion were innocent noncombatants killed in cold blood by the Jamaican security forces during the incursion. I have published a great deal of evidence to this effect, evidence that was vetted with great care by myself and the magazine’s factcheckers. I challenge anyone in the Jamaican government or elsewhere to produce evidence to the contrary.

Were you surprised that no Jamaican media had really done a comprehensive piece on the Tivoli Incursion?

No, I was not surprised.

Why weren’t you surprised?

Well, let me modify that slightly. Some of the Gleaner’s coverage—bothprint and video—immediately after the assault on Tivoli was very good.And the Observer has at least two columnists who have worked hard tokeep questions surrounding the civilian casualties in the publicconversation. When you ask why there was no comprehensiveinvestigative piece in the Jamaican media, and why I was notsurprised, it’s difficult for me to say exactly. I do think that thereany many excellent and honest journalists in Jamaica, and that they covered this story as well as they could, given the resources that they had.

Have you been approached by any human rights organizations, charities, judicial organizations about your piece?

I came into contact with some organizations like these, such asAmnesty International and Jamaicans for Justice, during the reporting process.

Did you actually speak to any Jamaican politicians?

I assume you mean during the process of reporting the story … if so,the answer is yes, I spoke with numerous Jamaican MPs as well as other politicians and government officials.

What were the US impressions to your article? What did your editor think? Was it a popular story?

I wish that there had been more outrage in the U.S. regarding the story, particularly given the fact that a U.S. citizen was killed and the U.S. government assisted with the operation. The U.S. public certainly wouldn’t stand for something like this occurring in a U.S. city. I am frankly surprised how easily the Jamaican public appears to have written off the killing of dozens of Jamaican citizens by their own security forces.

Here is part 2 of the interview


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