The enquiry and garrisons
During his evidence last week at the West Kingston commission of enquiry, Bruce Golding constantly attempted to deflect questions about the garrison characteristics of Tivoli Gardens on a broader discussion of the problem across Jamaica.
"As is the case in many communities," he often quipped. At times, the former prime minister specifically identified constituencies represented by high officials of the governing People's National Party, where the phenomenon is alive.
Mr Golding's aim, some may argue, was to burnish his reputation among the residents of the West Kingston community and the Jamaica Labour Party, to which they are notoriously loyal, but who may have felt betrayed by his 2010 decision to impose the state of emergency as part of the initiative to capture Christopher Coke, during which more than 70 people died. Whatever may be his agenda, Mr Golding, inadvertently or otherwise, added value to the hearings. So, too, we believe, did the decision by Lord Anthony Gifford, representing the public defender, to tender to the commission the Kerr Report on garrisons and those on crime in Jamaica, by the former chief justice, Lensley Wolfe, and the late Trevor MacMillan. There is a clear intersection between Jamaica's political garrisons and criminality.
THE MOST EXTREME EXAMPLE
We do not presume to instruct the commissioners on how to fashion their report, but Mr Golding's observations and the tendered reports have critical relevance to their work and to their terms and reference, if properly interpreted. Christopher Coke's emergence as political operative, enforcer, racketeer, community benefactor, and overlord was facilitated by, and happened in the context of, the political garrisonisation of several Jamaican communities. Tivoli Gardens and Coke were merely the most extreme examples.
In this regard, the effort of Sir David Simmons and his fellow commissioners must be beyond determining whether there were extrajudicial killings by the security forces during the Tivoli operations, as important as that is. They must pronounce on the historic environment and context in which Tivoli 2010 occurred, as part of their evaluation, per their terms of reference, of the situation in "Western Kingston and related areas prior to May 2010". Further, there is sufficient room, on the basis of the evidence, to extrapolate to the larger problem of garrisons.
With this fuller approach to their task, the commissioners will lend their prestige to, and help provide, Jamaica with another opportunity and additional platform from which to confront this blight on its body politic, leading, hopefully, to hard and specific progammes to dismantle these zones of political exclusion that double as redoubts for criminals. It is a process that will demand more than football matches and cross-community tutoring in math or English, as useful as such interactions are.
It must rest on a firm political resolve and clear commitment to Jamaica as an open democracy and the risks to the maintenance of power that these involve. Political parties and their leaders must not only disavow garrisons and dons, but be seen to break with those within their ranks who thrive on the old order.
Further, the Jamaican State must assert its presence in all communities and provide protection to all its citizens, with a professional constabulary adhering to human rights, engaging in concerted operation against gangs and their leaders, even those with the imprimatur of politics.