Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Are there no innocents in Tivoli?

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Deborah Martin, attorney-at-law representing the Jamaica Constabulary Force, goes over the witness statement with George Harriot at the Tivoli commission of enquiry. - Ian Allen/Photographer

Dr. Orville Taylor, Columnist

Did an entire community of residents from Tivoli Gardens and its surroundings take on the security forces, fight a one-sided battle, and pay dearly for their folly by losing 70-plus lives and millions of dollars in property in defence of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke?

Who truly speaks for the residents, like John Green - who attorney Valerie Neita Robertson describes as "law abiding" - who say they had no role in any campaign to resist the army? There is a Facebook page called the Tivoli Committee, with a massive chat group of 13 persons. From the profile of the members, there is nothing that suggests that any of them actually live in the geographical area of Tivoli Gardens and its environs. Who are the members other than Gleaner 'victim' Lloyd D'Aguilar, self-described as convener? Isn't there a deputy convener, a Simon Peter, or Paul, to carry on the work after his martyrdom? Or is there only Thomas?

Who now represents this elusive, if not illusive, committee? Up to December 2, 2014, it was attorney Ras Miguel Lorne. Attorney Alexander Williams has a list of identifiable clients. Does it replicate D'Aguilar's? This had better be settled because I am not particularly impressed by the apparent imbalance among the advocates. Never mind the nonsense spewed by Jamaica Defence Force attorney Linton Gordon that only lawyers should speak at the commission. Maybe he was called to the wrong Bar, but he must be reminded that it is not a court of law, and worse, one of the commissioners is not a lawyer.

COSTLY INACTION

An interesting undertone that seems to emanate from the line of questioning from the attorneys representing the police and the army is that the Tivolites somehow deserved whatever harm they experienced. Apart from being directly asked if they were involved in facilitating the 'resistance', there is the suggestion that because the Tivoli residents did not actively assist the agents of law enforcement, they have to take responsibility for their inaction.

Yet, if the lawyers are honest, and at least one of these attorneys regularly represents people from the same demographic as the Tivolites, they can readily comprehend the concept of acting under duress. If Dudus was as presidential as they argue, he would have had the citizens under a constant state of siege, with his informal militia of thugs and enforcers ready to exact swift and cruel punishment.

Neita Robertson, who stridently questions the witnesses, was part of a defence team for convicted area don Donald 'Zekes' Phipps, whose erstwhile 'kingdom' was just 400 metres north of the Dudus' stronghold and who ran his area with an iron, mostly orange, fist. Therefore, she knows that in a practical sense, people could not very well jump up and 'inform' because the State could not protect them.

The sea of white comprising large numbers of females and even canines, which marched in solidarity for Dudus, while the authorities were seeking him, is often used to justify the argument that they supported his criminality. While there doubtless are large numbers of persons who were sympathetic to him, one must not forget that many of the persons who are captured and even executed by Islamic extremists are forced to 'revert' to Islam and wear outward signs of this conversion and support.

It is also a serious non-argument that buses were sent to herd the citizens out of the danger zone because they knew that criminal elements were involved in what then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, known for his penchant for truth, described as a "calculated assault on the authority of the State … ". Moreover, it was a state of emergency, and Golding did declare that the security forces would have "extraordinary powers necessary to deal with this extraordinary situation … the power to restrict the freedom of movement, search premises and detain persons suspected of involvement in unlawful activities without warrant".

True, but not to be interpreted as a flip-flop, but as a clarification, Golding also unambiguously stated that the "security forces have been instructed to observe and respect the rights of citizens to go about their lawful business … . People are assured that they are free to move about and go to work as usual".

Inasmuch as the powers in a state of public emergency allow the security forces to restrict movement, and prevent residents from leaving a geographical area, there is nothing in our Constitution or in any statute that gives them the right to forcibly evacuate, even when there is imminent danger. This has been one of my pet peeves, since my entry into media, when citizens continue to stand their ground on gully banks, hillsides, flood plains and river courses despite warnings from state agencies.

NOT WEST BANK OR GAZA

For the residents of Tivoli who may or may not have seen the buses, the army and police had no legal authority to force them out of their homes. This is not Israel's West Bank or Gaza, even if we bleach our skins and tattoo it with the Star of David. Furthermore, were the military and police prepared to go into the community and escort out the 'law-abiding citizens' and protect them from the very same Dudus enforcers, who would not have been keen on their leaving? And as with all evacuations, was there a suitable alternative shelter for the refugees?

By the way, the attorneys have reprised the history of Tivoli dons, starting with Claudius Massop, to Lester Lloyd Coke (Jim Brown), Mark 'Jah T' Coke, and finally Dudus. Does anyone recall that Massop was killed by the police, like American Mike Brown, in February 1979 with some 40 bullet wounds, some of which were allegedly in the armpits? Many defence lawyers called the police criminals then. Similarly, Jim Brown, like Mario Deane, died in state custody, in 1992, also in February, the same month when Jah T was himself murdered. No policeman or correctional officer was convicted for the deaths of Jim Brown or Massop.

Is there a foreshadowing device here?

Dr Orville Taylor, the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism, is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.