Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Tivoli: thinking back, thinking forward

Published:Sunday | October 4, 2015 | 10:00 AMGarnett Roper, Contributor

The only thing more alarming than some of the revelations made at the Tivoli commission of enquiry is how little comment they have elicited among the Jamaican chatocracy. I am firmly of the view that at whatever cost, the enquiry is important in unearthing the factors that were at play during the saga to apprehend Christopher 'Dudus' Coke in May and June 2010 and in determining how 76 civilians were killed.

The commission has received important testimonies. My reference for the purposes of this article is from the evidence of former commissioner of police Owen Ellington, as well as Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, all the way to the evidence given by Major Henry of the JDF.

The commissioners themselves have been quite up to the task. Sir David Simmons, the chairman, has not managed to consistently display the erudition with which he began as chairman. Recently, he seems quick to downplay things that are coming out in evidence in ways that are almost counterintuitive.

For example, in giving evidence during the last sitting of the commission, Major Henry, the JDF officer responsible for creating a buffer around Tivoli Gardens, and who had testified that heavy gunfire resistance from Tivoli was so intense that it required the JDF three hours to traverse a distance of 500 metres, gave evidence that a man was apprehended in Foxy Plaza manning a computer screen with video images that included surveillance of the entire length of Chestnut Lane and elsewhere.

 

makes no sense

In response, Sir David expressed the view that this was no different from any commercial enterprise owner with a CCTV system. That is a stretch. Sir David was prepared to ignore the evidence given by Major Henry that indicated that there was a concealed trap door leading from the roof of Foxy Plaza and that having inserted one of his men through the trap door, it was discovered that the channel gave access to every shop in the plaza, and that, in turn, led to a steel door that opened into Chestnut Lane, on which there was "a treasure chest of weapons, an absolute armoury, with weapons of every sort, handguns and rifles, AK-47 of every make - Korean, Russian, Chinese ... ."

In the context of the evidence given by Major Henry, the suggestion by the commission chair that it was the equivalent to a business owner overlooking the security systems for his enterprise makes no sense.

The evidence that the security forces faced enormous resistance by a paramilitary force of criminals which was well-prepared, armed, supported and facilitated in the community is now incontestable.

Even Martin Henry believes that this was so despite his declaration that "... if Dudus were still 'President', Monica would still be alive today, selling in the downtown market district", in his Gleaner column. Martin Henry's words are the rough equivalent of what Martha said to Jesus in John 11, "Lord if thou had been here, my brother would not have died." Henry has said on radio that he believed that the security forces encountered conditions no different from a war.

The evidence before the commission has not always been of the highest quality. I am told, by those who are in the know, that there is nothing wrong with the identity of witnesses being concealed and their voices being distorted. I am told that Jamaican law allows for such evidence to be taken.

Even so, in a country where people frequently come on television and claim to have witnessed the police carrying out extrajudicial killings in their community and blocking the road to boot, it is difficult to conceive of why we would need to have gone to such lengths to conceal the identity and distort the voices of serving members of the JDF giving evidence against members of the JCF.

 

incredulous

In fact, the very concealment of their identity is to tacitly concede the very thing that the commission of enquiry is seeking to determine: It is whether the

security forces murdered the 76 people during the incursion and subsequent mop-up

operations.

Unfortunately, the evidence of the three JDF soldiers alleging that they saw the police killing two, three, five young men (take your pick) has been discredited. They have not got their story straight. And some of it is incredulous.

Do not get me wrong. The police do murder young men. I have in my lifetime more than once pointed to circumstances in which the police have murdered young men. I have taken steps to have policemen arrested and tried by the courts before it was fashionable to do so. I also know of circumstances in which the police have shot young men and cynically allowed them to bleed to death instead of taking them for medical intervention in a timely manner.

The fact that it happens does not, however, mean that it happened in May 2010. Giving evidence required more diligence on the part of the three JDF soldiers than they appeared to have displayed. I would also say the same thing to many of the Tivoli residents have given evidence.

Whatever happens at the resumption of what I hope will be the final sitting of the enquiry in October, these two things are already apparent: (They may be lost on us because we are about to enter the heights of the electoral silly season, but they are still undeniable). The first is, if all concede that the security forces met resistance that was tantamount to a paramilitary force, well prepared and well armed and supported, what has happened to the remnants of that force in Jamaica today? Let us imagine that the 76 who died were of the 300 that fought, what has happened to the 224? Where are they now? Are they still active? Do they have anything to do with the 20 per cent spike in murder in 2015?

The second is this: From all the evidence to date, Tivoli appeared to have been a space where the rule of law, discipline and good order were flouted to the financial advantage of some and with the complicity of many. We have not yet developed a narrative or a social contract in respect of the Jamaican State. Will the events of May 2010, and beyond, and the findings of the enquiry help us to frame a narrative and enter in a social contract concerning the rule of law as a Jamaican society?

This contempt for the rule of law and the attempts to make money while flouting the law are not restricted to any one community that is spoiled and protected and for which there is a narrative of it being under siege. This contempt for the rule of law has become cultural and a subtext in the Jamaican narrative.

We must not put a blind eye to lawlessness, wherever it appears in Jamaica, ever again, for it is the thin edge of the wedge and the wooden Trojan horse.

- Garnett Roper is president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary and chairman of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glroper@hotmail.com.