Ian Boyne | Tivoli report hits bullseye
The David Simmons-led commission of enquiry on Tivoli has delivered an even-handed, balanced, eminently fair, rigorous, and first-rate report, which has done justice to its terms of reference and has vindicated the aggrieved.
One gets accustomed to one-sided, jaundiced reports and analyses of police-military operations. It is not often that I notice a balance between concerns for human rights and for security. Often, individual rights are pitted against community security. And while the media have not done justice in coverage of the report (it's a lot of reading), leading some to assume that this report follows the tradition of security-force bashing, the Simmons Commission does no such thing.
The esteemed president emeritus of the University of Technology, Dr Alfred Sangster, apparently only relied on media reports rather than wading through the more than 900-page report . In a Letter of the Day on Wednesday titled 'Tivoli report's blame game scandalous', Dr Sangster charged, "It is quite scandalous that the commissioners turned the enquiry into a blame game against the security forces. We need another view." That could not be further from the truth.
The Simmons Commission found that "resistance to the arrest of Coke with a view to the extradition was transformed into an occasion of open, violent opposition and resistance to the State and its law-enforcement officers by a large number of gunmen". The commissioners go on to say: "The Intelligence of the security forces was of such a quality as to leave us convinced of the truth of the assertion that gunmen were specially recruited from across Jamaica to augment the numbers of criminals opposed to the security forces ... . For the sake of completeness, we feel bound to reiterate that Tivoli Gardens itself was specially fortified to prevent the security forces from gaining access to that community for the purpose of executing the warrant of arrest of Coke."
Dr Sangster, you have to read this massive report for yourself rather than depend on our media to give you a full picture. They will continue to highlight what is said about security forces' excesses and not about the clear and present danger that the mother of all garrisons posed to the Jamaican State, as acknowledged by its then own Member of Parliament and Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
Dr Sangster fumes: "This declaration of war against the security forces is what the commission recommends should be apologised for and rewarded? No way! This endorses evil." No, no, no, Dr Sangster. Don't rely on media reports. Listen further to what the commissioners found: "The video evidence that we saw left no doubt in our minds that the special arming of criminal elements in Tivoli Gardens was no mere allegation. It was a fact of frightening proportions."
Listen further: "With a view to repelling the efforts of the security forces and with a view to matching the human resources of the security forces, Coke enlisted the support of gunmen from other gangs. We accept the preponderance of evidence of witnesses who were privy to Intelligence reports that a large number of gunmen from across Jamaica were recruited to assist gangs within Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town." The media have not been highlighting these sections of the report, for they don't fit their narrative. The commissioners did write: "The JCF was incapable of mounting an appropriate and effective challenge to the fortifications in order to gain access to Tivoli Gardens. It was, therefore, essential that the operation of 24 May be led by the JDF."
And don't think that those lying witnesses pulled any wool over David Simmons' face or that of his commissioners; certainly not Professor Anthony Harriott, who understands crime in Jamaica better than anyone else. They saw through the naked fear of those Tivoli witnesses, victims of the bondage and oppression of garrisonisation. Their barefaced lying did not escape the Simmons group.
FEAR OF REPRISALS
"The reluctance of residents to identify any persons involved in the erection of barricades was an expression of a wall of silence, no doubt engendered by a fear of reprisals by Coke and/or his organisation. Most of the residents were prepared to speak readily of Coke the benefactor but not Coke the president of crime in West Kingston. We accept that the garrison phenomenon creates an environment in which it is difficult to vent or dissent. But in light of evidence of civilian witnesses, what we saw on video clips of embattlements being set up and applying our common sense, we find that residents participated in the erection of barriers and embattlements."
This commission produced a first-class report that should be the standard of fairness, balance and rigour for similar reports. Dr Sangster owes them an apology. Sangster's lengthy attack on the report includes points that the commissioners themselves made. Indeed, this report engages the scholarly literature on garrisonisation, including the work of the country's pre-eminent criminologist, Commissioner Harriott.
The commission recommends degarrisonisation and calls for an independent body to be set up along the lines of the Electoral Commission to establish a road map to towards that. "No democratic nation can have within its own borders communities that cannot be effectively and efficiently policed by legitimate civil power." Absolutely!
And it calls for something that all civil society and the powerful private sector, which funds political parties, should support: "Political leaders must commit themselves to ending allocation of the Government's and the political party's resources to dons."
Perhaps the most important result of this commission of enquiry is that poor people will see that finally, they can get some justice or have some vindication. This is critically important in a society like ours that has historically been characterised by injustice and oppression. We are accustomed to seeing the rights of the poor and marginalised trampled and disregarded. In this regard, we have to strongly commend human-rights activists who, over the years, have raised their voices and lobbied heavily on behalf of brutalised poor people.
I have criticised human-rights activists for their imbalance, but nothing can take away from the tremendous work they have done over the years to sensitise this society to the brutalities, disrespect and oppression meted out to ordinary people routinely by the security forces. I agree thoroughly with the commission in its conclusion that "the commission served to facilitate the voices of those who suffered and felt aggrieved. They were able to recount and re-enact their experiences with the nation as an audience."
Some people lied. But some people's truth was so compelling and forceful that I could not contain myself and just broke down in heavy tears on several occasions. I will never forget as long as I live the face and voice of that woman who told of her sons being taken upstairs and slaughtered. I have no doubt that the security forces committed some cold-blooded murders in Tivoli. Action must be pursued against them.
I totally agree with the commission that "although the operation of the security forces was justified, the manner of its execution by some members of the security forces was disproportionate, unjustified and unjustifiable". That is a totally defensible statement. I agree that the Government must publicly apologise for these excesses and that compensation must be paid to those whose properties were criminally destroyed by the security forces. I support the eminently reasonable call for oversight of the JDF's involvement in policing operations and for oversight of Mobile Reserve. (Though they must not be hobbled in their drive against criminals.)
Police incompetence, bungling, and cluelessness highlighted in the Tivoli operation mirror what takes place every day. I think incompetence and carelessness might be as big a problem in the JCF as corruption. Lawyers have incredible stories to tell.
But back to the commission's conclusion, which was poignant: "The enquiry provided [a] platform for demonstrating the accountability of the security forces ... . Symbols of accountability were seen through the testimony of the former prime minister and former ministers."
The enquiry signals that poor people's lives matter and that justice is not only for those who can afford it. David Simmons and his commissioners have done a service to Jamaica and to justice. They earned their hefty compensation. No price is too high to show that injustice anywhere is a threat and scourge to justice everywhere.