Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Martin Henry | West Kingston: What next?

Published:Sunday | June 26, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Martin Henry
A woman shows the blood-stained floor of a Tivoli Gardens residence in 2010.
Masked men barricade a street with a vehicle on the eve of bloody clashes between the security forces and fighters loyal to Christopher Coke.
1
2
3

Around 11:45 a.m. on May 24, 2010, during the West Kingston incursion by the security forces of the Government of Jamaica, Private Maurice Green's platoon came under heavy and sustained gunfire in the vicinity of Coronation Market. Private Green was fatally wounded by a gunshot to the back of the head which penetrated his ballistic helmet.

Charlie Company, First Jamaica Regiment, tasked to secure the KPH, Victoria Jubilee Hospital and the Blood Bank encountered significant resistance from gunmen in Fletcher's Land, in Craig Town and when it was near to Kingston High School. Lance Corporal J. Robinson was shot in his buttocks and Private C. McHayle received a shrapnel wound to his left forearm.

Bravo Company, 1JR, tasked to take control of Spanish Town Road, Coronation Market and Denham Town, while advancing through Coronation Market, met heavy gunfire and resistance. The soldiers became bogged down by gunmen firing from multiple locations. The gunfire was so intense that a request was made for additional troops. Privates G. Marshall and D. Brown sustained gunshot injuries during this firefight. The Jamaica Defence Force had 26 injuries and one fatality.

"We find," the report said, "that the following soldiers [list given] were injured by gunshots fired by criminal elements trying to protect Christopher Coke from arrest during the advance of Bravo Company and Charlie Company

"We are satisfied that Pte Green sustained his fatal injury from a high-powered weapon used by one of Coke's adherents who was shooting at officers of Bravo Company as they exited the MSOC building.

"The slow progress made by Bravo and Charlie Companies ... was evidence in itself of the intensity of the resistance offered by Coke's gunmen to the JDF. We also find that the distribution of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] throughout the area of operation retarded the progress of the JDF, and made them more vulnerable to injuries and to injuries and fatalities."

Twenty-six soldiers were injured. The report says, "With respect to the Mountain View Avenue incident, we find that eight police officers were on duty patrolling the area. They were ambushed by some of Coke's gunmen, who used the elevated wall on the playing field as a shield from which to rain a hail of bullets at the officers. These gunmen were part of the Back Bush gang that was affiliated to Coke's Shower Posse. They were ruthless, merciless and utterly defiant of the additional police officers who came to rescue their ambushed colleagues. The location of the gunmen behind the wall gave them the advantage of shooting at the police officers on the roadway while using the wall as a shield from police gunfire. We also find that two other officers received minor grazed wounds ... ."

The mostly balanced report is organised chapter by chapter according to the 17-point terms of reference (TORs) of the enquiry. Chapter 9, of particular interest to me, deals with TOR H: Whether, and if so, under what circumstances, civilians, police and soldiers of the Jamaica Defence Force were shot and killed or injured during May 2010 in connection with the security forces seeking to effect the arrest of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke on a provisional warrant in extradition proceedings.

 

CIVILIAN DEATHS

The commission of enquiry report detailed the civilian deaths presented in evidence during the hearings and concluded, in two cases, that: "We find that the evidence of Mr Hemmings, Mr Paulton Edwards and Ms McCarthy was truthful. Dwayne Edwards and Andre Smith were taken away from the company of their family by police officers to an apartment upstairs in Building #22. All the evidence adduced strongly suggests that Dwayne and AndrÈ were unlawfully killed by unidentified police officers. There is no evidence that the officers may have been acting in self-defence or under provocation. Such issues could hardly arise since the killings occurred after soldiers had cleared the building, according to the evidence. The evidence suggests, at a high level of probability, that a criminal offence may have been committed and we recommend that there be further investigation into the deaths of Dwayne Edwards and Andre Smith."

There was no firm evidence that gunmen killed residents of Tivoli Gardens who wanted to leave.

The commission report has documented and confirmed what is well known and widely held to be the facts of the matter about the Tivoli Gardens incursion by the security forces in May 2010: The Jamaican State was faced with a situation of internal war precipitated by actions to arrest for extradition to the United States Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the don leader of Tivoli Gardens with massive influence across West Kingston and the gangland of the whole country. Hundreds of gangland fighters were massed in Tivoli Gardens and the Coke enclave was fortified for siege defence.

There was significant community complicity both with Coke's rule and with the resistance to his arrest, although the enforced code of silence, which the report notes, clouds that issue. There were abuses and breaches of the rules of war by members of the security forces, particularly by the less disciplined and more poorly led police, up to extrajudicial executions. There were political bunglings and operational muddles in the fog of war.

But no evidence emerged or conclusion reached of political complicity with Coke to avoid arrest or of any 'war crimes' by political leaders and commanders of the security forces. Much to the distress of some people who wanted the commission report to double as an arrest warrant for targeted leaders.

 

NUMBERS SURPRISING

The enquiry revised the number of deaths from the Tivoli Gardens incursion downwards from the 76 of the public defender to 69. It is an absolute marvel that there were not more casualties among the security forces, the hundreds of gangland combatants, and among the civilian population in intense urban warfare in close, thickly populated space.

The commissioners are quite wrong in their finding about the "reckless" use of mortars and are very out of sync with their own conclusions about the strength and intensity of the resistance. The military intent and calculated risk of using mortar fire for fear, distraction and disorientation to save lives, the lives of residents and members of the security forces and even of enemy combatants as well, in all probability paid off handsomely.

Never again! Tivoli Gardens and the 2010 incursion will never happen again, even without the implementation of the recommendations of the West Kingston commission of enquiry. The political landscape that created Tivoli Gardens and made Dudus possible has already changed irreversibly. Coke cannot be replicated. The political directorate and command of the security forces would have learnt permanent lessons from both the necessity of the incursion and its execution. But, perhaps most of all, domestic public opinion and international scrutiny will not allow a repeat performance.

Both the terms of reference at the start and the recommendations at the end were the beneficiaries of invited public input. We just need to get on with the action without the kind of fateful delays that took place between the request for Coke's extradition and the military action which then became necessary to attempt to extract him out of a then literally garrisonised Tivoli Gardens, which he had time to fortify for resistance. The Government briskly tabled the enquiry report in Parliament and has pledged to act on it.

But, as the commissioners emphasised, their recommendations "are not and are not intended to be solutions to Jamaica's larger problems involving crime, the control of crime, reform of the criminal justice system, treatment of human-rights issues, and social problems.

As we conceive it," they said, "the commission of enquiry was not established for these wider purposes. Indeed, we had neither the time nor the capacity to deliver such outputs." It is precisely these larger, broader issues which need the most urgent and sustained attention now.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.