Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Apologies, apologists and the Tivoli slaughter

Published:Sunday | December 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM
The daughter of Keith Clarke is restrained by relatives as a band of soldiers prevented the family from entering the East Kirkland Heights death house. Clarke was peppered with almost two dozen bullets as soldiers and police swarmed his house in the dark. The killing is still the subject of a court case.
Soldiers stream into Rema on July 18, 2010, as the security forces fanned out across the Corporate Area to net gangsters and guns in the West Kingston Police Division during a state of emergency in the aftermath of the capture of criminal kingpin Christopher Coke.
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This week's hot topic is Government's 'apology' read by Andrew Holness in Parliament regarding the May 2010 'Tivoli incursion'.

The Rev Ronald Thwaites, halo firmly affixed and voice at least an octave above usual, bemoaned the inadequacy of the 'apology'. He proposed, as did Peter Phillips in a more sober and thoughtful presentation, that Government had more to apologise for. Ronnie also wanted the entire 2010 Cabinet to apologise. Isn't that the Government? Didn't the Government apologise? What does Ronnie want? Individual readings? Self-flagellation?

In a follow-up Gleaner column, Thwaites got all ghostly on us, recounting his hallucinations of dead Tivolites' spirits in Parliament screaming for truth. If his prose wasn't so egregiously hypocritical AND condescending, it'd be hilarious.

Where was Ronnie from May 7 to 9, 1997, when four Tivoli residents were killed by the police during a west Kingston incursion? How come Ronnie neither saw nor heard spirits wailing after the 2001 incursion when 27 residents died and bodies were left for days to rot in the streets? What about 2005 when a woman not standing far from MP Bruce Golding was shot during another Tivoli 'operation'? Did Ronnie or his Government apologise to the spirits of those 30 residents and families? Did Ronnie hear them cry?

Ronnie wants more apologies. I'm still waiting on the apology recommended by the Tivoli commission of enquiry (COE). The COE recommended:

"1. APOLOGY

15.5. It's undoubted ... the events of May 2010 have left enduring physical, psychological and emotional scars on the people of West Kingston and, in particular, the residents of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town.

15.6. 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. We have indicated ... our disquiet and dissatisfaction about the deaths and injuries of several persons.

15.7. With a view to assuaging the hurt feelings, bitterness and resentment of the people of West Kingston and, with a view to promoting restorative justice and bringing closure to this sorry chapter in Jamaica's history, we recommend that the GOJ apologise in Parliament to the people of West Kingston and Jamaica as a whole for the excesses of the security forces during the operation. The Government is, in the last resort, responsible for the conduct of its security forces."

Instead, THIS is the 'apology' tendered:

"As such, I stand here in this Honourable House to unreservedly and unequivocally apologise to:

(1) The people of Jamaica for the fear and uncertainty that defined that time as each and every Jamaican was affected in some way or the other;

(2) The people of West Kingston and, in particular, the residents of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, who were most affected through loss of life and damage to property, and the pain they endured by the violence that took place;

(3) The men and women of the security forces who were facing unprecedented levels of violence; a number of members of the security forces also lost their lives and their families continue to grieve and are still trying to pick up the pieces; and

(4) All the families of those who lost loved ones or had persons injured during that period."

WTF? Why is Government apologising to "the men and women of the security forces"? It's THEY who the COE condemned, despite the 'operation' being justified, in these terms: "the manner of its execution by some members of the security forces was disproportionate, unjustified and unjustifiable."

 

MISSION TO ARREST ONE MAN

 

Remember (or recall, if you prefer), the security forces' mission was to arrest ONE MAN on an extradition warrant. The fugitive wasn't charged with ANY CRIMINAL OFFENCE in Jamaica, least of all a capital offence. Had he been charged with a capital offence, it would've been for a court to decide his guilt; pronounce sentence (including death, if appropriate); and to order that penalty. WHY DID 70-plus have to die at the hands of the security forces? WHY IS OUR PRIME MINISTER apologising to the security forces?

It gets worse. The PM said the security forces were "... facing unprecedented levels of violence"? WHAT? Where? My own recollection of the sequence of events is:

The security forces surrounded Tivoli, which was barricaded by citizens either in cahoots with Dudus or acting under his influence;

The option of siege strategy was available. Intelligence told JCF/JDF that barricades may be booby-trapped and heavily armed men were 'protecting' Dudus in Tivoli;

Security forces ELECTED to storm the barricades as a first option and to engage the gunmen.

Why apologise to them? Is the Government admitting that either it controlled and directed the gunmen or it unlawfully interfered with the chain of command and ordered an incursion as a first option? It seems to me that those would be the only reasons for an apology, allegedly offered because of the COE's findings, but actually being offered in direct contradiction of those findings.

For me, this totally undeserved apology has so watered down the other 'apologies' as to make them unpalatable and insincere. But, were the other 'apologies' full, frank, sincere apologies as envisaged by the COE? Of course not! Government apologised to:

"(1) The people of Jamaica for the fear and uncertainty that defined that time ... ."

For WHAT? "Fear and uncertainty?" Look, man! Don't get me started! In my opinion, this was the most disgraceful incident in Jamaica's history, including all slavery-related atrocities and colonially driven oppressions. THIS was the invasion of a Jamaican community by a Jamaican DEFENCE Force and JAMAICAN Constabulary Force using mortars and bombs to create mass terror and resulting in the slaughter of almost 70 JAMAICANS!

The COE: "We recommend that the GOJ apologise in Parliament to the people of West Kingston and Jamaica as a whole FOR THE EXCESSES OF THE SECURITY FORCES DURING THE OPERATION", not for "fear and uncertainty". This disgraceful shuffling of cards to obfuscate the recommended apology is exacerbated by the offensive, two-sides-of-the-mouth apology to the security forces. THEY should be apologising to US. We won't apologise to them. Government's cowardly attempt to pretend we will is sickening.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE SECURITY FORCES' FEELINGS?

 

The COE's sole purpose for recommending apology "to the people of West Kingston ..." was "... with a view to assuaging the hurt feelings, bitterness and resentment of the people of West Kingston and with a view to promoting restorative justice and bringing closure to this sorry chapter in Jamaica's history". Nobody cares about the security forces' feelings!

PM apologised to: "(2) The people of West Kingston and, in particular, the residents of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, who were most affected through loss of life and damage to property, and the pain they endured by the violence that took place."

"MOST affected?" Surely, you jest! Who else was affected? If the security forces hadn't elected to storm the barricades, there'd have been zero deaths. Why not simply turn off water and electricity and wait? What was the indecent haste? The "pain they endured" wasn't as a result of some airy-fairy, general "violence" but because their sons, grandsons, friends, and relatives were slaughtered by the security forces. THIS is why the COE said: "The events of May 2010 have left enduring physical, psychological and emotional scars on the people of West Kingston and, in particular, the residents of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town." No, Prime Minister, NOT "pain", not even "loss of life", but "enduring physical, psychological and emotional scars". That's PERMANENT DISABILITY for the survivors, PM, not some fleeting feeling of pain before losing one's life.

And we know that's the "pain" to which you were referring, PM, because you go on to mention the survivors separately:

"(4) The families of those who lost loved ones or had persons injured during that period."

No, Prime Minister, not good enough by far! These families suffered permanent trauma as a direct result of security forces' excesses, so they must be assured that YOU know why you're apologising; for what; and to whom.

I know COE restricted its recommended apology to "the excesses of the security forces during the operation," but a sincere Government not overly concerned with protecting technical legal arguments and genuinely concerned about Jamaican citizens' rights would also apologise without equivocation to the family of Keith Clarke, who was ignominiously executed in his own home in front of his wife and daughter but not "during the operation" in Tivoli. That slaughter, which took place long after the incursion was over and the fugitive had escaped, was excessive, unjustified, unjustifiable, cruel, wanton, inhumane, and despicable.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.