Fri | May 24, 2019

Mark Wignall | Must Keith Clarke die again?

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A trail of blood is seen at the Kirkland Heights house of Keith Clarke, who was killed by the security forces on May 27, 2010.
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.

The days were steaming hot and the nights were endlessly long as the social and political tension built in May 2010.

Word had come to me through a senior member of the JLP that the man who was at the centre of this national crisis, the infamous Dudus, had issued threats to two Cabinet members and the female spouse of another. Dudus expected the political hierarchy of the JLP to protect him from extradition as he and those street elements in Western Kingston had protected the vote for the JLP over many years.

But Dudus had erred in a most fundamental way. Where Jamaica's politics was founded in unity of one purpose to empower the poor, it practised the very opposite of dividing the poor along tribal political lines and deriving power from that. Now, in the decade before that, Dudus had become much more than the street thug his father (Jim Brown) was. Dudus became the constituency diplomat and businessman and was able to convince a significant swathe of the islandwide, organised street forces loyal to both JLP and PNP, that division was destructive and unity was not just sensible but it was profitable.

Community in disbelief

As Dudus cowered in the days leading up to the security forces breaking into Tivoli Gardens with deadly force, many inside the shuttered community actually believed it would not happen.

But, another message was sent out to the political directorate and the JCF. That message was essentially one of social extortion.

If the political directorate and the security forces did not ease off Tivoli Gardens, gunmen allied to the lawless state would launch sporadic attacks on uptown Jamaica where most of the middle class, the upper middle class and the rich lived.

As the Tivoli incursion began in May 2010, from my vantage point in Red Hills with my moderately priced Vivitar 10x50 binoculars held in front of my eyes, I must confess that I could hear more than I could see in detail.

There were occasional explosions but only sensed as far-off thuds. A few days later when 100 soldiers and a handful of police personnel raided the residence of Keith Clarke in what was later reported in the further search for Dudus, I was again there with my binoculars in front of my eyes.

This time it was much different. I lived about 600 metres from Clarke. Chupski was abroad and I was fast asleep at about 1 a.m. when her daughter woke me up. "Mark, there are bright lights, explosions, strange sounds."

We opened a door and went out on to a balcony. A helicopter, bright floodlights all over but in a sweeping motion. Then I heard the sound of multiple rifle shots.

"Stand up firmly behind a column," I told my daughter. I wasn't sure what was happening, but I feared it was the uptown, middle class raid that the downtown things had promised. As I peered through the glasses in the early morning, I could see lights in the bush below Clarke's house.

That's when I said to my daughter, "It's a security forces' operation. No need to panic, nothing to fear, but still remain behind the columns because I am not so sure how far an M-16 bullet can reach."

The shooting and explosions lasted for about an hour - at least.

The next morning, I was told that they had killed my friend, Keith Clarke. The night before, while I was scanning through my spy glasses, I honestly did not know that it was Clarke's house, and his death was being cruelly announced by multiple shots to his back.

The law is an ass

As matters of law and justice go in this country, it is normal that the case involving the tragic death of Keith Clarke, accountant and my soft-spoken friend of the mid-1980s, would kick off eight years later.

But, to be told that the soldiers charged for Clarke's murder were pretty much state-indemnified by the single signature of ex-national security minister Peter Bunting is, at the very least, comically and tragically shocking.

The very fact that about a hundred soldiers raided Clarke's house on the suspicion that Dudus and some of his 'soldiers' were holed up there is but a second or third consideration. The first must be, the State was terribly embarrassed that its might in entering Tivoli Gardens and killing so many people (at least 70) came to nought in that its main objective of capturing Dudus was not met.

With that embarrassment in mind, many dozens of soldiers show up, there is shooting for at least an hour and, just about a handful of soldiers are charged. Why charge any since they were all doing the bidding of the State and were automatically indemnified?

Or, on the other hand, why were not they all charged? Or, why was not the officer in charge alone charged?

The law, it seems, was designed to confound the simple mind of the simple man. Mostly, our laws were never designed around simple language and logic that the man and woman at street level could understand.

Where is that real, grass-roots politician?

The poor may know more about what their daily pains and tribulations are, but in many instances, they are the least empowered to bring change to their state of woe.

The truly poor spend a lot of time each day chasing down food. The next meal is constantly a priority. Recognising that people spending too much of their time wallowing in a poor man's search for food cannot find time or opportunity for party political pursuits, it is hardly expected that street vendors, older women who sweep our streets at the break of dawn and 20-year-old boys wiping windscreens will soon break into the ranks of the JLP and PNP and make their names be known. According to accepted tradition.

When Michael Manley entered our lives in the late 1960s and 1970s, many Jamaicans innately knew and convinced themselves that he was truly their messiah, not just for immediate political salvation but in the pursuit of the political nirvana he promised.

Manley was neither poor nor socially oppressed. In fact, one suspects that he would have been better off financially had he not made the decision to make so many Jamaicans his personal lab rats always spaced out on a table in pursuit of his political experimentations.

Manley was a brown man, and that has always been a big calling card in this country. But Manley was also seen by many poor people as not tainted by the sins and trials and antagonistic tribulations of the very poor who admired him. After all, a good case could be made that Manley looked more like Jesus than one's black-skinned cousin Fred next door, and, Jesus was, well, you know, special.

The JLP and the PNP are generally quite boring parties with nothing radically exciting coming out of their innards. One of its brightest lights is Dr Nigel Clarke, the new finance minister, and it seems that his first burst from the Cabinet platform is preaching to us that the JLP and its cohorts of special politicians did not purchase expensive vehicles.

Was that a requirement for his immediate ascendancy to so high a post? Has he answered the crucial question of whether the PM himself could 'live without' a BMW costing $17 million?

Dr Clarke, in his private life, has done quite well, and for that we must thank his parents, his family of Clarkes (living and long gone), and his personal ability to lift up himself.

He can afford an expensive car. Off the taxpayer is an entirely different matter.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and