Reclaiming west Kingston - Distancing its future from the past
Martin Baxter, Gleaner Writer
IT IS 10:30 a.m. and the community of Tivoli Gardens is still sleepy. Few signs of life exist on the much-frequented streets and pavements, but echoes from a summer school in a room in the local community centre transmit some vivacity into the west Kingston community.
Nearby, in the centre's courtyard, a quiet meeting gets under way. It is a small congregation set in humble surroundings. Eleven ordinary people sat on fold-up chairs in a circle, officially calling themselves the West Kingston Planning Committee (WKPC). A wooden desk props up a white board against one of the building's support beams and scribbles of green marker pen fill the board's surface.
'Mobilising the community', is the heading for the day's meeting. 'Announcements', and 'churches', and 'parties' soon follow in bullet-point form for what is increasingly looking like the blueprint for a major tactical operation. What is being strategised is not a single event, but a plan of action designed with military precision to challenge a culture that has existed in Tivoli for decades - a system that in recent times was said to have been propagated and enforced by Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, but one that is being confronted in his absence. The objective is to reclaim West Kingston - to distance its future from its past and to change the culture of violence and war associated with its communities.
The WKPC's first project was a unity walk through West Kingston which coincided with Emancipation Day on August 1, 2014. The unity walk marked the beginning of West Kingston's residents becoming the architects of their own destiny - something they were unwittingly denied for so long.
"When you're usually inna western Kingston and Denham Town, man usually go round a rape likkle pickney and rob people. Sometimes, you have to put a ting inna yuh waist or hide money inna your drawer corner just fi work," explained Audley Malcolm, known more popularly as 'Razzle Dazzle,' or simply 'Razzle', a resident historian and elder in the WKPC.
"We pray and we come together just fi try find somebody weh can stand up fi di people," Razzle recounted, providing some insight into how the 'Donmanship' came to prominence in West Kingston decades ago.
"The people dem a bawl fi it [the system]. The police couldn't deal with it and the Government couldn't deal wid it, so we cry fi it. We still need it same way now. That's why mi deh here a try so hard," he said, declaring his commitment to the WKPC.
'The system' to which Razzle alludes, used fear and strongman tactics to police West Kingston for half a century, creating a superficial semblance of order that was an unsustainable and illegitimate structure on which the segregated society would exist and prosper. However, the 2010 incursion into West Kingston by the security forces to execute a US extradition request for 'Dudus' left more than 70 people dead and a community without its 'president'.
In absentia, Dudus's system, which policed the independent state within Jamaica, crumbled, leaving a vacuum that criminal elements are still jostling to fill, once more placing West Kingston residents directly in the firing line.
"We need the killing fi stop," asserted Michelle Fairclough passionately, another member of the WKPC.
"We're trying to show that good people still live in west Kingston and it begins with us."