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The garrison phenomenon - Is West Kingston 'the mother of all garrisons'?
published: Sunday | September 4, 2005

Members of the Special Anti-Crime Task Force listen as an angry resident of Wilton Gardens, South St. Andrew, expresses his disgust while explaining how a group of lawmen raided his community and abused residents.

Garwin Davis, Assistant News Editor

IF ONE had to identify the political garrison which strikes the most fear in the minds of Jamaicans, it would be a major surprise if West Kingston, home to Tivoli Gardens, was not the overwhelming choice.

Having survived two invasions by the state, in 1997 and again in 2001, West Kingston real or imagined, is seen as the 'ultimate garrison' ­ 'a state within a state' and the one area where 'outsiders dare not penetrate'.

As one observer notes: "It is the ultimate garrison. It is the one garrison that is able to keep all roads into it blocked off for the longest period of time. It is the one area that is able to repel the state for the longest sustained period. It is the one garrison which, if provoked, is willing to challenge the state."

But is this a fair assessment? And aren't there other political garrisons that are not only far more dangerous than West Kingston but would also be more than willing to take on the state in military combat?

"In my opinion, the perception that West Kingston is the most dangerous garrison is false," says political analyst Troy Caine. "South St. Andrew is by far the most dangerous ­ look at what has been going on there over the past two years. People are afraid to go into this area. If one should look at this garrison phenomenon properly then one would find that not only should South St. Andrew be more feared than West Kingston but so should Central Kingston and also West Central St. Andrew."


But how do we explain the Tivoli fear factor? "Tivoli Gardens is the only one the state has tried to attack, in 1997 and 2001," Mr. Caine added. "They have not tried to go into Arnett Gardens which has the same kind of artillery and fire power. Until you see the state take on another area like it has done with Tivoli, then we can make a judgement as to which area is best able to take on the security forces."

South St. Andrew, the constituency of Finance Minister and People's National Party (PNP) leadership contender Dr. Omar Davies, the constituency, which also features the war-torn community of Jones Town, is not only fiercely loyal to the governing PNP but is also seen as the one area which, if needs be, would be able to take on the 'military might' of West Kingston, "measure for measure".

"In a strange kind of way, the leaders of West Kingston have helped to shape the negative perception of the constituency," Paul Greenwood, a Kingston businessman and political watcher, notes. "First, we had Edward Seaga offering safe passage to police officers and then Bruce Golding speaking of bangarang. Both leaders have given the public reasons to believe that Tivoli is a law unto itself and should be seen as an area that acts independently of the Jamaica we all know. It is no accident that West Kingston is considered the most dangerous garrison in the country."

Political analyst Tony Myers said the stigma attached to Tivoli has been that way before the Seaga and Golding years. "It must be remembered that this was formerly a slum known as Back O' Wall," he said.

"To Mr. Seaga's credit, he was able to transform the area to the point where, in terms of housing, sports and education, it should be seen as a model and not in the negative light which has been portrayed. A lot of the persons making judgement are those who stay on the periphery, hardly bothering to take the time to go see what the truth is. If one should go into Tivoli then one would see that the reality is far different from the perception."

Architect and lecturer Christopher Stone said that while it is a useful exercise to look at

the garrison phenomenon, "we should also be looking at how the police have been dealing with the people living in these areas. The residents of these inner-city communities must be able to feel safe from the enforcers of the state," he said. "I can recall walking down Collie Smith (Drive) where I passed a group of boys, no older than four or five years old coming from school one evening. A police jeep passed them to which the boys all stepped back, looking obviously scared. I suggested to them that they should not be scared and should instead wave at the police. They altogether said no while one began relating a story of how the police kicked off his door and came into his house and killed his father. This is part of life behind the garrisons."

Mr. Golding, the member of parliament for West Kingston said his constituency, especially Tivoli Gardens, has been viciously branded over the years, leaving a very unflattering texture in the minds of many Jamaicans. "The real irony is that West Kingston should be seen as a model to all the other political garrisons," he said. "My constituency office is in the heart of Tivoli Gardens and there is not a problem with access. Whether PNP or JLP, there is no problem with persons interacting with each other. The police will tell you also that there is hardly a problem with violence in this constituency."

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