Mon | Jun 18, 2018

Investigate the Tivoli slaughter

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Gordon Robinson
The blood-stained floor of a Tivoli Gardens residence. The Office of the Public Defender has been investigating hundreds of complaints of abuse or extrajudicial killings from the May 2010 gunfights, but has yet to provide a report three years later.-Ian Allen/Photographer

Dateline: Labour Day 2010. The following appeared on the TV screens of Sky TV viewers in the UK to the accompaniment of pictures of a burning Tivoli Gardens with military personnel and armoured vehicles in action uncannily reminiscent of wartime activity:

Breaking news from Jamaica about Jamaican police backed by troops storming a stronghold of a drug lord wanted by the US for extradition. Reports of casualties amongst both civilians and police forces. Let's get more now with Nicki Williams, who is a local journalist. What's happening at the moment there, Nicki?

Nicki: Well, the police, together with the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), two or three hours ago entered Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, two strongholds of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who is wanted in America on gun- and drug-related charges. The latest information we've been getting is that three JDF members have been shot and killed along with upwards of 15 civilians in Tivoli.

Anchor: And this is the latest in a number of incidents. I gather a state of emergency has been declared in parts of Kingston and that many local people actually support this drug lord.

Nicki: Yes, there is a tremendous support for him. To many people he's regarded as their saviour. If you like, he does more than the Government does for them. He'll provide schooling; put food on the table; there's tremendous support for him. But tensions have been building for the last few days and really reached a peak last night, which led Prime Minister Bruce Golding to announce the partial state of emergency. At that point, law-abiding citizens were given the opportunity to leave Tivoli Gardens and, in fact, the authorities provided buses ... . Two hours ago, the authorities went in and we're just waiting to hear what more will come from that ... .

What more? When the dust cleared, at least 73 Jamaican citizens had been slaughtered by what was, at its most innocent, an overwhelming display of shock and awe by way of superior force, including mortars, bombs and US-provided airborne surveillance. A less-innocent probability was that many of the dead were blameless citizens of west Kingston brutally murdered by security forces for the crime of giving Dudus political and social support. Or of simply residing in a community that gave such support.


What more? May 23, 2013, will be the third anniversary of the Tivoli slaughter. Not one single death has been investigated by the police. No commission of enquiry has been commissioned to probe that so-called 'incursion' but, in actuality, the single greatest atrocity in Jamaica's independent history - everybody is waiting on Mr Bumble's report.

In the meantime, a new Straw Man has been found to stand for election as member of parliament for West Kingston. He was voted into Gordon House by a similarly overwhelming majority as those who came before him. On February 1, 2013, he's reported by The Gleaner as flippantly saying that an enquiry would be a waste of time, merely reopening old wounds. Wittingly or unwittingly, he seems to have frightened any circling birds from seeking seeds of truth in Tivoli.

They say you've found somebody new

but that won't stop my loving you.

I just can't let you walk away,

forget the love I had for you.

Guess I could find somebody, too,

but I don't want no one but you.

How could you leave without regret?

Am I that easy to forget?


Former detainees have claimed they were ordered to remove bodies from Coronation Market. Where are these bodies? The detainees alleged they were made to take the bodies to Central Police Station, after which they don't know where the bodies went. Were any autopsies performed?

Some residents were lucky. They were only detained, taken to secret locations and beaten. This, according to family members who weren't told where their loved ones were nor allowed to see or speak with them. Has one of these allegations been investigated by the police or INDECOM? What was the outcome? Or are we also waiting on Mr Bumble's pronouncement on these matters?

Our security forces would have us believe they prevailed after a pitched battle with Dudus' militia, but the available evidence seems to tell a different story. What's already been made public at least raises the spectre of security forces gone mad. Psyched up for a violent confrontation, it seems nobody could stop when this failed to materialise and Dudus' forces melted away shortly after the incursion. What took place thereafter was a house-to-house raid and rampage by security forces that would sicken any human being.

The lunacy was taken as far from the centre of alleged engagement to Kirkland Heights where, during the night of May 27, 2010, the home of Keith Clarke was invaded and his defenceless body riddled with 22 bullets, mostly in his back. He died while his helpless wife and daughter shouted for help through the windows. But, help against whom?

The killers were state agents, especially armed and entrusted to ensure her and her family's safety. Who could help? If this was how Keith Clarke was treated in Kirkland Heights, who can disbelieve the allegations of systematic murder made by Tivoli residents?

Well, INDECOM jumped all over the Keith Clarke case. In December 2010, Terrence Williams was quoted as follows:

"Today, we interviewed the commanding officer ... in charge of the operation ... . We have now interviewed five members of the security forces who were part of that operation ... . After we complete interview portion, we'll finalise the forensic evidence and when we get all that done, we'll have a file ready to go to the DPP."

It took two years for ballistics tests to be done on guns carried by the soldiers that night. On July 30, 2012, lance corporals Greg Tingling and Odel Buckley, and Private Arnold Henry, charged with Clarke's murder, made their first court appearance. The DPP indicated she'd forego a preliminary inquiry in the public interest, which would be best served by expedition. A speedy trial was promised. All were granted bail.

On February 22, 2013, they returned to court again. No trial. The case was put off until July 1, 2013 as the defence asked for time to acquire the services of an overseas-based expert to conduct tests on bullet fragments.

Before you leave, be sure you find you want his love much more than mine.

'Cause I'll just say we've never met, if I'm that easy to forget.


Mattathias Schwartz of The New Yorker spent three months in Tivoli and wrote an excellent exposé that's never been contradicted. In it he alleged that many of the dead were summarily executed by police officers as they went house to house looking for Dudus.

This is partly what Schwartz wrote:

"Residents, government officials, and sources close to the police there told me that the killings occurred in two waves. The first took place in the morning, while the security forces were rounding up residents and gaining control of the neighbourhood (sic). The second began in the afternoon, when police started conducting house-to-house searches for weapons and gunmen ... . Often, the question of who was a gunman and who wasn't was decided on the spot. If an unarmed man's claims of innocence seemed unconvincing, the police might have killed him.

"What are you doing in Tivoli Gardens?" a policeman asked George Lewis, a portly middle-aged man who installs wood floors in Brooklyn. He was visiting Jamaica and had come by a friend's apartment on May 24. He and the policeman were sitting, Lewis remembers, in the living room. The policeman had his rifle pointed at Lewis's chest.

"It's guys like you bringing in the loads of guns," the policeman said.

"I've always been a law-abiding citizen," Lewis said, trembling. Moments before, he had heard gunfire from the apartment next door. A second police officer leaned in, looking shaken, and asked what to do with the bodies. "Tie a sheet around them and carry them downstairs," Lewis' interrogator said."

Why have we forgotten this? Why aren't we mounting massive protests against this black mark on Jamaica's Independence instead of jumping up and down behind noisy trucks celebrating a Trinidadian cultural oddity? Why is Mr Bumble's opinion important, relevant or necessary?

If we don't immediately appoint a commission of enquiry into this matter; if we don't ensure it has adequate funding; if we don't ensure commissioners whose affiliation is only to Jamaica: we've no right to call ourselves a nation. We'll just be a motley collection of sycophants for whom expediency trumps principle and 'licky-licky' drives every decision.

Before you leave be sure you find you want his love much more than mine.

'Cause I'll just say we've never met,

if I'm that easy to forget.


Arnold George 'Gerry' Dorsey, born May 2, 1936 in Madras, India, soon moved to England where his lifelong love affair with music began at an early age. He played saxophone in nightclubs before trying his hand at singing. In the mid-1960s, after struggling for years, he joined the powerful stable of manager Gordon Mills, who already had Welshman Tom Jones under his care. Mills advised him to change his stage name to Engelbert Humperdinck, after a 19th-century German composer. The rest is music history.

Release Me, an anthem for heartbroken lovers, was quickly followed by The Last Waltz and A Man Without Love. All were number one hits. Engelbert Humperdinck's name became synonymous with romance.

Am I That Easy To Forget?, originally a country music song written in 1958 by country music singer Carl Belew and W.S. Stevenson, was recorded by the likes of Belew himself, Skeeter Davis, George Jones, Patti Page; and Jim Reeves. But the highest charting version of the song was Engelbert's. Recorded in August 1967, after Patti Page and before Jim Reeves, it reached number 18 on the Hot 100 and number one on the Easy Listening charts in early 1968.

In England, it spent two weeks at number three on the UK Singles Chart and, in Ireland, it spent three weeks at number one on the Irish Singles Chart. Humperdinck also recorded a special version for Italy, in the local language, titled Dimenticarti non potrei ('I couldn't forget you").

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to