Sat | Jun 12, 2021

Exhuming bad memories from Tivoli

Published:Friday | November 27, 2015 | 12:00 AM

In the 1960s as the JLP Government bulldozed the mother of all slums - Back O Wall - displaced the dirt-poor, predominantly PNP population who had to fend for themselves elsewhere, and replaced the slum with concrete high-rises and some standalone units, the community of Tivoli Gardens was born.

When Tivoli Gardens was stacked with JLP supporters by the very man and government that had driven out the PNP supporters and, rigidity to the narrow political causes of Tivoli was highly recommended as the main psychosocial construct of the residents, the community was presented with the political template from which it could not waver.

As the politics of the time entered its zero sum game where people in such communities survived purely at the whim and fancy of the government of the day, tribal politics needed other links to make daily survival not just possible but with some guarantees.

In Tivoli Gardens entering into its association with the fog that shrouded the very obvious compact between the politician who needed the vote empowerment and local organised criminality, as the street forces grew in strength and the politician became like a scorpion without a sting, Tivoli Gardens began to choreograph its imminent dance of death.

The present commission of enquiry into the Tivoli 'incursion' of May 2010 has not been empowered to present the case for the social, political and overall historical underpinnings of what brought about what then Public Defender Earl Witter described as "... the greatest loss of life in a single state security forces operation in independent Jamaica".

Instead, it wants to know broadly what happened, who did it, if the state security apparatus overstepped its bounds, if residents were denied basic human rights and, hopefully, the commission will create a road map for us, not just to show us the way forward but to ensure that it never happens again.

With Dudus locked away in prison in the USA, the 'command structure' of Tivoli Gardens was severely disrupted, and even now one is not so sure where it is headed. The fact is, the community is still mired in poverty and provides its own fertiliser for criminality.

Let us not fool ourselves. We are not suddenly seeing the end of garrison politics. Tivoli Gardens represented the form that climbed too high up the tree, exposed too much, and by the time it decided to 'legitimise' its structure by putting more of its financial resources into registered businesses, the sordid past of Dudus had caught up with him, to the extent that other 'substantial' Jamaican criminals held in American prisons were prepared to inform on him.


How can Tivoli and other garrisons breathe again?


Although I have been in many garrison communities in the 22 years that I have been writing newspaper columns, I am always presented with my own question sign whenever I try to wrap my head around possible solutions to the garrison phenomenon.

In the early to mid-2000s, a coup of sorts was being hatched as certain relatives of Dudus were making the decision to oust him from his 'presidential' status. Prior to 2005 when Bruce Golding became JLP leader and MP for West Kingston, which included Tivoli Gardens, I happen to know that the 'boys' in Tivoli had two major concerns.

First was, Dudus and his second-tier leaders were quite wary of the effect that British policemen seconded to the JCF would have on their operations. They were especially watchful of Mark Shields and expressed this to me.

Through specially filtered information channels, they conveyed to me that, first, the violence which broke out in mid-2000s which involved an attack on the Cross Roads Police Station was not done at the behest of the short man but was perpetrated by those who were trying to usurp the status quo.

Second, they asked me to write that Dudus was shifting away from badness and was 'going strictly business'. I got the sense that they wanted me to be a conduit of information to the security forces. I told certain persons that I had no problems in writing such just as long as it was attributed to persons there and not via my own deductions.

I make those points to explain that personnel who were, in essence, the directors of the criminal enterprise in the community were also quite wary of the history of the Mafia in the US, the creation of Las Vegas, and the tendency of criminal families to break out into legitimate businesses for the sake of the newer generations in the family and to solidify its future.

Eddie Seaga did not have an answer to solving the problems of Tivoli Gardens, even though the best of what he imagined for it was tied up in getting rid of Dudus and his gang of 13 in 1994-1995. As far as Seaga was concerned, if the community could rid itself of Dudus and his marauders in 1995, it would have been all wine and roses.

Much of what was never stated was a total breakdown of what it meant to be part of a 'normal' community. I can remember being in regular touch by telephone with a young woman living in Rema at the time when JPS was attempting to legitimise residents' connection to the public grid.

"Me lucky mi have a job, so mi nuh mind paying the bill. But a want to move out an a can't."

I asked her the stupid question. "Why can't you move?"

"A paying $3,000 a month fi rent. The cheapest one-room somewhere near uptown that a check out is $15,000. Mi can't afford that."


No laws, no community


The first time I entered Tivoli Gardens was in 1976. At that time, almost all residents had bypassed the legitimate electrical grid. They simply took out the meters and made a direct connection.

For communities like Tivoli to gain some semblance of legitimacy in the eyes of the wider community of Jamaicans, it must be prepared to submit to the same rules as the rest of us. When normal people owe bills they cannot pay immediately, it weighs most heavily on the mind.

Social workers may never be able to solve the problems of finding immediate work for the residents of Tivoli Gardens, but they can begin by painting a picture of what is expected of a 'law-abiding person', especially where they have become used to breaking the laws for many years.

One big plus for communities close to the heart of the city is that daily, more commercial activity takes place downtown Kingston than just every other urban centre of its type in Jamaica. Does that not in itself present a possibility for the residents? And I am definitely not talking about 'protection' which is still pervasive.

Those who are expecting a mindset change among the security forces in their interaction with garrison residents can also take heart that the younger set of policemen are quite different to the traditional 'box dung, kick dung' type of yesterday.

It is far from perfect, but I have met a few of these policemen and I am encouraged at what I see.

Another plank is with the surrounding business community. An agreement needs to be struck whereby large to medium-sized businesses close to garrisons debate that they were paying out extortion 'taxes' but will no longer do so. In exchange, there has to be an agreement to invest more in the garrison, especially in charitable and sporting matters and in not blacklisting someone just because of peace of abode.

Although there is a new breed of cop in the system and better is expected on the horizon, there must also be constant retraining.

To buttress all of that I would like the present Commission of Enquiry to make the recommendation that where members of the security forces overstepped their bounds in the Tivoli incursion, criminal charges be proffered. This should extend all the way to the top.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to and