Editorial | What’s the status of the Tivoli cases?
Bruce Golding’s recent retrospection into the Christopher Coke extradition saga that cost him his premiership and political career has had an unexpected advantage. It has reminded us that there is unfinished business relating to the security operation in Tivoli Gardens a dozen years ago, which was aimed at arresting Mr Coke, and in which at least 70 people died.
It may, indeed, be that these matters were resolved. Yet, we cannot recall Jamaicans being told of the specifics of the outcomes, or of anyone being held to account for the State’s excessive and, in some instances, seemingly wanton use of violence during that affair – except for Andrew Holness’ apology for the behaviour of the security forces.
Mr Coke was a powerful crime boss, who was the ‘don’ of Tivoli Gardens, his West Kingston base and, in political terms, a key stronghold of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to which, in the ways of Jamaica’s garrison politics, Mr Coke was aligned.
When, in 2009, the United States sought to extradite Mr Coke for drug and gun trafficking, the JLP administration, headed by Mr Golding, stalled for nearly a year, ostensibly on the basis that the information, gleaned from Jamaican wiretaps, on which the Americans grounded the extradition request, was wrongfully forwarded to Washington. The action, the Government argued, was in breach of Mr Coke’s constitutional right to privacy.
Last week, in an interview with this newspaper, Mr Golding remained curiously adamant on the point, saying his only regret was hiring American lobbyists, hoping to persuade the Obama administration to alter its position on the matter. There were, however, other horrifyingly painful elements to that episode, not least being Mr Coke’s militia’s violent confrontation with the Jamaican security forces, hoping to thwart attempts at his capture and arrest. Then there was the response of the army and the police, which, in far too many instances – as captured in the report by a commission of inquiry that reviewed the security operation – did not appear to abide by the rule of law and the tenets of a liberal democracy.
A large number of the deaths in the May 2010 operation appeared to have been extrajudicial killings by police and soldiers, which Prime Minister Holness, in accepting the commission’s recommendation of a government apology, clearly acknowledged. But while he emphasised the pain of the residents of Tivoli Gardens and adjacent communities, the prime minister’s apology was not limited to those neighbourhoods. It embraced other Jamaicans, including the security forces.
“To all the persons who lost loved ones or had persons injured during that period, on behalf of the Government, the State and the security forces, we apologise,” Mr Holness said.
But the commission, which was chaired by a former chief justice of Barbados, David Simmons, did not intend for the issue of accountability to end with an acknowledgement by the State that people were wronged, or the awarding of compensation for damaged property. The commission felt that people who operated outside the law and infringed on citizens’ fundamental rights should, insofar as possible, be held criminally responsible.
Indeed, while the commission was not a court of law with the tools to fully ventilate and test all the evidence, its report, at chapter nine, highlighted 17 deaths – 21 per cent of the killings – where it concluded that there was “a high level of probability that a criminal offence may have been committed” and recommended further investigations.
The names of the victims in these cases were:
• Dwayne Edwards
• Andre Smith
• Nicholas Wilson
• Lundie Murphy
• Fabian and Fernando Grant
• Martin Lindsay and Fernando Grant
• Jermaine Grant (‘Porridge Man’)
• Kirk Allison
• Dashan Page
• Radcliffe Freeman
• Bojan Rochester
• Courtney Henry
• Decorey Wright
• Orlando and O’Connor Brown
In most of these cases, witnesses told the commissioners of seeing soldiers, but mostly police, going into rooms where persons were alive and leaving with dead bodies. Or a case like that of the Grant brothers, Fernando, 17, and Fabian, 20, who, their mother Marjorie Williams claimed, were taken from their home and marched across the road for execution. Ms Williams, according to her evidence, was peeping through a window.
She told the commission: “I hear Fernando cry out and I heard gunshots. Fernando shout, ‘Mummy, Mummy, they kill Pooksie (Fabian)!’ Shortly after, I heard Fernando shout, ‘Mummy, Mummy, they gwine kill me!’ I heard shots. I was hugging up Diane. When I did not hear any more from Fernando, I looked outside. We went upstairs and climbed on Daddy’s bed and looked outside into the road. I could see clearly. There was a big white truck. I saw police drag my son’s body and put him on the truck. I did not see when they killed Fernando.”
There were other similar accounts.
It is not clear what has happened to these cases in the dozen years since the Tivoli incursion, or in the six since the Simmons-led Commission published its findings. Prime Minister Holness, in his 2017 apology in Parliament, reported that his administration has accepted its recommendations. But the investigation of crime is the responsibility of the police, and the prosecution of crime is the remit of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Perhaps the police chief, Antony Anderson, and DPP Paula Llewellyn might be inclined to provide updates on these cases, assuming they made it to their dockets.
The matter calls for closure – for the families of the victims, and for those members of the security forces who behaved with honour.