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Tivoli Gardens: no closure after two years

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Yvonne McCalla Sobers, Contributor

Shawna answered her cellphone with scream after scream. No words. This was Labour Day 2010 in Tivoli Gardens and bullets had already struck her fridge and microwave. The security forces had already raided her home and taken away her 15-year-old brother.

She wasn't allowed to ask questions, so she didn't know where the soldiers were taking her brother. She feared he might not return alive. Worst of all for Shawna, she was reliving the Monday in July 2001 when she caught sniper fire to her head and lost her eyesight.

Fully two years later, the promised report on the Labour Day war is still to be disclosed. Unknown but regularly repeated sources say 73 Jamaican civilians died in the conflict. Others say the figure is more than 100, and perhaps as high as 200.

According to Public Defender Earl Witter, he counted 44 dead bodies but only four guns when he first went to Tivoli Gardens to investigate what had occurred. He noted that the number of bodies far exceeded the number of guns recovered. Besides, none of these guns was found in Tivoli Gardens.

In the 10 days that followed, the police reported finding about 50 guns, none in Tivoli Gardens. Meanwhile, a number of questions remain unanswered.


Who were killed? Who are still missing? Requests for a list of the dead or disappeared have met roadblocks. The reason for secrecy seems curious. After all, the media routinely published names of those killed by police or civilians. Days after the 2001 Tivoli Gardens operation, for example, the public could tell which of those killed were vendors, handcart men, children, women, seniors, young men, residents in or visitors to Tivoli Gardens.

Under what circumstances were these persons killed? Was force used in self-defence or defence of others? Did the security forces protect those who presented no threat to them? A US plane monitored the 2010 operation, and videotaped evidence may show how the killings occurred. It is, therefore, possible to deny or confirm stories of cold-blooded killings by agents of the State.

Did the victims cause their deaths? Some have said that people gave up the right to life when someone told a reporter, "We are prepared to die for Dudus." Some believe those who blockaded the community or refused to leave the community also gave up their right to life. It is felt that they did not accept bus rides away from the war zone.

By law, a coroner must investigate any sudden or violent death, so there need be no guessing as to cause of death.

Will justice be done? No one has so far been arrested for the attacks on police and the bombing of police stations that preceded the Labour Day war. Many were detained under the state of emergency that followed the attacks. However, it is unknown how many detainees were convicted of any offence.

rejected id evidence

What is certain is that Leighton 'Livity' Coke (Dudus' brother) was recently set free when the judge rejected identification evidence given by the police. The claim was made that he fired on the police on Labour Day 2010.

Will anyone be held accountable for harm done or lives taken? Public Defender Witter received and investigated complaints about the Tivoli Gardens operation. He called for help with forensics, and said his report would be ready by September 2011. The date then moved to March 2012. At the end of April, he said an interim report would be ready "soon". No action can be taken without his report.

Shawna and other residents of Tivoli Gardens have mostly been left to deal with their loss and grief in their own way. A trauma team identified 600 Tivoli Gardens children as in need of urgent help. However, up to May 2011, help had reached only about 60 of those children. A hotline set up for children was flooded by calls from adults.

The health of the society as a whole requires closure on an event that may have resulted in more than 100 deaths in under two days. To reach closure, however, the public needs at least to know the results of the public defender's investigation.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers is convener of the rights lobby Families Against State Terrorism. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and Sobersy@yahoo.com.