What the police can do…Ja Blog Day!

Gleaaner: Soldiers stand guard at an entrance into Tivoli Gardens during the May 2010 incursion into the volatile community - file photo. Town - File.

Gleaaner: Soldiers stand guard at an entrance into Tivoli Gardens during the May 2010 incursion into the volatile community – file photo. Town – File.

Well, we’re counting down now to May 23rd, the third anniversary of the siege of Tivoli, a military operation in which more than 73 lives were lost, most of them civilian. The Jamaican security forces unleashed a blitzkrieg in Tivoli Gardens, a highly politicized residential community in Western Kingston, using shock and awe tactics, firing mortars, violently entering homes and massacring young male residents by all accounts. Their excuse? That most wanted Don, Christopher Lloyd Coke or the infamous ‘Dudus’, was holed up in the community with an army of gunmen protecting him. Well, they didn’t net the Don, who escaped and was captured almost a month later. Were the men slaughtered by the armed forces actually gunmen and criminals? Could they have been taken alive and arrested using more conventional methods? We’ll probably never know.

To mark the tragic anniversary of the Tivoli incursion and the lives that were lost there, Jamaican bloggers are uniting to draw attention to the scourge of extra-judicial killings in Jamaica and a police force seemingly out of control and beyond restraint, legal or otherwise. We invite all bloggers to join us by publishing thoughtful, well-researched, hard-hitting commentaries on police brutality in Jamaica on May 23rd, which also happens to be Labour Day here.

From Bob Marley’s famous line about waking up in a curfew, surrounded by police all “dressed in uniforms of brutality” to Lovindeer’s comical Babylon Boops (see video below), the police (often referred to as ‘Babylon’ in Jamaica) have been a popular subject for commentary and satire in Jamaica. Please add your voice to ours to make this first Ja Blog Day a meaningful and productive one! Please see further information on Ja Blog Day and how to participate immediately below the Lovindeer video.

Bloggers are not given any directives about how they should post or present on the issue of police and security force abuses. The topic was chosen around the time of marches in Jamaica to remember the 1963 Good Friday Coral Gardens Incident, also known as Bad Friday. Unfortunately incidents similar to Coral Gardens persist in Jamaica, the most recent occasion being the allegations about security force abuses in 2010 during the Tivoli Gardens Incursion to find and capture Christopher Coke. Abuses by both entities happen en masse during events at Coral Gardens, Tivoli, Braeton, and Crawle but also during what should be routine interactions between the Jamaican public and the entities meant to keep the peace, the army and police force. The names that many remember are as a litany – Vanessa Kirkland, Kentucky Kid, Nicketa Cameron, Kayann Lamont, Ian Lloyd. The public often charge that the innocent are killed and that the police or army acted improperly. The army and police often claim a “shoot out,” mistake, or nothing at all. But amidst the back and forth and wondering there is too often no resolution for a community or victim’s family. Too often there is no feeling of justice if indeed there was illegality. Too often there is no search for truth, however uncomfortable or unwelcome that may be.

“Many people may be resistant to speaking up and out about this issue because they’re afraid but the plain fact is that in Jamaica there are far too many and frequent questionable incidents involving the security forces and civilians,”. It is not intended that the posts produced on this first Ja Blog Day will immediately end instances of police and security force abuses. However, for Jamaica’s strong and growing community of Jamaican bloggers to speak up about this issue is important. Ja Blog Day is an opportunity for Jamaican bloggers to strengthen their presence on the Internet and within Jamaican society as important writers and contributors to the public sphere.

WHAT: First Annual Jamaica (Ja) Blog Day on Police and Security Force Abuses
WHEN: May 23, 2013, all day
BLOG REGISTRATION: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1EkbDJcjQPaUmXcjBFlqdUcLOtqhCEGhVh2HpwKlvXR8/viewform
WEBSITE: jablogday.tumblr.com
TWITTER:@JABLOGDAY
EMAIL: JaBlogDay@gmail.com

Jamaica (Ja) Blog Day will be an annual event for Jamaican bloggers. Each year’s topic will be different but the charge will be the same: a day of action in service to Jamaica, speaking on an important issue in Jamaica. Visit http://www.jablogday.tumblr.com and http://www.twitter.com/jablogday for more information and continuing updates.

The Spy Plane the Government didn’t see…

“Old dinosaur gone and young dinosaur a come.” Caller to Breakfast Club re JDIP scandal and JLP….LOLOL! I had posted on Twitter.

I thought this was quite the funniest comment I’d heard about the runnings when i heard it a few days ago but now I’m forced to wonder if there isn’t some truth to it. The Jamaica Labour Party gave itself a real boost when it decided to select young Andrew Holness to replace the controversy-plagued former Prime Minister Bruce Golding when he stepped down from office some weeks ago.

Holness further boosted his ratings when he asked for, and received, Transport Minister Mike Henry’s resignation in the wake of allegations of corruption in that ministry. But almost as soon as he had staunched that open sore, another boil erupted in the body politic with Security Minister Dwight Nelson’s pointless denials to the media that the government had authorized a US DEA Lockheed P-3 Orion plane to provide surveillance support during the May 24th, 2010 offensive by the Jamaican armed forces against Tivoli Gardens. TG was the highly fortified garrison community in which Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, wanted by the US for drugs and arms running was thought to be hiding at the time.

Most people in Kingston saw the plane flying around over the harbour that day and wondered about it especially after then Minister of Information Daryl Vaz categorically denied in a May 25, 2010 press conference that the Jamaican government had received any assistance from external governments. The confusion increased earlier this week when a lengthy article in the American magazine The New Yorker affirmed that the US had indeed provided Jamaica with aerial surveillance during the military operation.

According to the article:

A year and a half later, the Jamaican government has refused to make public what it knows about how the men and women of Tivoli Gardens died. So has the government of the United States despite clear evidence that the US surveillance plane flying above Tivoli on May 24th was taking live video of Tivoli, that intelligence from the video feed was passed through US Law enforcement enforcement officers to Jamaican forces on the ground and that the Department of Homeland Security has a copy of this video. The video could corroborate, or refute, allegations that members of the Jamaican security forces massacred dozens of innocents, and could help identify the alleged killers.

Questioned about this on Nationwide radio two days ago Minister Dwight Nelson refused to acknowledge that there had been any assistance, asserting that he knew nothing about the alleged ‘spy plane’. Nor it seemed was he curious enough to find out, all these months later now that the question has come up, what a foreign aircraft was doing in local airspace. In fact he acted as if it really wasn’t his business or ours (!) An unidentified flying object in our airspace? Pshaw! So he didn’t know about it, so what? Fail!

Nelson simply, stubbornly, kept denying that there had been assistance from any other government –forcing the young Prime Minister to call a press conference by the end of the day admitting that there had indeed been assistance from the US government although he tried to make a great deal of the fact that the US had not been part of the planning of the operation. Head of the JDF Antony Anderson also made a point of this.

This however was not what the public had asked about. What everyone wanted to know was the origin of the so-called spy plane and the reason it was in the air above Tivoli Gardens on the day of the military incursion into that community.

Its also interesting that all of this has now come to light because of investigations and expos´s by foreign journalists. So it seems that we are on the whole in need of quite a lot of foreign assistance one way another for in addition to the New Yorker article titled A Massacre in Jamaica which highlights the fact that despite 73 civilians being killed in the military incursion (in contrast only one security personnel went down) no one has been held accountable and no satisfactory answers seem to be forthcoming, there was also a Wired article on the subject titled U.S. Spy Plane Shot Secret Video of Jamaican ‘Massacre’.

In fairness local journalists such as Lloyd D’Aguilar and others have also been demanding similar answers but none had been forthcoming till now.

The following is an excerpt from the Wired.com article:

Somewhere in the bureaucratic bowels of the Department of Homeland Security is a videotape shot above the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica on May 24, 2010. It could reveal whether the Jamaican security forces, acting on behalf of U.S. prosecutors, killed 73 members of a notorious crime syndicate or innocent civilians caught in house-to-house fighting. That is, if anyone in a position of power actually wants that question answered.

Over 500 Jamaican soldiers rushed into the teeming Tivoli Gardens neighborhood that day for what became known as Operation Garden Parish, a mission to capture the local mafia don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The mission was the result of heavy U.S. pressure: Coke had been indicted in U.S. federal court for running an international marijuana and cocaine ring. It would become one of the bloodiest days in recent Jamaican history.

What happened on May 24, 2010 garnered international headlines. But what no one knew until now was that circling overhead was a P-3 Orion spy plane, operated by the Department of Homeland Security. A lengthy investigation by journalist Mattathias Schwartz (a Danger Room friend) reveals that the Orion took footage of the hours-long battle. It has never been publicly revealed.

Better CAN come: Interview with Storm Saulter

 

Storm do you plan to subtitle the film when it goes abroad or are you thinking primarily of a diaspora audience who are familiar w Patwa?

We will definitely subtitle the film. We have already done so in standard English. And are working on a Spanish version right now. Anywhere this film can go, we will do what’s necessary for it to be understood. Italian, German, Japanese. This has always been a project with international goals.

I loved when the camera panned to various creatures watching from the sidelines, the dog in the opening sequence, the lovely shot of lizard on banana leaf seen through the leaf, the ubiquitous rooster, I don’t remember all of them but there were several. Do you have a special relationship w animals? Only someone very sensitive to animals would have included their viewpoint…Also it suggests to me that you’re emphasizing the fact that the subjects of the film, i.e. human beings, are just another type of animal? Or maybe I’m reading too much into all this?

Your thoughts are correct. We are all animals living within a social jungle, which can be vicious and deadly, i.e.  Ras David’s brutal murder, or calm and still, i.e. the Lizard on the leaf.  These shots are cut together to illustrate that point. I do love animals, and the simplicity of their motives. They need food, shelter, security, just like humans, minus the ego.

Remarkable set of actors you found. Was it a deliberate move to use relatively unknown ones as opposed to the usual cast of characters we see in play after play and film after film?

It is always a joy for me as a creator, and a viewer, to discover fresh talent. These actors come with no lingering image of a previous performance. The audience will be committed to them that much more, and believe their screen characters to be more real. And of course, these actors were excellent; they all brought something unexpected to their roles. This was the first film for all of them. I am very proud to have worked with them. And I will continue to do so.

The music you used was brilliant, it complemented the film rather than attracted attention to itself. The flute music, was that native American music? it sounded like music I’ve heard by the Native Flute ensemble….you didn’t hesitate to use music from elsewhere right?

The flute was played by my father Bertram Saulter. So was the harmonica, which became a thematic sound in the film. The original Score was created by Wayne Armond and Marlon Stewart-Gaynor. Additional music from Earl “Chinna” Smith, and the internationally renowned Canadian producer Daniel Lanois (U2) blessed us with some experimental tracks. I never wanted in-your-face
Songs, but rather to create subtle soundscapes that would fill the air and build ambience to accompany the visual, rather than compete with it.

I noticed a special focus on Rastafari, btw I found the final scene incredibly poetic and haunting, when Ricky’s spirit swims away shaking his locks, it made a tragic moment, one of hope and optimism of a rebirth. I like the fact that the film wasn’t literal like many other Jamaican films have been. One can’t talk about the end too much because it would act as a spoiler, the film’s power lies in the build-up towards the climax, you really captured your audience and swept it along with you…so have you flirted with Rastafari yourself? Are you sympathetic?

I am sympathetic to the original ideals of Rastafari. The importance of self respect, and seeking knowledge of the true state of things. Though nowadays there are many criminals and degenerates within “Rastaman” ranks, who have completely diluted the potency of the message. My parents were Rastafari, and I believe still are in their hearts. I feel Rasta has had a positive impact worldwide but never truly discovered its potential coming out of the 70’s. There are many confused people claiming to be messengers of Rastafari nowadays. But I do recognize the ability of Rasta philosophy to have positive impact on at-risk youth.

That beautiful coastline the camera looks down on at the beginning and end, where is that? Is it Negril?

No, that is the rocky south coastline, very similar to the conditions in the area of the Green Bay Military Outpost.

Finally the film was shot in Sandy Park and even includes a resident who acted one of the key roles. How did the community fare in the recent rains? Are they ok?

Sandy Park is a very strong community, full of talented people. Typical of almost any Jamaican Community, but there is an undeniable creative spirit thriving in that place. They experienced a serious tragedy in the recent flooding, losing an entire family of 6, including 4 children, when the gully gave way on the morning of Wednesday, September 29th.  As they mourned their loss, they also finally had the opportunity to celebrate this film that we all worked on, and have been anticipating. With the range of emotion they have been going through, the people of Sandy Park are still truly smiling, and rejoicing life, in the face of sudden death, it is something you have to learn to do living in a ghetto reality. Too many Jamaicans have to master that skill. Sandy Park was the backbone of this production, and the young talent rising out of there, particularly Ricardo ‘Flames’ Orgill, and Dwayne ‘Dogheart’ Pusey, is the truly inspiring story in this whole movement.

One concern I have is that foreign audiences might not be familiar enough with events here to follow the story. For instance the trauma of Green Bay may only resonate w Jamaicans. Do you see that as something that might prevent the global success of BMC?

Better Mus’ Come is ultimately a human story, the story of a man faced with hard choices, in a hard time. This is a universal story, and I hope that this will resonate despite the specifics of that event. Millions of people all over the world are interested in Jamaica. For our cultural impact, our impact on sports etc. They all tuned in to follow the events of our recent State of Emergency. This film is the best description of the link between politics and gangs, as well as a study of the root causes of our instability, and the issues that influenced our most successful creative statements ( Bob Marley’s music amongst others). I believe there is ample reason for this film to be an international success.
BETTER MUS COME!

Soldiers and Police in The Hunt for Dudus





Photos above by Hubert Neal Jr.

A frequently heard comment in the wake of the May 23rd assault by Jamaican security forces on Tivoli Gardens is that Jamaica Defence Force soldiers are far more civil and easy to trust than the police. The latter stand accused of shooting to kill without any consideration for whether the target is actually a suspected criminal or not. The soldiers on the other hand have been accused at the most of paying too much attention to the young women of Tivoli, an area that has remained under curfew ever since the barricades of Tivoli were demolished.

Of course the soldiers too are alleged to have participated in some questionable activities such as the hasty and unauthorized burial of bodies in makeshift coffins during the siege of Tivoli. But their reputation has fared far better than that of the much reviled and feared Police Force accused of wantonly killing young men in the affected areas. According to a Trini friend who generally knows about such things, a state of emergency is an opportunity for rogue police to go around eliminating those who are their partners in crime in times of peace–those who abet them in drug dealing, illegal taxi operations, extortion among other things. If true, this could explain the outrageously high number of casualties in the operation to capture Dudus–who of course, remains free and alive.

The Hunt for Dudus has inspired Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr., who arrived in the island on May 20, just before the ‘Operation Take Dudus Alive’ unfurled. Neal, an artist in residence at Roktowa on Pechon Street around the corner from Coronation Market and Tivoli Gardens found himself the recipient of an unlikely studio visit a few days ago when three groups of soldiers decided to patrol the old Red Stripe Brewery where he works along with the Haitian artists who are part of the ‘Trembling Heart’ project.

The soldiers allowed themselves to be detained by Neal’s painting in progress, titled–what else–The Hunt for Dudus. They questioned him closely about his representation of the storming of Tivoli, disapproving of the low number of soldiers depicted (see photos above and below). On the whole however they were quite animated by the work they saw and their unorthodox art critique thrilled Hubert who documented The Studio Visit on his blog The Visual Poets Society.

Photos below by Annie Paul

The Hunt for Dudus by Hubert Neal Jr. (work in progress)


Dudus in between his bodyguards above and terrified woman and child below


A beaming Neal…

The most potent paintings i think are the two below, Hubert’s depictions of the torture chamber the media described finding in Tivoli. I’m particularly moved by his interpretation of the grave found with a skeleton buried upright in it (below right).

Last Saturday we were part of a visit to award-winning writer/sociologist Erna Brodber‘s home at Woodside, St. Mary. As part of her Blackspace project she has documented various sites and relics dating from the days of slavery. One of the things she mentioned was the existence of what she referred to as a ‘punishment hole’ somewhere in the vicinity. What’s that, I asked.

Well, sometimes slaves were punished by being buried upright up to their necks for days on end, said Erna. Wow, i thought, the Tivoli Punishment Hole was no doubt a variant of this time-honoured method of torture.


Erna Brodber at the entrance to the Woodside Community Centre

If you come to Roktowa next Sunday for the opening of Laura Facey’s show Propel you can see Hubert’s painting and work by the Haitian artists as well. In addition to Laura’s marvelous drawings, prints, carving and sculpture there will also be Nine Night singing. The show is curated by Melinda Brown. Click on invite below for address and map to Roktowa.