At first I thought it was someone banging on the door; then I realized that the persistent hammering that woke me up in the wee hours of the morning today was the sound of gunfire from August Town. The barely healed wounds of this historic community that lies less than a mile away from my home are once again being ripped open after almost three years of calm ensuing from a peace treaty signed by all contending parties. August Town, adjoining the University of the West Indies, has also benefited in many ways from the outreach programmes of the university and it is sad to see what had become a model for other violence-torn communities being destroyed like this.
Although public discourse in Jamaica might lead you to believe that at the root of the country’s problems are the ‘irresponsible’ lyrics emanating from its dancehalls, reality suggests otherwise. And that reality is now staring us in the face with the kind of unblinking gaze that makes it difficult to keep it under wraps anymore. I’m referring to the case of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, wanted by the Americans for a number of drug-related crimes. Their demand for his extradition to the United States to stand trial for his offences has literally thrown a cat among the pigeons here for the government seems in no hurry to ship Dudus off to keep his tryst with destiny.
Las May, The Gleaner, September 27, 2009
Las May, The Gleaner, September 08, 2009
“Why are we waiting, Prime Minister Golding?” asked Jamaica and the World a blog that never fails to put its finger squarely on the problem. The blogger went on to remark:
“Then today, October 15, 2009, we hear that our Commissioner of Police Hardley Lewin is being pressured to resign. Probably because he doesn’t like the Prime Minister who is presiding over the non-extradition of “Dudus” and the non-resignation of Joe Hibbert, complaining that the Jamaica Constabulary Force isn’t doing enough to combat crime……. Yeah, right.”
The problem to put it quite bluntly is that Dudus is probably Jamaica’s most important ‘non-state actor’. Dudus is widely credited with wielding influence not merely amongst supporters of the ruling party but also across party lines in West Kingston, an area that is almost a state within the Jamaican state. A shadowy figure, he runs the ‘mother of all garrisons’–Tivoli–strategically located near Kingston Harbour. Garrisons are vote banks, communities where all residents are required to toe the political line set down by the strongman, in this case Dudus. Tivoli also happens to be the constituency of the Prime Minister. But if the Prime Minister appears too anxious to please the US by handing over the ‘President’ (as Dudus is also known) he stands to lose the political support of a constituency that has always been loyal to his party. This could prove devastating to his term in office as his party rules by a very narrow lead.
As a result of this tense standoff Jamaica stands uneasily poised between the long arm of the world’s de facto ‘police’ force, the United States, and the united state of West Kingston which has already showed its muscle once before when another strongman from the area, Donald ‘Zekes’ Phipps was arrested in 1997. Despite the fact that Zekes was a PNP don, the entire West Kingston area, which is predominantly JLP, united in closing down downtown Kingston to protest his arrest. Dudus is the person who is said to have engineered this unprecedented unification across party lines and if anything the respect for his rule of ‘law’ has only increased over the years (much of the power of the ‘Dons’ comes from their ability to deliver swift justice and maintain peace in the areas they govern in the absence of a functional state judicial system). “Don’t Touch Di President” warned Bunny Wailer (of Bob Marley and the Wailers), in a song pointing out the benefits Dudus had brought to the people of West Kingston. “If you remove the Queen Bee from the hive you get a lot of mad bees,” Wailer declared in an interview with Cliff Hughes on TVJ’s Impact programme.
In fact the entertainment world is making the most of this uniquely Jamaican predicament. Entertainment Report, TVJ’s pertly provocative telemagazine has been putting the question “Do you think Dudus should be extradited?” to a range of unsuspecting interviewees from the man on the street to the Honourable Edward Seaga, former JLP party leader and architect of Tivoli. All have ducked the question, with one man actually exclaiming, “You can’t ask me that!” and then turning tail and running for his life from the probing TV camera. Below is a youtube video of the Twins of Twins spoof of the Dudus situation:
BREAKING NEWS! The commissioner has resigned since
I wrote this post this morning.
Meanwhile rumour has it that Jamaica’s beleaguered police commissioner may soon be leaving to take up a lucrative contract elsewhere. In a recent speech he identified the nexus between crime and politics as one of the top obstacles in the ever escalating battle to control crime. He has also spoken out against corruption within the force as did the previous police commissioner Lucius Thomas. A week or so after Lewin’s speech Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green, one of the UK imports into the police force, roused the ire of the Police Federation when he said that some cops who are murdered may be involved in illicit activities themselves. Predictably the Federation demanded his head on a platter claiming that there was little truth to his statements. Well, if there’s any truth to these statements what else would one expect them to say?
Clovis, Jamaica Observer
Needless to say speculation is rife about whether the Police Commissioner is being pressured to resign. Another UK import, Mark Shields, who was until recently also an Assistant Commissioner of Police here has recently set himself up as a security consultant. A wise move considering the lay of the land, wouldn’t you say? He has also joined the twittering classes and his laconic but telling tweets are worth following. On October 22nd this was what he tweeted:
“…Another attempt to remove the Commish. Beware the elements from within. They’ve a personal interest in removing ALL outsiders.”
And two days before that: “Things looking up? http://bit.ly/MCKzZ”.
When you clicked on the link it took you to the following letter in the Daily Gleaner:
Police force needs a DCP Mark Shields
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
One cannot fault persons for believing the “rumours” that Commissioner of Police Hardley Lewin had resigned. While the commissioner has speculated as to who such rumours could be attributed to, and their less than honourable motives, I wish to put forth a simpler, less sinister motive: the commissioner is no longer seen nor heard from at a time when crime remains our most pressing concern!
The only person within the JCF who seemingly realised the need for visible leadership, and who was willing and brave enough to be the “face” fighting crime was former DCP Mark Shields. Since his recent retirement from the police force, no one seems willing or able to take up that mantle. While Shields was vilified in some quarters (wrongly, in my view), for constantly being both seen and heard, it is exactly the type of reassurance that a frightened public need, not to mention it was only under DCP Shields that the public’s confidence in the JCF was restored, in that witnesses finally felt they had an incorruptible but approachable person in whom they could confide. Again I ask, who is taking up that mantle at a time when much of the public views and fears the police in no different a light than they view the common criminal?
In his usual manner the commissioner claims to be “working quietly behind the scenes”. While I am not questioning that fact, with all due respect, Commissioner, the job calls for far, far more. The public needs visible and inspirational leadership in the fight against crime. We need hope. We need someone to inspire confidence and a trusted “face” in the fight against the ruthless criminals who terrorise us daily. Dare I say we need a DCP Mark Shields? His departure is certainly a case of our not knowing, nor appreciating what we had until it’s gone! …”
Richard Isaacs firstname.lastname@example.org
Now that is the kind of refreshingly cheeky tweeting that I thoroughly enjoy. I hope @Marxshields the tweeter enlivens the Twittersphere for a long time to come though I predict that like the Indian Minister, Shashi Tharoor, he may encounter several attempts to clip his wings. In the meantime it does seem that Jamaica could definitely use “an international crime and security sector” shield of the kind he is offering.
For an update from March 2010 click here.