Keeping Tivoli Gardens in the picture…memento mori by Michael Thomspon
Tivoli. What of Tivoli. What of the Tivoli 73. Let’s not forget…
All posters above are by graphic designer Michael Thompson. He’s produced a stream of unforgettable images to sear the unspeakable nature of this act of war into our memories. I will let him speak for himself. The folliowing is a quote from him that accompanied the series above on Facebook:
Immediately after the information began to leak out of the Tivoli Gardens community of the executions by the Jamaican Security forces during the military operations there on May, 24, 2010 I began making posters to express my feelings about the brutality and massacre that the citizens spoke about. Two years after the incident there is still no official report published or any one held responsible for the massacre. The Government and the security forces are silent on the matter. The local media has since forgotten about the incident. Last December an article in the The New Yorker magazine written by Mattathais Schwartz uncovered the tragic stories of killings. A MUST READ for anyone who missed the story. The story is not going away and more people who believe in Justice need to speak out and demand Justice for the people of Tivoli.
A report on Ebony G. Patterson’s ‘Of 72’ project commissioned by Small Axe: A Journal of Criticism.
…where are the songs about the 2010 Tivoli Massacre? An entire week of bloodletting yet nothing’s come out of Jamaica’s prolific music establishment? Nothing from our Reggae stalwarts or up-and-comers? The silence seems so opposite of our musical and cultural traditions that I’m surprised I haven’t noticed this before. This may be ironic but it’s times like these that I miss Buju the most. Mourn the death of Garnett Silk. And bemoan the disappearance of Sizzla. Please, if I’m missing the song or songs please let me know. If i’m missing the dub poetry let me know.
That was @Cucumberjuice on her blog wondering why our singers have been so tongue tied about the massacre of 73 civilians in Tivoli Gardens in the wake of their hunt for Dudus in May 2010. Well, it’s true that one is hard pressed to think of a song dedicated to the victims of that state-sponsored mini-Armageddon but on March 15, 2012, one day before Christopher Lloyd Coke or Dudus as he’s known was due to be sentenced, Jamaican artist Ebony G. Patterson held a preview of her stunning work ‘Of 72’ dedicated to the 72 men who died in that violent episode. The single female who was killed was also represented by a portrait though her presence wasn’t referenced in the title.
In recent years Ebony’s work has focused on the Jamaican male…in particular, males who shock out in blinged out, elaborate clothing, bleach their faces and bend the rigidly defined boundaries separating the genders in astonishing ways for a country thought to be as homophobic as its public rhetoric would have you believe. In fact a number of us were hard pressed to identify the single female subject among the 73 bandana flags decorated with beads, doilies, sequins and feathers. The one I thought most likely to be her was this one below but then again friends pointed out at least 6 or 7 others who could easily have passed for female as well.
The preview was mounted at University Close, for one evening only, and was a special, one of a kind event. The 73 flags were suspended with clothespins from a simulated clothesline. You couldn’t help think…were the 73 hung out to dry by the Jamaican government? It was a powerful, elegiac display notable not only for the poignant subject matter but also for the creativity, its ‘tun hand mek fashion’ quality, something other Jamaican artists could learn from. Alas very few of them were present. Michael Flyn Elliott and Marlon James were the exceptions. There were a lot of other events that evening so only a lucky few made it. I asked Damien King, head of the Economics Department at the University of the West Indies, who strolled by to take a dekko, for his reactions. Here’s what he had to say:
The first reaction is that by sort of replicating the number of people that died it has an impact–you realize right away it’s PLENTY people. you know when you see the news and people get killed everyday its very easy to become desensitized to it but when you see 73 different images and you see 73 different ways of treating them you realize the number of them and that each one is individual. Each one is treated differently so it tells you that these are individuals, each of these 73 people is a person with his own view, his own outlook, his own ideas, his own personality, his own history and his own life. It’s not 73 lemmings. The other thing that also occurs to me because half of the faces are covered is the sense that when young people die you don’t know what you’ve lost, you don’t know the potential.”
Damien could have been reading Ebony’s mind. Early last year in an interview I did with her on my radio show, The Silo, Ebony talked about this project. It was then in its incipient stages and was called Of 73. The project, Ebony told me, references
the loss of the identity of these 73 people who have died. The larger and even more important question which has yet to be answered is who are these people? We are yet to have faces, we are yet to have names. We still don’t know who these people are. I also think its very interesting that of the 73 people who were killed only one was a woman. 72 were male. That to me is quite startling. …and i think that it’s all well and good that we’re investigating things but the question is WHAT are we really investigating, who are these people and nobody is asking or pressuring for these names to be divulged. And i think as long as the identities of these people remain masked its going to be quite easy for us to just carry on…you know continue–It’s the least I can do as a concerned citizen, to kind of etch this episode into history, so that these people are not forgotten. Because I think that its very unfortunate that a year later we still do not have the names of the 73 people who were killed.
The deaths of 73 civilians matter so little that the government of Jamaica can’t be bothered to ask for surveillance footage from the US DEA P 3 Orion which should show what took place on May 24, 2010 in Tivoli Gardens
To my astonishment the Jamaica Observer carried an editorial on Sunday titled “There was a spy plane over Tivoli, so what?” This was astonishing to me because in my last post I had commented saying that the Minister of Security’s reaction to questions about the spy plane he said he knew nothing about seemed to be a nonchalant shrug. “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?“
Now here was one of the nation’s leading newspapers shamelessly saying exactly the same thing. Not only that: highlighted on the Letters page was an inane one titled “What’s the big deal about the surveillance plane?”
Ok, so it has been confirmed that a US plane provided surveillance assistance during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens operations. I don’t understand the controversy and what’s the big deal if they were invited to assist to strengthen the army’s tactics and strategy?”
The big deal dear thick-skulled letter writer and Observer editors is that 73 people were killed under unexplained circumstances during that Tivoli Gardens operation. This spy plane has video footage of what happened on the ground during that operation which ought to be central to any investigation into the massacre of 73 civilians by government forces only one of whom was killed in the battle for Tivoli.
So no one is faulting the government for asking or accepting assistance from the US government. As the Sunday Gleaner’s editorial eloquently said:
“…the decline in crime in Jamaica, in particular homicides, since Coke’s departure and the degrading of his network suggest that America’s insistence on his extradition, and whatever help they may have given to effect it – the memorandum included – were the best aid package by a foreign government to Jamaica in recent times.”
The question is why then Minister of Information Daryl Vaz denied this so vigorously immediately after the Tivoli incursion and why Minister of Security Dwight Nelson continued to do so until a few days ago.
And the really burning question is why the government shows so little interest in acquiring the video footage shot by the P-3 Orion. Are we to assume that the residents of Tivoli matter as little to this Prime Minister as they did to the previous one?
If this is a strategy by the Jamaica Observer to come to the rescue of its favourite political party it should think again because in its haste to diminish the import of the spy plane what it seems to be saying is that the massacre of 73 civilians in Tivoli in May 2010 was insignificant. Big deal! So what?
An article in the New Yorker about the massacre of 73 civilians in the Tivoli invasion of May 24, 2010 sets off a firestorm of denial from the Jamaican government
“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.
Why is Dudus called Dudus? And what is the right way to pronounce his name?
Unfortunately the answers to these questions are to be found in the New York Post rather than any organ of the Jamaican media. People in the know here, or people with a working knowledge of runnings in Tivoli Gardens have always said that the name is prounounced Dud-dus (thanks @JustSherman) to rhyme with ‘cud’ or ‘bud’ and not ‘Dud’ to rhyme with ‘good’ or ‘wood’ which is how most people here pronounce it.
You’d think local media would make an attempt to get it right but of course very few have done so. As for speculating on the reasons for Christopher Coke’s nickname it takes the foreign media to do that. The New York Post tells us that of Jim Brown’s three sons:
The youngest was Christopher, who earned his nickname “Dudus” — pronounced DUD-us — because he wore an African-style shirt favored by Jamaican World War II hero and Cabinet minister Dudley Thompson.
Dudley Thompson is a character in his own right (see above), so its rather interesting that Cuddly Duddly might have inadvertently lent his name to Jamaica’s most notorious don. Of course some might say Dudley is no angel either…but that’s another story.
Fortunately for us there is a ray of hope on the media horizon in Jamaica with the establishment of On the Ground News Reports (@onthegroundjm), an invaluable source of news in the wake of the May 23rd assault on Tivoli. At first i was wary of the tweets coming from OGNR but then i noticed that almost everything they tweeted was later confirmed in the mainstream media. OGNR was providing the news live and direct almost as it happened.
In fact they were the ‘social media’ that the information minister Daryl Vaz was fulminating against when the government cracked down on media here denying them access to Tivoli and its environs.
Las May, The Gleaner, June 28, 2010
There has been some speculation as to the people who started ONGR and whether its a new kind of political high jinks but an interview with the founder today provides a lot of information on the way this innovative news gathering service operates. Check it out here.
Meanwhile i was happy to be quoted again in the international media (The New York Times’ Lede blog, a Village Voice blog and in an Associated Press article) on the Dudus imbroglio. Channel 4 News in London also asked me to contribute a piece which i did, see it here:
And for a laugh check out ONGR’s spoof on the Jamaica World Service with Paleface, Tony Hendriks:
While Jamaicans along with the rest of the world take in the World Cup, the media here have been poking fun at recent events such as the state of emergency and the routing of criminals from their innercity citadels. The Las May cartoon above is priceless i think, in this regard.
Crime has indeed plummeted with hardly any murders taking place although a major art heist was reported a couple of days ago when thieves raided the studio shared by artists George Rodney and Lois Lake-Sherwood making off with artworks and antiques.
Meanwhile back in Tivoli Gardens where the female population is getting antsy because of the sudden disappearance of their menfolk, go-getting women are hitting on JDF soldiers according to a story in The Star today which announced that “A shortage of men in west Kingston is said to have caused female residents to be fighting for the affection of soldiers who are now posted in the community.”
A resident opined:
“Bway, to some extent yu can’t even wrong dem because a pure woman deh a west Kingston now, most a di man dem run weh and dem probably naw come back, suh di woman dem affi fight fi wah dem want.”
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.
On May 8 I had occasion to talk to Tom Tavares-Finson, Chris Dudus Coke’s erstwhile lawyer (who stepped down as part of his defence team on May 18, citing conflict of interest) at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Can you talk about Dudus I asked, unable to resist my reporter’s instincts.
“You mean that figment of the collective imagination?” Tom responded playing his legal role to the hilt; according to him, Dudus was an ordinary man on whom every abnormal event–the revoking of visas, crimes of various kinds, resignations–was being pinned with abandon. I was more than willing to engage in a spirited discussion on this unlikely portrayal of the nation’s Public Enemy No. 1 but, alas, was deterred by frantic hand signals from my host who was afraid that the ensuing argument might derail his party.
I don’t think anyone there could have guessed that within two weeks Tom’s beloved Tivoli would be torn to pieces by Jamaican armed forces searching for Dudus who was barricaded in there. And apart from the one or two nondescript photographs circulating in the media there was hardly any information on this man now hunted on grounds of being a dangerous criminal mastermind by the United States.
Finally this morning, Jamaica’s Sunday Gleaner has shed some more light on this retiring character in an excellent article by Tyrone Reid called “FROM MATH WHIZ TO WANTED.” For once we’re able to read a story like this in the local media and not in the New York Times, on BBC or CNN. The Gleaner reporter tracked down people who knew Coke at Ardenne High School, and uncovered information suggesting that the young Coke was anything but a ganglord in the making. In fact he was one of that rare, endangered species in Jamaica, a natural mathematical talent.
“The math teacher remembered Coke as one of his elite batch, picked at the end of the ninth grade.
Having breezed through CXC math Coke tackled the dreaded additional mathematics (add math) in Grade 11 and scored a Grade B – the second-highest mark.
“Math is the only universal language, and he spoke it very fluently,” the teacher reminisced. “I taught him for five years straight. Basically, he was the model student; very quiet, and there were no problems in terms of discipline,” said the educator.
Dudus is not a run of the mill ordinary Joe, looking to make some money and in search of power. He has never been and he will never be regarded by those who have known him, in that light.
I have personally known all the previous ‘dons’ of Tivoli Gardens. I had a special affection for Massop; I was closely involved with Bya; I watched Jah T go through high school at Wolmer’s; I was particularly close to Jim Brown, and although not as close to Dudus as I was to his father, the younger Coke has commanded my respect.
Dudus has undeniably captured the nation’s imagination. At the recently staged Calabash Literary Festival the open mic segment was dominated by references to both Dudus and Tivoli. As news broke that his brother Livity and sister Sandra had both turned themselves in to the Police stories started swirling.
Was it true, enquiring minds on Facebook wanted to know, that Livity Coke was on Twitter and when rumours of his demise were reported he immediately tweeted saying “See mi yah”? The urban legends surrounding the Coke family continue to grow yet there have been no images in the media here of either Sandra or Livity or any further information about them.
The Jamaican media is puzzling in its tendency to conceal rather than reveal the news. Tightlipped and taciturn at the best of times, it took the New York Times to carry an article on the extrajudicial killings by the security forces in Tivoli. With the exception of Lloyd D’Aguilar, my former co-host on Newstalk 93, who took it upon himself to visit Tivoli in the wake of the assault on it, and report on what he found there, no other major news media here has followed up in a serious way on the ‘collateral damage’ caused by the breaching of Tivoli.
In the aftermath of the events of May 24th the BBC had footage of masked gunmen in Tivoli fortifying themselves and the community (see below). A reliable source informs me that this footage was actually shot by a TV Jamaica cameraman who had access to the individuals in question yet TVJ declined to air the exclusive video allowing the BBC an unnecessary scoop. The local television channel’s reticence in airing the footage shot by its own cameraman remains a mystery.
What amazed me about this BBC footage that i watched over and over again in my hotel room in Barbados was that much of the early scenery shown, with police dodging around corners of buildings was right outside the National Gallery of Jamaica. The Gallery’s walls are slightly pockmarked with bullet holes now and the fighting outside was so intense that a security guard was trapped inside the Gallery for 5 days.
“How did he survive? What did he eat?” I gasped when told this by the Executive Director of the Gallery, Veerle Poupeye.
“Well, he had access to the coffee shop. Thank God we stock three different flavours of muffins there,” she replied laughing.
“They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel.”
Dudus is far from being the Scarlet Pimpernel but the Jamaican armed forces are certainly busy seeking the mild-mannered Christopher Coke in every nook and cranny of the country. Even the Mayor of Kingston’s house wasn’t spared in the security forces’ hunt for Jamaica’s Pimpernel.
It now appears the armed forces executed a well-planned and stealthy assault on Dudus’s citadel, Tivoli Gardens, on May 23rd. The scenario didn’t play out quite as feared back in March when Police expressed concern that the country’s 268 gangs might act in concert to create incidents throughout the country to distract lawmen in the event of an offensive on Tivoli.
National Security Minister Dwight Nelson went on record then saying that “Government was focusing on preparing strong anti-gang legislation that would target, infiltrate and dismantle criminal gangs.
“The legislation, Nelson said, would also identify and arrest members of criminal gangs; ensure long sentences for gang members; conduct a thorough historical and proactive investigation into the activities of gang members; and develop intelligence as to each member’s association with and participation in gangs.”
With the speed at which Dons and gang members have been turning themselves in, one fervently hopes that the said legislation is in place to put them away for a long time. Meanwhile the security forces must be congratulated for keeping deaths down to under a hundred although the various charges of wrongful detention, wounding and killings by the armed forces must also be fully investigated with those responsible for the wanton taking of life duly punished. The New York Times had an article today about extrajudicial killings by Jamaican police, something that’s a problem even when there’s no state of emergency.
Life has more or less returned to normal on the rock except for those who lost family members in the clash and for those who remain on the run. The tragedy is that the parts of the city where gangsters unleashed violence are the same areas which have long been the killing fields of Kingston.
At the Caribbean Studies’ Association’s 35th annual conference in Barbados, May 24-28, eerily titled “The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean,” many of us recalled the previous CSA conference in Kingston last June which included a commemorative walk for victims of violence organized by Sistren and the Peace Management Initiative. The walk started outside the Hannah Town Police Station (the first building to be burnt down by the gunmen protesting Dudus’s arrest last week) and proceeded along Hannah Street, Slipe Pen Road, past the Kingston Public Hospital culminating in a ceremony at the Monument to Children killed in Violence outside the KSAC offices on Church Street.
As the pictures above from the Letters from the Dead walk show, it was mainly women who marched, each one holding an image of a slain family member. An article in Guyana’s Stabroek News documented the process preceding the performance as recorded by Honor Ford-Smith and Alissa Trotz:
Weeks before the march took place, workshops with women from different communities explored the ways in which people remember and forget urban violence. Women discussed the different circumstances that result in the shooting and death of diverse victims and the enormous pain and waste that it has caused. For several, forgetting was an attempt to cope with the pain of loss, but it was also to avoid the desire for revenge that was triggered by remembering, raising the important question of how to link memory with reconciliation as one constructive response to violence. Participants found it difficult to share their stories publicly and in a collective setting. One woman who had lost all of her children to violence spoke of her complete isolation, of shutting herself in her house, of leaving her yard and being completely disoriented on a street that she had inhabited for years. Her story is deeply symbolic of how the violence both produces and continues to be produced by alienation from neighbourhood and community, spaces that we so often associate with nurturing and bonds of solidarity.
The performance on June 3 vividly dramatized elements of the workshops. Women, men and children gathered in the yard outside a church in Hannah Town. Dressed primarily in black, heads tied with red cloth, each person bore witness to the devastating effects of violence on families and communities. During the workshops, participants had selected images of those they had lost. As we took to the streets that afternoon, we were surrounded by faces of the dead mounted on placards, pinned to shirts, hung on a cord around the neck. On a poster held up by one elderly woman, an infant lost to gun violence stared out solemnly at those gathered in the churchyard.
As the procession began its trek through downtown Kingston, participants formed a long line, bearing 35 yards of red cloth that rippled like water, symbolizing the blood of the thousands killed in community wars over the last decades. Two young women dressed in white – cultural workers from Toronto – performed the part of ghosts or spirits, urging the marchers on to the final destination. Women led the marchers in church hymns punctuated by clapping. Some bore a coffin that had been made locally – it is tragic how many funeral parlours one can find in inner city Kingston – and that linked urban wars in Canada to those in Kingston through the use of repeating images of the black youth murdered in Toronto. Onlookers – asking questions or greeting familiar faces – were urged to join the march. Scholars who are members of the Caribbean Studies Association from around the world and who were holding their annual conference in Kingston, also joined the walk which was part of the performance programme of the conference.
The ‘walk’ culminated outside the office of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, at the site of the Secret Garden and Monument to the Children, dedicated in late 2008 to remember those killed under violent and tragic circumstances since 2000. The bronze sculpture depicts the face of a weeping child, with names of the dead inscribed around its perimeter; almost three sides of the monument had been filled with hundreds of names, children ranging in age from a few months to 17 years. As a young woman sang a tribute to the dead children, the red cloth was laid down on the pavement and placards and mementos laid along its length. Before a large gathering that had collected on the street, Sistren member Afolashade explained the purpose of the moving commemoration, and invited workshop participants to the microphones to share the letters they had written to their dead and to ‘post’ them in a specially designed letterbox. Audience members were also asked to read a few letters aloud. Others read fictional responses from victims of violence; in one particularly telling letter, a young man imagined his dead friend urging him not to link memory to retribution because that would only continue the cycle of violence. Music by reggae musicians including Ibo Cooper – from Third World – and others accompanied the readings. After the last letter was read, witnesses were invited to walk around the cloth. People pointed out faces they knew. A woman exclaimed in shock when she realized that a male friend of hers was among the dead. There was silence as people circled the monument to read the names of children. One woman who had been leading us in song along the march collapsed on the sidewalk in grief, surrounded by other women trying to comfort her.
The question is what sort of ritual will we need to hold now for the inhabitants of Tivoli Gardens and others who were victims of Operation Desperately Seeking Dudus?