When History Comes to Meet Us

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Photograph of Marjorie Williams and her daughters from the Bearing Witness exhibition accompanying the film Four Days in May.
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Information board from the Bearing Witness exhibition accompanying the film Four Days in May.

My last column in the Gleaner was published in April this year. For the time being I’ve decided to take a break from writing a column to focus on other projects which need my attention and time. Will resume writing on Active Voice as and when time permits. Thanks for tuning in!

At a discussion after a sneak preview of the film Four Days in May, a documentary about  what survivors experienced during the blitzkrieg we refer to as the Tivoli incursion a young man said:  “We can all remember where we were when history came and met us.”

“It come like a war zone. Caw dem a drop three bomb eno. Nuff a mi fren dem dead. After di incursion mi can tell yu seh mi guh funerALS,” said another resident who can’t forget what happened to his community in 2010, when the armed forces conducted their search for Dudus, the strongman of Tivoli Gardens on whom the United States had placed a bounty.

History will record that the most senior custodians of the state lied about what took place during those 4 days. They said there were no bombs; there was no surveillance drone when men and women had seen it with their own eyes; they did not ‘recall’ any such thing;  moreover no angels had died in Tivoli. The 73 or so civilians who were killed should be seen as collateral damage they implied. What is worse is that large swathes of Jamaican society agreed with this view of things.

Nearly 8 years later the country has had to bring back limited states of emergency in different parts of the country after declaring them zones of special operations—ZOSO. While the clampdown in Montego Bay seems to have contained the spiraling violence there, it feels as if the criminals have simply scattered to different parts of the country. How else to understand the murderous turn of events in August Town as soon as 2017 ended and 2018 began?

In a remarkable article called “Teaching In The Line Of Fire” published in the Gleaner on March 5, UWI senior lecturer Saran Stewart tried her best to raise the alarm about what is going on in the country. For those of us who live and work in this corner of Kingston the last few weeks have been punctuated by gunfire, sometimes so loud it seems to be on the UWI campus itself. Wrote Saran:

It is now month three of the new year and the shots have left the dead of night and ring loudly in the peak morning time when children are still walking to school. Our educators teach in the line of fire and not only in the community of August Town, but also Denham Town, Flankers, Norwood, Cambridge and Rose Heights, just to name a few. In these communities gunmen trade bullets for the simplest necessity, such as a tin of mackerel, and barter lives for a ‘bills’ ($100). I have taught numerous students from volatile communities, whether they were born and raised there or currently boarding. Trying to centre their minds about the philosophies of education becomes futile when my students learn first-hand the ideologies of gun violence. As an educator, I have had to drift from the standard course outline and include students’ lived experiences as a mechanism to navigate their realities and consciously re-centre the course around their true learning environments. There are students who write their papers in the shell of their bathrooms by candlelight as it is the safest concrete box in the house. When the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) suspends bus services, how do children leave those said communities to go to school? As educators, we try to find ways for students to unlearn what they perceive as standard, normal activity such as seeing mourning, orphaned children, weekly funeral gatherings, yellow ‘caution’ tape, bullet holes, blood stains, smelling gun powder, and reading WhatsApp messages stating, “Daddy dead”.

Yet this excellent article remained relatively unnoticed while the media exploded in an orgy of moral outrage about silly statements by members of one political party calling a member of the other party “black royalty”. Day after day for the entire week radio talk shows gave oxygen to this banal nonsense as if we live in Switzerland or Singapore and have nothing else to worry about.

When one of Saran Stewart’s students texted her from August Town to say that her assignment would be late as a family member had been shot dead Stewart asked her to forget the assignment and document her raw emotions instead. This is part of what she wrote:

“Over 20 years of blood shed! Has violence become my norm? Without thinking about my answer to this question, I would immediately say ‘yes’, crime and violence has become my norm. Born and raised in the community of August Town, nestled in a valley in the parish of St Andrew, surrounded by hills, the Hope River and in close proximity to two universities, this is my community.”

There’s more but is anyone listening? Is this really how we want our youngsters to meet history? Brutalized, shattered and traumatized, with no one even willing to pay attention when they write or talk about it?

The Spy Plane the Government didn’t see…

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.

Scoop! State of Urgency–Reggae Sumfest 2010 rocked!

First account of Dancehall Night Reggae Sumfest 2010. Vybz Kartel appears in prison suit and handcuffs. Bounty Killer calls for State of Urgency from government, as opposed to State of Emergency and vuvuzelas abounded…

DESERT CLARKS, EVRY CREP A GET FLING WEH!! Photo: @SugaTwitts

Right about now people are waking up and wondering how Sumfest 2010 went last night. Were there any brawls? Did Vybz destroy it? Was Bounty Killer cross, angry and miserable enough? Well folks i wasn’t there but i can give you the scoop on all this and more…

Actually i was supposed to be there. I even got as far as Falmouth with my par Hubert but the relentless rain got on our nerves and we decided to beat it back to Kingston. Luckily various attempts to buy tickets in advance had failed so it wasn’t an expensive decision (what’s with York Pharmacy insisting on cash only and then not having VIP tickets?? And why use Acropolis as a ticket outlet when it doesn’t open before lunchtime?)

Badd Girl Cecile at Sumfest. Photo: Marcia Forbes

Anyway i hit my comfortable bed in Kingston around 11 pm last night after seeing a tweet or two about Cecile’s performance. @marciaforbes reported that there was also a “Sumfest Lighter Tribute to O’Neil of Voicemail. About a dozen young men in white sing for O’Neil–Very touching!!” Woke up this morning and tuned in to find out that Miss Fluffy Kitty and Spice had had a “fluffy versus slim gal wining contest” with some help from Pamputtae. According to @marciaforbes “Spice [was] led on stage by Tivoli Demonstration ‘caz ppl are deading’ ‘Bruce me just want to ask u if Tivoli duppy dem don’t haunt u’.

Remaining two members of Voicemail, Craig Jackson, Kevin Blaire Photo: @itscraigyo
Craig Jackson @itscraigyo!!: @SugaTwitts

One of the highlights of the show was Kartel’s appearance dressed as a prisoner complete with handcuffs which had to be unlocked before he could perform, a literal reference to his arrest and two-week detention by security forces who claimed he was a ‘person of interest’ during the State of Emergency that ended at midnight last night. All i want to say on the SOE is that it’s remarkable that it’s always a DJ or some hapless individual from downtown that’s arrested as a person of interest, apparently the Jamaican middle classes and elites are composed exclusively of saints and angels.

Kartel Vybz Kartel in bright orange 'prison clothes' complete with handcuff. Photo: Marcia Forbes

According to @marciaforbes “Pure Police n Soldiers surround[ed] the entire backstage during Kartel’s performance ” and pandemonium and vuvuzelas greeted Kartel as he entered the Sumfest stage. She went on to tweet that the backstage security during Kartel’s performance was unprecedented. You have to wonder what exactly they were worried might happen!

Morning light, @iamthekartel closing the show. Oh! Ahoe! #sumfest Photo: @SugaTwitts

Bounty Killer (whose night it undoubtedly was) put it well when he said that the government needed ‘a state of urgency’ rather than a State of Emergency. Reggae Sumfest 2010 is mourning the untimely passing of pioneer Sugar Minott and Oniel Edwards of Voice Mail; Dancehall Night also celebrated the career of the redoubtable Bounty Killer, the paradigmatic Warlord of dancehall, the voice of the soil of Jamaica as he is sometimes called, a veteran who has not only towered over the landscape of dancehall for two decades but also launched the careers of a platoon of younger DJs including Vybz Kartel and Mavado.

Warlord a talk di tings tonight!!! #sumfest tunnnn upppp!!! Photo: @SugaTwitts
GULLY GAADDDD!! #mavado #sumfest Photo: @SugaTwitts
Mavado and Wayne Marshall doing You're Messing with my Heart Photo: @SugaTwitts
Movado shellin down di place! Photo: KueSound
Reggae Sumfest (Vybz Kartel and Russian) Photo: NotniceRecords

All in all it looks like it was a stellar Dancehall Night. I missed it but i lived it vicariously via Twitter. Special thanks to @SugaTwitts for the best photos, @marciaforbes and @DougiePlatinum for providing me with fodder for this post. @marciaforbes was womanning the Phase3 production centre below.

Phase 3 console

My Favourite tweet:

anthonyhaley Just put @ladymycherie to bed. She & our son-to-be did Dancehall night all the way through Adi Teacha. Teach them young they say! #sumfest