Tivoli Gardens: On May 24, 2010, The People were “Deading”

On May 24, 2010, Jamaican security forces entered the inner-city community of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston in search of fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke and his supporters. During the operation, 74 civilians were killed and over 50 injured. 28 members of the security forces were injured. Six guns were found. Mr. Coke was not found. During the two-month long State of Emergency that followed, thousands of Jamaicans were detained, mostly without charge. I have posted some links below, in case we need to remind ourselves of the tragic details. On May 27, security forces visited the comfortable, “upscale” neighborhood of Upper Kirkland Heights in search of Mr. Coke, fired on the home of 63-year-old accountant Keith Clarke and shot him twenty times. Three soldiers have been charged with his murder.

To date – over two and a half years later – Jamaica’s Public Defender has not produced the expected interim report on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion,” as it is euphemistically called by local media. Several deadlines have been missed – some of them self-imposed by the Public Defender, who says he is seriously under-staffed.

Recently, our esteemed local poet Tanya Shirley read this poem at an event I attended. It served as a timely reminder. A reminder, too, of the strange, confused reaction of uptown Jamaica.

I only remember the fear.

The People are Deading

and we are laughing

at this sound byte played over sweet bass

spliced and digitized for YouTube consumption

But when the people were deading

we were hiding under king size beds

panic buttons strapped to our chests

just in case, someone got the wrong address

the police or the bad men or the bad men

or the police. In that bullet-ridden dark

even teeth looked like dried blood

and you couldn’t see anybody’s soul

in the slant of seedy eyes.

No one was dying or crossing over

passing or walking into the light;

no one had the benefit of a benediction.

The people were deading

Like language ripped from a tongue

leaving clots of dry vowels in underground tunnels.

The people were deading

in a plague of fire bombs and a deluge of bullets

in uniformed arbitrary tactics

boys who were chased from birth

by the shadow of death, held hostage

by blind dollar bills and pot-bellied politicians,

were being blown out of their bodies

and only a woman like this one trapped

in a computer screen and a catchy rhythm

dares to look out at us and shatter

our silence and indifference, our stupid laughter

with her humble burial rites.

© Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley is the author of a collection of poetry, “She Who Sleeps with Bones.” The book is available at Bookland and Bookophilia in Kingston, and in pharmacies island-wide. It is also available on amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/She-Sleeps-Bones-Tanya-Shirley/dp/1845230876. Thank you, Tanya for allowing me to reproduce this here.

Tivoli Gardens resident Majorie Williams holds up photographs of her two sons, who were killed. (Photo: AP/Daily Mail)
Tivoli Gardens resident Majorie Williams holds up photographs of her two sons, who were killed. (Photo: AP/Daily Mail)



Related articles:

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/cleisure/cleisure5.html (Will Witter rise from his slumber? Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIQZVOgejoc (The people dem are deading: TVJ/YouTube)

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz (A Massacre in Jamaica: New Yorker article/Mattathias Schwartz, December 2010)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Something-went-horribly-wrong-in-Tivoli-Gardens_7657608 (Something went horribly wrong in Tivoli Gardens: Mark Wignall column/Jamaica Observer, May 2010)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/27/jamaican-army-tivoli-gardens (Jamaican army accused of murdering civilians in Tivoli Gardens: Guardian UK report, May 2010)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Security-forces-move-on-Tivoli-Gardens (Security forces move on Tivoli Gardens: Jamaica Observer report, May 24, 2010)

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19466 (Jamaica – Tivoli Gardens killings: No justice for 74 killed: Amnesty International, May 24, 2011)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120524/lead/lead4.html (The death of Keith Clarke: Two years of unimaginable grief and trauma: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/INDECOM-wants-weapons-in-Keith-Clarke-killing-retested_12651538 (INDECOM wants weapons in Keith Clarke killing retested: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR38/002/2011/en/d452da6f-50b9-4553-919c-0ce0ccedc9d8/amr380022011en.pdf (Human Rights Violations Under the State of Emergency: Amnesty Int. report)

Sunday Wonders: November 25, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

https://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/storm/  (Storm: petchary.wordpress.com, June 2010)

11 thoughts on “Tivoli Gardens: On May 24, 2010, The People were “Deading”

  1. Thank you for reminding us, for sharing Tanya’s poem, for ensuring that even we have got somewhat numbed by the violence (how else can we cope?), we must keep talking, acting, calling for action, and demanding the Pub. Defender’s report!


    1. Well, I learned that yet another deadline had been missed for the publication of the report. It’s all so terribly depressing – don’t these people’s lives matter? Yes, we have become numbed, it’s true. I heard Tanya read this poem recently and thought it would be a powerful way to remind ourselves that this issue has still not been resolved. As you say, we must keep on pressing in whatever way we can for justice!


  2. A timely reminder! Lest we forget that Tivoli and Jamaica lament the tyranny of injustice. Lest we forget that, ensconced behind our gated homes is only an illusion of security. Lest we forget that injustice anywhere, threatens our collective rights, send us more reminders like this. I was moved to tears as I read


    1. I was also so moved when I heard it read out by the lady herself. It was so honest and open, and also described so well the attitude of uptown Jamaica, behind our security walls as you say… I remember it so vividly. I was shaken and very disturbed on so many levels. And justice has still not been done for the many youths (and other residents) who died…


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