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.
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)