Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some numbers, some words.

Some numbers

Only six firearms have been seized by the police at this point in time, two rifles and four handguns.
How many dead? This morning's paper said 73. many of them could have been gunmen, considering they haven't found very many guns?

[Other things to consider about numbers? The death toll is actually significantly higher for the Kingston metropolitan region, Spanish Town has also experienced significant loss of life but is not included in these numbers. There were about 30 civilian deaths almost entirely due to gunmen, at least that's what I've heard to date.]

Some words

I spent most of the day in Trench Town (though not Tivoli Gardens, that's still sectioned off). There was a lot of disturbing news today from friends and children I spoke with. Some of the children I know told me they've never seen so many dead bodies, and that the dogs were eating the corpses. Another disturbing piece of information is among Trench Town residents there have been rumors of people being buried in unmarked graves. There may be more than gossip to it, since Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the actions of security forces, deaths and subsequent burials during the "West Kingston Operations."

Jim Wyss wrote a fairly thorough and clear account of the concerns about respect for the deceased and other issues for the Miami Herald. Check it out to find out more about the situation: Miami Herald-Bullets, bodies haunt Jamaica

Right now, it's not entirely clear, who's dead, missing or under custody. There is a fairly large group of men being held at the National Stadium. I accidently had the chance to see a bit of what was happening there yesterday. While I was out for a run I saw four trucks crammed with people entering the stadium when I realized the security forces must be bringing them up from Tivoli. I verified this with observers and then a few soldiers. Some looked like young teens, others old men, most of them looked between 18-25. By my count yesterday I figured I saw at least 200 to 250 people, so I was surprised to hear there were actually about 560 people being detained, that must have been inside.
Today the police were processing and running background checks on every person in custody to see if they're wanted for any offenses. On the bright side, they have been able to arrest some people for outstanding warrants, no final number yet. But on the other hand residents have said that many of these people are not even gun men, or have nothing to do with gangs, they're just men.* That being said some of them must be gun men or have participated in fighting (some against their will as we're hearing, but that's another story). Still, I hope the men who were just detained for being in Tivoli will get to go home to their families quickly.

*I later found out that a 15 year old boy I know, we'll call him D, was held at the stadium. What's troubling about this is that, he's not a gun men, he's just not totally.....mentally present much of the time? I'm not sure how to describe it, but it is alarming that he would end up in prison for a lot of reasons. Namely, one that he hasn't really developed a filter for seeing situations and assessing them in a realistic way. So he often just ends up places or with people he doesn't intend to be in/with. Second, this isn't the first time that his lack of capacity to explain himself has prevented him from standing up for himself or combating assumptions the police have about him. Really troubling....

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Skeleton stories

This is a story of a young man who loved to be strong. His mother lived in Tivoli Gardens. During the siege she called him and told him she was alone and afraid. He was executed by the army.

This skeleton of a story is catastrophe enough, but what about with real flesh and bones? With a life, with thousands of moments and stories in his soul. Does the story hurt even more when you consider that? It is a real one. This is the tragic story of a young man we call Roofie. He is far from a gun man or a heartless killer. Roofie has been volunteering with Fusion for years. If you knew him you would have seen him on our day trips, leading crazy activities for young people. Or you would have seen him helping out at community festivals engaging in all sorts of silliness and joy. This is the story of our friend, our brother. This is the story of a young man who died.
Not for being involved in violence or drugs, but for being in Tivoli Gardens.

The burden is heavy for his family: for his parents (including his step-mom) who have tried with all their might to do what's best for their children, his many brothers, for his sister who I've gotten the pleasure of knowing these last few months. It's heavy for his friends, for the men who are feeling like things are too hard.

The burden is heavy for all of us who are mourning Roofie, but it's heavy all over this city. Roofie's story is not the only story like this. Today in Mountain View police with their lips wet for revenge set out to murder gunmen or any civilian men they came upon. A young man was standing in his mother's shop, a police man shot him in both legs. While he continued to struggle to show them his id, explaining that he was a working man not a gun man, a police man shot him in the head. This story hurts too. It hurts me that there must be many more stories like this. It hurts me that the police are profiling other black men and wiping them out.

It hurts that the pain we are carrying in our hearts for Roofie is being carried by hundreds around this city. Not only at the loss of brothers and friends, but the pain of knowing that some men high on their own sense of authority have decided they have it in their power to decide who lives and who dies, to go into people's homes and shoot before asking questions. Who disregard the pleas and evidence around them that a young man is not a gun man, and take his life. We are in pain because life in this city, in this world, is not how it should be.

There's more to say, but for now that's enough.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two Entries in One

Lighthearted Portion

Today things have raged on, but outside of the downtown/Tivoli area has settled down considerably. Except that there was shooting in Crossroads (about a 10 minute walk downhill from our house). Anyway, Vanessa was able to leave her home for the first time in days, so she came over. Prior to this there has been shooting and violence directly next to Vanessa's house, so we decided to enjoy each other's company today. Stefon, Vanessa, and I decided to venture outside! Mostly I think this was a desire to see some of the atmosphere of the city, but also to get some food. I've had a craving for a couple very specific things since Saturday night! So we all went together to go have a look and get some food. We walked to New Kingston (about a ten minute walk). Got some pizza and headed home. It was sort of surreal, there were more people out today but Pizza Hut was virtually empty (just a few costumers, that never happens) and they only had medium pizzas. Everywhere was closing at about 4:00.

We had a lot of fun, it was a brief respite from reality. When I returned home things came crashing back down. If you are averse to unsettling details, it's probably best not to read on.


I bought phone credit so I was getting in touch with friends and partners in mission trapped in their home. One young friend, who's 14, sent me messages saying she was terrified and about some graphic incidents that have happened directly in front of her house. She explained to me that there's also been a struggle to remove dead bodies. In the hot Caribbean sun the stench of dead bodies increases exponentially, while dogs and crows eat away flesh to sinew and bones. Meanwhile all residents can do is watch. She explained that attempts to move many bodies were thwarted by gun fire. On the news this evening I'm hearing from the mayor of Kingston Desmond McKenzie that he's aware of the issue and steps have been made forward. Another concern is that in the areas in conflict most residents only keep a day to two days of food in their homes. When there was a lull in gunfire this morning many made a dash to purchase more food, but little was left in the shops in those areas. Most of these small shops in Tivoli/Trench Town are stocked by people who go "downtown" buy things wholesale and bring them back to the community. Since there's violence "downtown" and in the markets, and in the community, that's not happening. The concern is that the shelves in the shops will go bare, and people will have no back up provisions.
There was an announcement on the news that Red Cross is making plans about these issues, but no deliveries yet.**

I'm getting more and more reports about people I know (from the young to the old) being injured. One of the students at Operation Restoration* was shot in the road today and fell down, no one could get back to drag him out. I haven't heard yet whether or not he got out alive. I saw two people I know on the news, one helping to carry a bleeding wounded senior citizen and another who we saw live being shot in the arm and back while he tried to help someone else. He is injured but has survived. What's really sad about that particular story is that he used to be a gunman, but gave it up and became a Christian. He's been one for about four years now, staying away from guns and violence.....The official count from 1 PM is 26 civilians dead, but friends in the community estimate that it's higher.

When I spoke with friends in Majesty Gardens yesterday and things have been bad there as well. Majesty Gardens struggles with gang war between "Up the road" and "Down the road." This conflict flares on a regular basis running rampant till the intervention of police or army. The opportunistic gangs have not let the chance of occupied arms forces pass them by and are having a gory field day in Majesty. Two died yesterday, and today the community was filled with constant gun shots. One friend expressed that he feels like he's dead already.

*Operation Restoration is the first place I volunteered in Trench Town. I worked there for two summers. It's a remedial school serving people age 12-17. Fusion partners with Operation Restoration with our School's Work program or "Lunchtime with a difference" program. The students at our Trus' Camp, put on by New Generation together with Fusion, CLF and Blvd. Baptists church members, were also from Operation Restoration.

**The Red Cross and other organizations and churches later put together bags and delivered them in Tivoli. Not sure about Trench Town.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts on civil unrest and accusations of selfishness

Last night the dogs were barking. Louder than I've ever heard them. Some were excited, others anxious. Communicating the incommunicable. Panic and fear. For days people have been retreating inside themselves in anticipation of violent unrest. For days rumors have spread around Kingston, around Jamaica. Each day people react to the groundless whispers that today was going to be the day that the infamous "they" went for Dudus Coke. Meanwhile we sat minutes from Tivoli knowing nothing would happen today by the lack of police and army presence and other tell tale signs in Trench Town. But people at a distance had little to rely on but misinformation, so people fled from work. People evacuated even from far reaching corners that seemed far out of risk.

While I watched hoards of people rushing north, trying to get as far away from downtown Kingston as possible, I could understand a desire to be safe at home, but there was something about it that was unpalatable. Perhaps it was that many of these same people were so angry at the prime minister for not signing Dudus over faster; who were disgruntled about endangering a relationship with the giant of the North, about visa applications and hampering businesses. There is something sour to me about people wanting him extradited because of inconvenience in their own life, being able to retreat safely to their homes while bullets blaze through some one else's community, while some one else pays the cost for the majority's normalcy, while the marginalized remain isolated and set apart, at risk and deprived of equality, of full legitimate participation in legal society or even government. The many assumptions and prejudices this situation is riddled with make so vile a concoction, that I for one cannot stomach it with ease. With a stench so pervasive that because of its mere presence I desire more than anything to spit the taste out of my mouth. But that's not the whole story either....

I am angry, but who to blame? Politicians of days gone by who as early as the 1930s and 40s were developing garrison communities as mechanisms to establish there power? That would actually mean blaming the founding fathers of Jamaica as it were. The CIA could take some credit. They armed the JLP in the early days, in an attempt to discourage Jamaica from a growing relationship with communist Cuba. This is particularly ironic because the same Dudus Coke the US government presently wants to extradite has ties with the same party they armed those years ago. Dudus Coke is simply part of the political-vote monger-war machine they helped engineer. (To some of you that might sound reminiscent of Osama Bin Laden and the CIA).
The modern politicians have been trained in the same corruption, despotism, and manipulation. They could carry a big portion of the blame. Politicians who claim to want change and invent catchy slogans while maintaining what Obika Gray calls a "parasitical government."
Do I blame Barack Obama or the FBI for wanting to extradite a definite criminal and player in the international drug and gun trade? It sounds like it makes sense, but Barack will carry some of the burden for playing the US bully card while demanding extradition on not so legal evidence, and for not listening. He did not listen to politicians representing the ghetto, representing normal Jamaican citizens without criminal alliances residing downtown who explained that this would result in civil war in Kingston. It's not him alone that didn't listen, many Jamaican politicians didn't either, nor people uptown.
So do I blame the infectious apathy towards garrison communities that many middle & upper class, and non-Kingston residents have? Caring about people in garrisons only when the commotion is making the news or effecting the majority's affairs? Blame people who ask why the people of Tivoli are "being so selfish" and protecting a criminal without considering the selfishness of everyone outside of garrison communities for being unconcerned all these years? Their statement reveals a flagrant lack of comprehension, a flat understanding of garrison politics. Informing or betrayal in a garrison means death socially or literally. It means hiding, running, or dying. Is wanting to avoid that anymore selfish than not doing more than lip service towards the problem? Is it any less selfish to care now because of inconvenience but not because of the massive injustice and threat garrisons have posed since before independence? Isn't more enraging that a community has been so so isolated and ill served by its government and fellow citizens that depending on gang law has become an increasingly viable and legitimate option? Dons supply what the government and other organizations do not? Stability, order, money, food, generally more justice than the police?

When I hear talk of the selfishness something in me burns, because if one party alone was immersed in selfishness perhaps we wouldn't be in this debacle in the first place. In reality, in life there is often no one person or group to blame. There may be one person who starts something evil and destructive, but we are all accountable. We are all called to stop, remedy or work tirelessly railing against these misdoings. There is a mutuality of responsibility, that has been neglected. A shared duty to care for each other, to seek justice, mercy and compassion as a society. Not with lip service, but with action. When these things fail in a society it's not just one person's fault, nor one social group, but many.

Extradition gone awry

If you read this article by Sophie Tedmanson, for UK edition of the Times Online. It's an overall look at what was happening yesterday here in Kingston. If you're not aware, the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, which is a significant chunk of the Kingston metropolitan area, have been put legally into a state of emergency. There is currently a 6 o'clock curfew, suspension of habeas corpus, right to search persons and property without warrant, and more. So what's happening? The attempted extradition of Tivoli don (think mob boss if you're not aware of the terminology) Christopher Coke, or Dudus, to the US has gone awry. Days leading up to the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) and police making a move, loyal Tivoli residents have been barricading roads and turning the garrison community of Tivoli into a literal fortress. Blocking off roads by creating make shift walls, patrolling, and controlling entry and departure from the community for days. Even residents had to seek permission to leave, including students taking CXC exams (think similar to AP exams or subject SATs if you're in the US).

Why the police and JDF waited so long, giving those loyal to Dudus more time to prepare I'm really not sure. Yesterday several police stations were compromised. Last night more roads were blocked off even out of the downtown area, as far as the wealthier areas of Red Hills and Havendale (where Robert lives); also Mountainview (near Vanessa). Crossroads, a major intersection I use everyday to go to work and crucial transportation point, saw firing yesterday and the police station was under fire. Why all this loyalty? Dudus Coke, and his father who he inherited power from Jim Brown, are popular for bring stability and services that the government simply does not. More about this later. There is a video below about Jim Brown and recent political history in Jamaica. In my opinion, Dudus may be even more popular rather his father. Many of the students in our School's Work program have a friendly relationship with them. He encourages them to learn, to stay in school, to keep their head up, he gives out money to the unemployed, he throws birthday parties for children. Does this make him a good man? No, does this mean it's much more complicated than many would have it look? Of course.

If you read the article, the only area I would really comment on is the offer from the government for law abiding citizens in Tivoli Gardens to seek escape and refuge with the police seems like a bit of a pretense. For one many people have said they flat out just don't trust the police to go anywhere with them. Even beyond that, while evacuation might be a mostly viable option for women and children, for men that's a different story and definitely tricky. Seeking asylum with the Jamaican police could mean social or literal death. Would a man who accepted the offer be able to enter their community safely and comfortably again? Only if this effort really eliminates gang control. Not being able to enter the community again would weaken or eliminate weak social ties (which are more casual acquaintances known through geographic proximity or social networks). Beyond the social ramifications, people accept the offer will also fall prey to death threats or execution by gunmen for betrayal to the police. Time is of little consequence in these matters, it could happen years down the line. In the garrisons, for gunmen and badmen, revenge is revenge. There's no expiration date.