Last Tuesday’s Gleaner reported a “Tivoli Bombshell”. According to the testimony of an anonymous soldier, “two policemen, without provocation, fatally shot two unarmed young men while they were bound and seated in a detention area, before marching a third man to a nearby house.”
Why is this a “bombshell”? There are two quite distinct symbolic meanings of this explosive word: first, “an overwhelming surprise or disappointment”. The second meaning is “a very attractive woman”. Makes sense. Attractive women are dangerous. They tend to make men explode. If this happens too quickly, it can really be an overwhelming surprise and a shattering disappointment.
The Gleaner’s Tivoli bombshell is definitely not a very attractive woman. And, by the way, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, disguised as a woman, was certainly not a bombshell. It was a surprise that he was caught in the company of a man of the cloth. But as Michael Abrahams has so wickedly reminded us in his recent columns, God does move in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
Fun and joke aside, is it an overwhelming surprise that unarmed young men were allegedly shot dead by the police without provocation? It happens all the time. Not only in Tivoli. Just think of the murder of black men by the police in the US. It’s truly an overwhelming disappointment that the lives of black men seem to have so little value.
Then, I wonder if any anonymous policeman or woman is going to testify that he or she saw soldiers fatally shooting defenceless young men. Is the Enquiry going to turn into a soap opera about good soldier versus bad police? I suspect that both police and soldiers are equally guilty of unprovoked assault. Power breeds terror.
Of course, there was provoked assault as residents of Tivoli attacked members of the security of forces in defence of their community. But who provoked first? Where did it all begin? When politicians got in bed with drug lords? When politicians gave youths guns to defend garrisons? When the youths got smart and realised that they could cut out the politicians and run tings?
The Government is spending a lot of money on the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry. In these times of austerity, the budget is J$410.4 million. I wonder what the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank think about this expenditure. Will the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ever come out? Or will it all be a terrible waste of money? But justice must appear to be done. Especially if it is not!
DISTINGUISHED UWI GRADUATE
So what do Tivoli Gardens and New Orleans have in common? Just ask Dr Nadia Ellis, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s a distinguished graduate of the University of the West Indies, Mona. Dr Ellis gave a brilliant keynote lecture at the conference, “Community Uprising: Katrina, Resilience, Resistance & Culture After 10 Years”, convened last month in New Orleans and hosted by the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies.
Dr Ellis’ lecture focused on the militarisation of both New Orleans and Tivoli Gardens after natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) and manmade catastrophe (hunting Dudus). I wonder how many people still believe – if ever – that Dudus was in Tivoli waiting for the security forces to come looking for him. Was there much more at stake in the invasion of Tivoli than finding Dudus?
In her summary of the lecture, Dr Ellis noted that, “In the wake of the disasters wrought by Katrina in 2005, security forces descended into the city creating a show of force that did little to aid those most affected by the storms. Indeed, cases of extra-judicial killing by the police were alleged and investigated. Five years later in May 2010, Jamaican security forces descended on the community of Tivoli Gardens in an attempt to apprehend a drug lord: 76 civilians were killed. In both these cases communities that were perceived from the outside as hyper-autonomous, culturally problematic, and politically unmanageable were subject to military-style incursion.”
BIG FREEDIA QUEEN DIVA
Dr Ellis also highlighted the therapeutic function of music and dance in both New Orleans and Kingston. Like dancehall, New Orleans bounce music helps partygoers recover from the daily stresses of survival. The Katrina conference included a bounce concert by Frederick Ross whose stage name is Big Freedia Queen Diva. It was quite an event.
In a 2013 interview with OUT magazine, Big Freedia explained that “Whatever makes my fans comfortable—to be able to call me ‘he’ or ‘she,’—I’ll allow. I let them have the freedom to choose either one . . . . A lot of people just can’t accept the fact of calling a man ‘she.’ I totally understand that, and it’s never offensive to me, because I was born a man, my preferred pronoun is she—but it’s not a big thing to me.” That’s where the similarity to dancehall stops for sure.
I recently had an unsettling conversation with a bright young man from Trench Town. He said there’s no law and order downtown since Dudus was extradited. He thinks things were much better when the don was in charge. God help us if that’s true. And I don’t mean the temperamental God of the Old Testament.