Marjorie Hinds was out buying food in Tivoli Gardens on the morning of May 24, 2010, when the security forces moved in.
Most cemeteries replace the illusion of life’s permanence with another illusion: the permanence of a name carved in stone. Not so May Pen Cemetery, in Kingston, Jamaica, where bodies are buried on top of bodies, weeds grow over the old markers, and time humbles even a rich man’s grave. The most forsaken burial places lie at the end of a dirt path that follows a fetid gully across two bridges and through an open meadow, far enough south to hear the white noise coming off the harbor and the highway. Fifty-two concrete posts are set into the earth in haphazard groups of two and three. Each bears a small disk of black metal and a stencilled number. The majority of these mark the unclaimed dead from the last days of May, 2010, when the police and the Army assaulted the neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens, in West Kingston. The rest mark the graves of paupers.
The trouble that led to the Tivoli Gardens deaths began in August, 2009, when the United States government requested the extradition of Christopher (Dudus) Coke. In the U.S., Coke stood charged in federal court of trafficking in narcotics and firearms; in Jamaica, he was known as the country’s most powerful “don,” a community leader who also runs a criminal enterprise. He lived in Tivoli, where everyone called him “president,” and, since 2001, Jamaican police had not been able to enter the neighborhood without his permission. Coke was so powerful that Prime Minister Bruce Golding spent months resisting the extradition order. But in early May, 2010, under heavy international political pressure, Golding authorized Coke’s arrest. In response, Coke converted Tivoli and nearby Denham Town into a personal fortress. Barricades of rubble and barbed wire sprang up across major intersections. Armed sentries took up posts around Tivoli’s perimeter. It looked as though Coke were preparing for war with the Jamaican state.
On Sunday, May 23rd, the Jamaican police asked every radio and TV station in the capital to broadcast a warning that said, in part, “The security forces are appealing to the law-abiding citizens of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town who wish to leave those communities to do so.” The police sent buses to the edge of the neighborhood to evacuate residents to temporary accommodations. But only a few boarded, and the buses drove away nearly empty.
Marjorie Hinds, who supported her family by selling groceries from a wooden shed, was one of the residents who ignored the warning. She was thirty-seven years old and took pride in her clothes, her cooking, her manicured nails, and her ironed hair. Hinds lived with her boyfriend, Radcliffe (Mickey) Freeman, and their two children, eleven-year-old Nikeita and eight-year-old Mickey, Jr. Their apartment was on the ground floor of Building Two, just north of Coke’s headquarters, in the area of Tivoli known as Java. Freeman had been working in the U.S. when, in April, Hinds asked him to return home. Freeman had played on the same street-corner soccer team as Coke when they were children, but their lives followed very different paths. From 2007 to 2008, Freeman worked on the completion of a new U.S. Embassy compound in Kingston, a job that required his name to be checked against lists of known criminals maintained by the Jamaican police. Contractors in Kingston and the United States knew him to be a hardworking carpenter and a family man.
That day in May, Hinds thought about leaving Tivoli, but she told herself that anyone who fled would have to live with the shame of having abandoned the community. Neighbors might label her an informer. She also didn’t think that the security forces would actually enter. Hinds told a friend who was worried about an invasion, “Tivoli is the baddest place in the whole wide world.”
On Monday, May 24th, Hinds woke to the sound of sporadic gunfire. Freeman was gone. Hinds anxiously dialled his cell phone and reached him at the house of a friend named Hugh Scully, who lived nearby. Freeman was calm, and Hinds, who had not been outside for three days, assumed that it was safe to go and buy food.
Late in the morning, she left her flat. It was a clear day, and the trade winds coming off the harbor eased the sun’s dizzying heat. A white surveillance plane was circling Kingston; a blue seal on the tail identified it as belonging to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Armored personnel carriers and soldiers from the Army, or Jamaica Defence Force, and the police, or Jamaica Constabulary Force, were massing to the south and east, outside the ring of barricades.
At 11 A.M., gunfire erupted as the security forces breached the barricades. Everyone in the street around Building Two scrambled for cover. Many ran to the ground-floor flat of an elderly woman named Murline Campbell, Hinds’s neighbor. (“When they come to my house, they are all family,” Campbell said later.) Suddenly, a J.D.F. helicopter appeared overhead, and Hinds was struck by an explosion. Her yellow shorts were charred black and her hip and buttocks were severely burned. She fell in the middle of the street, and blood flowed from gashes on her legs and face.
A neighbor ran to Scully’s house, where Freeman was tending to a young man who had been injured in an explosion nearby. “Marjorie dead!” he cried. Freeman found Hinds lying unconscious where she had fallen. He picked her up and rushed to Campbell’s apartment, where his daughter was hiding under Campbell’s bed. Freeman laid Hinds down on the floor with her head resting in his lap. She came to for a moment and asked for water, and Campbell brought some. The men sat silently in chairs. The women cracked open the windows and peeked out into the street. The gunfire seemed to be getting closer.
Four or five hours later, Campbell’s door was kicked down and about ten soldiers burst into the apartment. They carried M-16 assault rifles and wore the camouflage uniforms of the Army. They had yellow “Police Line” tape tied around their arms. The soldiers carried Hinds out to a jeep, which took her to Kingston Public Hospital.
At around four o’clock, the soldiers led the rest of the apartment’s occupants to a shaded area between the building and the street. On a normal day, young men would gather there to sit in high wooden chairs, play dice, and smoke marijuana. One soldier walked around with a plastic bag, collecting cell phones. Campbell’s daughter, Ayoni, remembers the soldiers punching and kicking the men and older boys. Nikeita began to cry. “What kind of work you do, man?” one soldier asked Freeman, whose shirt was stained with Hinds’s blood. “Me a carpenter, officer,” he replied.
Soldiers told Freeman and three other men to stay where they were; everyone else was ordered to walk a few hundred feet to a street called Sangster Crescent. Nikeita remembers seeing her father sitting peacefully under a tree in the custody of soldiers and a few policemen. She walked on with the rest of the group to Sangster Crescent, where hundreds of residents sat on the pavement as gunshots continued to echo.
After sundown, Nikeita was released. She returned to Building Two but was unable to find her father. She spent the night at a neighbor’s flat. The next morning, she encountered a soldier whom she recognized from Campbell’s apartment. He was stocky, she says, with a dark complexion and a wrinkled face. “Hey, your father is the short man?” he asked, in a voice that seemed to her full of contempt and satisfaction. “Your father dead, you know.”
Hinds was in the hospital, still unconscious. When she awoke, days later, a doctor told her about Freeman. His burial order lists the time of his death as “between 23 and 25 May 2010” and the cause as “multi gunshot wounds.” He was shot ten or more times, according to a Jamaican doctor familiar with the postmortem.
No fewer than seventy-four people were killed in the operation to arrest Christopher Coke and extradite him to the United States—one soldier and seventy-three civilians. Among the dead were at least three women and one United States citizen. Three more residents of Tivoli Gardens, including a sixteen-year-old boy, are missing and presumed dead. The Jamaican security forces say that many of the dead were armed gunmen allied with Coke, but they recovered only six guns during the assault. According to extensive interviews with Tivoli Gardens residents and Jamaican officials, the resistance that the security forces encountered in Tivoli was quickly overpowered. Coke and most of the gunmen are believed to have fled when the raid began, escaping through a network of gullies and sewers. The rest of the battle was not a firefight so much as a police operation. The security forces rounded up residents and conducted searches from house to house. Unarmed men of fighting age were interrogated on the spot, and more than a thousand were sent to detention centers, from which they were released a few days later. Mickey Freeman was one of dozens allegedly shot to death in custody.
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 U.S. surveillance plane flying above Kingston on May 24th was taking live video of Tivoli, that intelligence from the video feed was passed through U.S. law-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.
Class in Kingston corresponds to elevation. Below the Blue Mountain coffee estates, the grand houses surrounded by barbed wire, the gated apartment complexes, and the mazes of wooden shacks, on a level with the graveyard and the garbage dump, lies Tivoli Gardens. To the east is Coronation Market, where kitchen knives, sneakers, and pirated DVDs are sold on rows of tarps among knotted plastic bags of peanuts, curry, and seasoned salt. Early in the morning, the sound of creaking wood fills the air as the pushcart men guide their barrows to the market. To the west is the highway leading to the city’s main port, where cranes are forever assembling and dismantling walls of steel shipping containers. In Tivoli, blue fifty-five-gallon shipping barrels, with addresses that indicate they once travelled from London or Miami, are repurposed as hampers, barbecues, rented storage units, and garbage cans. In May of 2010, some were filled with sand to make the foundations of the barricades.
Tivoli was designed in the early nineteen-sixties, after an American-born, Harvard-educated sociologist named Edward Seaga visited Back-o-Wall, a stretch of wasteland beside the Kingston harbor. The houses there were made of old matchboards, sacking, and mud. Some had floors of pressed dung. There was no plumbing in Back-o-Wall, no electricity, and little work.
Seaga, a shy, cerebral man with the aristocratic airs and light skin favored by the Jamaican electorate, ran for office as a member of the conservative Jamaica Labor Party. In 1962, the year Britain granted the country full independence, he won West Kingston’s parliament seat. Seaga cleared Back-o-Wall and replaced it with Tivoli Gardens. The units were given to Party loyalists, and the neighborhood has been faithful to the J.L.P. ever since.
A promotional film from the late sixties shows Tivoli as a suburban development with manicured parks, playgrounds, and illuminated fountains. In the video, Seaga boasts of erasing all traces of the neighborhood’s identity as “a nest where the worst criminals gathered.” Tivoli was built on what Seaga called “the self-contained-community principle,” with a prenatal clinic, a preschool, and a vocational-training center. “We have not only taken the man out of the slum but we have taken the slum out of the man!” Seaga announced to an adoring crowd.
But Seaga’s invention soon degenerated into a new kind of slum. Tivoli’s fierce loyalty to the J.L.P. made it the first of Jamaica’s “garrison communities”—neighborhood enclaves controlled by gangs associated with either the J.L.P. or its rival, the People’s National Party. Many of Jamaica’s low-income communities are still led by dons, whose organizations act like miniature states: allocating benefits, defending borders, and extracting taxes. The most famous don of Tivoli was Christopher Coke’s father, Lester Lloyd Coke, who renamed himself Jim Brown after seeing the prison-hardened Nazi hunters of “The Dirty Dozen.” He consolidated his power in 1980, as Seaga was about to be elected Prime Minister. Around this time, the dons began shipping Colombian cocaine to the U.S. Brown killed off his rivals and became known as “the don of dons.”
By 1990, Jamaican gangs, or posses, had street organizations selling cocaine throughout the U.S. The most notorious was Brown’s Shower Posse, named for its willingness to shower bullets on any crowd thought to contain an enemy. In the U.S., the Shower Posse was linked to more than a thousand murders. Gang members turned up in cities from Dallas and Kansas City to Anchorage. One West Kingston resident told me that he knew Freeman during this period, when both men were living in Canada. “Him a gangster in Jim Brown days,” the man said. “But he change his life around.”
Seaga’s J.L.P. lost the 1989 general election, and power shifted to the P.N.P. In 1990, Jamaican police acquiesced to American demands and arrested Brown, who faced murder and drug-racketeering charges in the U.S. He died two years later, in a mysterious prison fire, while awaiting extradition. Thousands of mourners marched in Brown’s funeral procession, including Seaga. (“In a community like that, you can’t disrespect a man whom the people respect,” Seaga explained to me.) Christopher Coke, Brown’s youngest son, fought off rival successors and soon emerged as the new don of Tivoli Gardens and the leader of the Shower Posse.
Coke does not appear menacing—he is five feet four inches tall, with a round baby face—but his dominion in Tivoli Gardens was absolute. His organization, known to residents as “the system,” had its own penal process, including a jail, magistrates, and executioners. Coke’s code was simple—“No robbing, no raping, no killing”—and his justice stringent: teen-age thieves had one hand broken, rapists were beaten, anyone foolish enough to persistently dissent was exiled or killed. Once, according to U.S. federal prosecutors, Coke ordered a man he believed had stolen drug proceeds to be tied down so he could kill him personally, with a chainsaw. (Coke’s lawyers deny this.) The police twice conducted major operations in Tivoli during Coke’s time. Both ended in bloodshed: four civilians were killed in May, 1997, and twenty-five in July, 2001. In the latter incident, an Army helicopter was shot down, and police fired more than fifteen thousand rounds.
Residents went to Coke for tuition, legal aid, business loans, food, and medicine. The rest of Kingston scrimped to afford Jamaica’s electricity rates—as much as twelve hundred U.S. dollars annually, in a country where the gross national income per capita is about seventy-five hundred dollars—whereas in Tivoli ninety-nine per cent of the electricity arrived free of charge. “These guys make it big and they spread that money around, to build loyalty,” Lew Rice, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officer who worked at the agency’s Jamaica office in the early nineteen-eighties, says.
Many people felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked. “If someone grabs your chain in the market and you go to the police, they will take out a big book and they will take a long statement,” Pastor Patricka Hall, who leads one of Tivoli’s churches, says. “You never hear from them again. In Tivoli, all you need to do is tell the man where exactly your stuff was taken. In a few hours, maybe a day, you get back your thing. How they do it, I might not be able to pencil in. But they get it done.”
For years, the Jamaican government left Tivoli alone. Coke commuted from a lavish uptown villa to his office, in Java. He directed Shower Posse affiliates in the U.S., and his legitimate Jamaican businesses won road-paving and government security contracts.
Mickey Freeman, like everyone in Tivoli, had to present at least the appearance of loyalty to Coke, negotiating allegiances to both the don and the law. Freeman’s construction job at the new U.S. Embassy was the result of a referral from an earlier construction job at a fertilizer plant, which came through Incomparable Enterprises, a company controlled by Coke. “You hire from the area,” Darren Wilson, a manager at Tank-Weld, a contractor that employed Freeman, said. “You don’t have much choice who you get. They’re waiting at the gate when you get there.” On his final trip back from the U.S., Freeman carried two BlackBerrys and a bottle of cologne—gifts for the don.
“Coke was like Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes books,” Richard Smyth, who was the deputy chief of the U.S. Embassy in the late nineteen-nineties, says. “He was at the center of the web but was never caught doing anything himself.” In 2004, the D.E.A. entered into a secret agreement with the Jamaican Ministry of National Security that allowed it to listen in on Coke’s intercepted phone calls. This led eventually to the extradition request.
By then, Golding had become Prime Minister. He was a protégé of Seaga’s and a member of the J.L.P., the party long associated with Coke. To delay Coke’s extradition, Golding authorized the retention of a U.S. law firm—for a hundred thousand dollars per quarter—to lobby officials in Washington. In a cable, the U.S. Embassy in Kingston reported that the Jamaican government “understandably fears bloodshed and civil unrest,” but it did not recommend changing course. “Coke financed the Party, through overt and covert contributions,” a former State Department official told me. A current State Department official said that Golding’s administration was “obsessed” with the extradition. The campaign against the extradition was likely perceived by the Embassy as confirmation of Coke’s dangerously high standing with the Jamaican government.
By May, 2010, Golding’s recalcitrance had set off a diplomatic crisis, with the State Department revoking the visas of powerful Jamaicans. (After the raid, ABC News reported that U.S. authorities had intercepted communications between Coke and Golding, and that a U.S. government document called Golding a “criminal affiliate” of Coke.) The pressure on the Prime Minister became too great, and on Monday, May 17th, Golding instructed his Minister of Justice to sign the extradition order. That afternoon, shops in downtown Kingston rolled down their gates and sent employees home early. Coke’s men began putting up the barriers in Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town. On Wednesday, an armored Army vehicle attempting to push through one of the new roadblocks was met with gunfire.
On Thursday, thousands of Tivoli women marched in downtown Kingston on Coke’s behalf. They wore white and carried signs, written in marker on scraps of cardboard: “Taking Di Boss Is Like Taking Jesus”; “After God, Dudus Comes Next!”; “Jesus Die for Us. We Will Die for Dudus!”
By the weekend, Tivoli had filled with armed men. But, even as Coke prepared for war, he was negotiating his surrender with the police through a prominent member of Jamaica’s clergy, Bishop Herro Blair. Blair said that Coke was terrified of dying, like his father, in a Jamaican prison cell. But the Bishop’s hopes for a truce faltered on Sunday morning, when Coke’s forces attacked police patrols and four police stations, setting fire to at least one. The police commissioner cut off negotiations, and at six o’clock Golding declared a state of emergency in Kingston, giving the security forces expanded powers of search, arrest, and detention. In a briefing that night with Jamaica’s top security officials, the police commissioner, according to someone who spoke to him soon afterward, warned that as many as two hundred people might die.
The assault on Tivoli Gardens, known as Operation Garden Parish, began at 11 A.M. on May 24th. “The objective was to establish law and order in a place where there was none,” Karl Angell, a police spokesman, says. Media were prohibited from entering the area. The rest of Kingston watched as soldiers and police poured in and trucks carrying dead bodies drove out.
Gunmen clearly fired on the security forces the moment they went in. An Army video shows a sniper taking aim from behind sandbags. Another shows a teen-age boy in a school uniform walking around with an assault rifle. “Invasion of Tivoli Gardens by Babylon the enemy,” a diary written by a gunman reads. It was recovered months later, after the gunman was shot to death by police. “Gun shots rang out from every corner of West Kingston. . . . I fired my AK until my finger was numb.”
But the resistance melted away. Most of Coke’s followers, realizing that they stood no chance against the Army’s machine guns, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers, fled through Tivoli’s mazelike drainage system. Police later found a large cache of guns and ammunition at a house beside a gully connecting Tivoli to Denham Town. By the time the security forces began searching door to door, most, if not all, of the actual combatants had left. Coke, the man who had spent almost two decades claiming to be Tivoli’s protector, was nowhere to be found.
I lived in and around Tivoli for about three months, reporting this story. Residents, government officials, and sources close to the police there told me that the killings occurred in two waves. The first took place in the morning, while the security forces were rounding up residents and gaining control of the neighborhood. The second began in the afternoon, when police started conducting house-to-house searches for weapons and gunmen. Some used tissue swabs to test residents’ hands for traces of gunpowder. Often, the question of who was a gunman and who wasn’t was decided on the spot. If an unarmed man’s claims of innocence seemed unconvincing, the police might kill him.
“What are you doing in Tivoli Gardens?” a policeman asked George Lewis, a portly middle-aged man who installs wood floors in Brooklyn. He was visiting Jamaica and had come by a friend’s apartment on May 24th. He and the policeman were sitting, Lewis remembers, in the living room. The policeman had his rifle pointed at Lewis’s chest.
“It’s guys like you bringing in the loads of guns,” the policeman said.
“I’ve always been a law-abiding citizen,” Lewis said, trembling. Moments before, he had heard gunfire from the apartment next door. A second police officer leaned in, looking shaken, and asked what to do with the bodies. “Tie a sheet around them and carry them downstairs,” Lewis’s interrogator said.
“I’m the decision-maker now, you hear?” he continued. Lewis told the policeman that he had a nephew in the Army. The policeman asked for his name and phone number. Lewis wrote them on a slip of paper. He placed it on the coffee table, next to his American green card and his Jamaican passport.
“Call him,” the policeman said. Lewis could not get through. He began to pray.
The policeman looked at the slip of paper. “You all right,” he said. Lewis believes that he recognized the nephew’s name.
The police handcuffed Lewis and took him to Tivoli’s community center, where he spent the night lying on his stomach on the concrete floor. The next day, he was taken to an old industrial plant. The floor was covered with rainwater, so he stood awake all night, shoulder to shoulder with scores of other men. On Wednesday, the prisoners were driven to the National Arena, about three miles from Tivoli, where more than five hundred other men and boys were being held. The toilets were clogged, and the detainees had to urinate into empty water bottles. Lewis was released on Thursday evening. “I heard so many horror stories,” he told me. “They summarily executed people. Do you know why? Because people outside hold this area in low esteem.”
As Lewis was being interrogated in Tivoli Gardens on Monday, Joan McCarthy, an elderly woman who lives in the flat next to his friend’s, was held outside the building. Minutes before, police had ordered Andre Smith, her twenty-five-year-old grandnephew (and a U.S. citizen), and Dwayne Edwards, her daughter’s boyfriend, upstairs, after the soldiers had taken everyone outside. She heard gunshots inside the building, and then saw police carrying two bodies wrapped in sheets down the stairs. She recognized Edwards’s shoe protruding from one sheet. McCarthy was certain that neither of them was involved in the fighting—they had spent all morning together, hiding in her dining room. McCarthy later found Smith’s driver’s license and laptop on the floor of his room, covered in blood. Beside them was his passport. Smith had planned to attend Husson University, in Maine, that fall. Months later, after the police claimed that there was no record of his death, DNA from his father was found to match the DNA of one of the unidentified dead buried in May Pen Cemetery. Smith’s mother, a nurse who lives in Atlanta, is still trying to obtain a death certificate from the Jamaican government, so that she can arrange for a proper burial.
Detective Gladys Brown, one of the police detectives who processed and identified the Tivoli bodies, said that it was difficult to predict whether any member of the security forces would be held to account. “There were over five hundred soldiers,” she told me, sixteen months after Smith was shot. “Nobody is able to describe who saw and who did what. It’s very difficult to pinpoint one or two of these men who held a gun to the head and fired.” She emphasized that Coke’s men fired first. “There was warfare,” she said. “These people attacked the state. People were shot and killed. Eventually, we retaliated.”
“The security forces were of the view that Coke was in Tivoli Gardens,” K. D. Knight, a Jamaican senator who headed the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Relations under the P.N.P., told me. He said that the security forces came under heavy fire. “They were going to get him. Anyone and anything in the way was going to be regarded as collateral damage.”
Unofficially, some police officials characterized the operation as a “sacrifice,” pointing to a thirty per cent decline in Jamaica’s murder rate as justification for the loss of life in the Tivoli raid. An official from the P.N.P. suggested that Tivoli’s guilt was, in a sense, collective. “There was a torture chamber,” he said. “The community has to take some responsibility. I’m sure the entirety of Germany wasn’t guilty of the crimes of the Second World War, but an entire generation of Germans had to suffer the consequences of the Allied bombing.”
By the day after the operation, claims of extrajudicial killings had reached the Prime Minister, who asked Bishop Blair and the nation’s public defender, Earl Witter, to go to Tivoli to investigate. The men spent several hours there, accompanied by members of the security forces. Walls were pocked with bullet holes. Two buildings had burned to the ground. In some apartments, the men found up to a dozen people packed into a single room, sweating and terrified. Women told them of police shooting unarmed young men inside their homes, or dragging them out into the street and killing them. In a flat near Java, the investigators saw a waist-high bullet hole in one wall and blood on the floor; witnesses said that Errol Spence, a twenty-two-year-old barber, had been shot and killed there.
Blair, who had served in the Jamaican National Guard, was skeptical of claims that a massacre had taken place. He said that when he met with Coke in Java before the attack, to try to negotiate a resolution, he saw roughly a hundred gunmen with him. “There is a script that is written, whenever police are involved,” he told me. “People will all say the same thing.” Witter, a former journalist, whose office investigates constitutional violations and cases of injustice, took the allegations seriously. After hearing rumors that soldiers were advising residents to clean up crime scenes, he opened an office in the neighborhood and began an investigation. (Eighteen months later, Witter’s investigation is still under way. He expects to complete an interim report by the end of the year.)
On June 22nd, a month after the attack on Tivoli, the police caught Coke at a roadblock. He was dressed as a woman and wearing a wig. The car’s driver, the Reverend Al Miller, said that Coke was on his way to the U.S. Embassy to surrender.
Since late June, Coke has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, in lower Manhattan. He has been listening on a CD player to the thirty-five thousand wiretapped recordings that form the bulk of the government’s case against him. In July, a dozen or so relatives and well-wishers came to the federal courthouse on Pearl Street to attend a hearing. Coke wore a jumpsuit, and his hair was shaved down to stubble. Accompanied by two guards, he kissed his palm as he entered the courtroom and held it up to his supporters, who remained standing until the don had taken his seat.
Coke had heard about the death of Mickey Freeman. “He got emotional,” Stephen H. Rosen, one of Coke’s two attorneys, said. “His eyes welled up.” (Rosen told me later that Coke denied ordering that barricades be built or that anyone attack the security forces.) In late August, Coke pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January and faces up to twenty-three years in prison. Less than a month after Coke’s plea, Bruce Golding announced that he would resign as Prime Minister. “The entire episode has affected me deeply,” he said of Coke’s extradition, in an address to the nation.
After decades of quasi-independence, Tivoli Gardens is finally under state control. The neighborhood pays for its electricity and takes its disputes to Jamaican courts. But residents continue to praise Coke: “Dudus a good man”; “Just an ordinary man. A man you can go up and talk to”; “If Dudus here, me beg him fifty dollars and me get it.” Tivoli’s greatest tribute to Coke is paid in silence. “Ah! How Tivoli people talk!” a mother who lost two sons in the attack said when I mentioned rumors that one had fought for Coke. “I need to choose my friends more carefully,” she said.
I asked whether she was certain that there was not a gunman among the five boys killed on her street. “You know that I can’t give you that information,” she said.
When I said that made it hard to believe anything she said, she snapped, “I say. Then you talk. Then I get killed.”
Shortly after one o’clock on May 24, 2010, Norman Grindley, the chief photographer of the Jamaica Gleaner, climbed up to the roof of the paper’s office building, in Kingston, and began taking pictures of a plane that he had seen circling above Tivoli since late morning. It was the surveillance plane, a Lockheed P-3 Orion, with the seal on the tail identifying it as belonging to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. A spokesperson for the D.H.S. confirmed to me that it had aircraft flying above Kingston on May 24th, “in support of the D.E.A. and the Jamaican government.” A D.H.S. incident report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act describes the surveillance. “All scenes were continuously recorded,” the report reads.
The State Department and the D.E.A. have also officially acknowledged that the plane assisted the Jamaican government during the Tivoli operation. The P-3 Orion, they said, in a statement given to me this fall, passed information “to U.S. law-enforcement officers stationed at the Embassy, who provided that information to Jamaican authorities.” The statement said that U.S. law-enforcement officers had not made “operational decisions” during the incursion, and emphasized Jamaican responsibility. “The video material was not viewed in the Embassy,” a State Department spokesperson said. “It was viewed at a tactical-operations center, and I don’t have the location of that.” When asked whether there were U.S. officials at the tactical-operations center, the spokesperson said, “I don’t know. I can’t clarify that for you.” A D.E.A. spokesperson said, “We were absolutely not involved on the ground in any of the operations.”
But parts of the D.H.S. report appear to contradict that assertion. The plane was assigned “at the request of and in support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) Kingston Country Office,” the report reads. “Surveillance support is needed to increase officer safety.” Later, spokespeople from the State Department and the D.H.S. said that this referred solely to Jamaican officers. Major General Stewart Saunders, who led the Jamaican Army during the attack on Tivoli, retired shortly afterward, and declined repeated requests for comment, as did Prime Minister Golding. Numerous other officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, the D.E.A., the Justice Department, and the State Department declined to comment, saying that they had to wait until Witter’s report was completed or until Coke was sentenced.
It is clear that the U.S. played a major role in tracking Coke before the operation. “We were constantly involved in the investigation,” Bill Sorukas, the chief of the International Investigations Branch of the U.S. Marshals Service, said. “We provided information and intelligence on Coke and associates he was with.” He noted that the U.S. collaborates closely with the Jamaica Fugitive Apprehension Team, a special unit of the police, and that the “investigation was worked jointly” by the D.E.A. and the police. A senior Jamaican parliamentarian added that the U.S. government had provided satellite images of Tivoli in response to a 2008 request from Jamaican law-enforcement officials who said they needed help tracking Coke.
The U.S. knew there was a risk of violence against civilians during the operation. For decades, human-rights activists have been collecting stories of J.C.F. excesses, including officers indiscriminately firing on teen-age girls or crowded buses. In 2010, the police killed three hundred and twenty civilians, a figure that does not include the seventy-three who died in Tivoli. This is forty times the number killed last year by the New York Police Department, which is responsible for a population three times as large. “The J.C.F. routinely carried out summary executions of suspected criminals,” Jerome Harris, who retired as head of the D.E.A.’s Caribbean division in 2008, says. In February, 2010, three months before the Tivoli incursion, a leaked cable signed by the chief of the U.S. Embassy cited a U.N. report pointing out “the propensity for extrajudicial killings by the J.C.F.”
A security adviser in Jamaica who works closely with the police said it may be that Jamaican police commit murder because they don’t trust the courts or the prisons: “Many bad guys do not go to jail. Or they are able to operate their criminal empires from inside jail, or they escape with ease. Police officers, in particular, are at risk. Some of them are targeted and killed. So, on occasion, they might feel that it makes more sense to kill someone on the spot.” People like Mickey Freeman and Andre Smith were in particular danger from the Jamaican police because they had come in from outside Tivoli. “Dudus had called in bad guys from across Jamaica to come and defend him,” the security adviser continued. “Police and soldiers knew that they were likely to encounter some of the most vicious killers in the country, and that any non-local man present in Tivoli on that day had probably not come as a tourist.”
I put the question of Freeman’s character to more than twenty sources in Kingston, including not only official media contacts at the U.S. Embassy, the J.C.F., and the J.D.F. but a high-ranking J.C.F. officer and a former Shower Posse lieutenant. I asked each of these interlocutors for any evidence they might have showing that Freeman was anything other than a noncombatant who was intentionally shot and killed by the security forces. No one was able to provide such evidence. In its absence, the case against Freeman’s innocence consists of small circumstantial connections to Coke. These must also be weighed against the strong evidence supporting his good character: Freeman’s security check, which allowed him to work for the contractors building the U.S. Embassy; interviews with Freeman’s supervisors in Jamaica and the U.S.; and multiple accounts from Freeman’s neighbors and family. But the question of Freeman’s innocence or guilt on May 24, 2010, wasn’t decided by a court, a journalist, or, most likely, anyone who knew him. It was decided by members of the security forces in Tivoli Gardens. None of them have spoken out about that day, and no court has compelled them to. It is therefore impossible to know what standards they applied to the question of who would live and who would die.
For two weeks after the operation, residents were forced to stay near their homes. Many residents’ sofas had been cut open, ceilings ripped down, and tile floors smashed during police searches for weapons. For the next month, Tivoli was under a six-o’clock curfew, enforced by arrest. Entering or leaving the neighborhood after the curfew required a police permit. A year later, in May, 2011, Tivoli Gardens still looked like an occupied territory. Coke’s office had become an Army post, and the Jamaican flag flew overhead. From time to time, patrols of soldiers emerged from the camouflage mesh concealing the entrance. The patrols passed by pickup soccer games, tennis-ball cricket matches, and groups of women hanging out laundry. They crossed streets on the diagonal, rifles cradled across their chests. Next to the Army post was a new police station. The officers there seemed friendlier, eating box lunches in plain view and bantering with residents. On one wall was a sign left behind by the old order: “No Idling, No Smoking, No Foul Word.”
When Marjorie Hinds talks about May 24th, she speaks with a stutter. Without Freeman’s support, she has a hard time feeding her children. She and her daughter beg. Her old neighbor Murline Campbell begs on her behalf. “You have to be strong, Marjorie!” her friend Jane McFarlane said as the two sat in McFarlane’s living room, which is decorated with stuffed animals and artificial flowers. McFarlane lost a son and a cousin in the attack; bullet holes and splattered blood still mar one of her upstairs bedrooms. She now lives with a friend in a town west of Kingston, and had returned to visit Tivoli on the one-year anniversary of the killings. “This house is not a home to me anymore,” she said.
During Memorial Week, a public commemoration of the attack’s first anniversary, the pastor at the Faith and Hope Deliverance Church unfolded two sheets of paper and read a letter from Coke.
“Dear Residents of Tivoli Garden,” the don had written. “I hope you are all fine and this letter reaches everyone in the best of health. As for me I’m doing all right and my health conditions are fine.” Coke thanked Tivoli for sending him postcards and said he was sorry for the pain of the past year. For the future, he looked to God. “My deepest sympathy and condolences goes out to the families who loss their love ones and to those that were injury. . . . When the community cry, I cry too.” One sentence could be construed as a warning: “Don’t let anyone mislead you to do anything that is not right in the sight of God.”
A memorial for Mickey Freeman took place late in the afternoon on the following day, in the yard where Nikeita remembers last seeing him. Bubba, Mickey’s half brother, cooked chicken and rice on grills made from rusting hubcaps. A line quickly formed, and Bubba brought out Heineken, rum, and Pepsi. Darkness fell. One by one, the women of Tivoli knelt on the sidewalk and lit white candles. Someone rigged up a sound system and played a Buju Banton song:
Top a top Dudus
Live upon Chris
Top a top Jim Brown
Dem the gun specialist
“Blau! Blau! Brrrr-au!” three young boys shouted, spraying the street with imaginary machine guns.
Hinds sat looking out at the party from the veranda of her old apartment, with Mickey, Jr., at her feet, rolling an unlit candle between her hands. She stayed inside through most of Memorial Week. When she went out, she did not linger near Building Two. A suitcase on top of a bedroom dresser holds the remains of her old life. When she wants to explain who she once was, she will carry it to the kitchen table, spill out a bundle of loose papers, and begin picking out the vital documents—identification cards, letters of reference, phone numbers of supervisors who will attest that Mickey Freeman was a good man. In a photograph taken at a job site, Mickey, in hard hat and earplugs, waves at the camera. With half-closed eyes and the hint of a smile, he appears sanguine. He has a small frame but a workman’s thick forearms. There are photographs, too, that show how much Hinds has changed. She is heavier now, with a black scar running along one cheekbone. “I was pretty,” she said. She pointed to the scars on her feet and legs. “Look, they spoil me up.”
Jim Brown’s body lies beside those of his family and his retainers, beneath a bed of artificial flowers and a bare light bulb. The grave is in the northeast corner of May Pen Cemetery, an area known in Tivoli as Heroes’ Circle. The words “Death Is the Surest Thing in Life” are painted in black on a nearby wall.
One day, a memorial took place at Heroes’ Circle for Errol Spence, the young barber, who was known as Culu. His tomb rises four feet up from the uneven ground, and is finished in white tile, with his name and dates cut into the headstone. A case of beer, a bottle of rum, and a sprig of marijuana had been placed on top.
“These are Cokes,” one of the mourners, a middle-aged woman, said to me. “They don’t want you here.” But a large man with bowed legs and a diamond earring was eager to have someone record his thoughts. He introduced himself as Big Pimp and said that he was close to one of Coke’s nephews. “Me two balls and me word and my family—that’s all me have,” he began, paraphrasing Al Pacino in “Scarface.” “Then they come. And they take that away.” He took a swallow from a Heineken. “If me no cry on the outside, me cry on the inside. We lost a lot of friends, we down here. We live like brothers and sisters. Police and soldiers? We have all hate for them.”
He compared Jamaica to Libya and Afghanistan. He talked about human rights. “Bare innocent!” he cried, at the mention of Culu. “Cold-blooded mur-dah! The soldiers, they swab him! They find nothing! And they kill him!”
Early in the morning on another day, nine-year-old Mickey, Jr., took me to see his father’s grave, which lies well to the south of Heroes’ Circle. He and Nikeita have got used to looking after themselves. When Hinds is able, she sells vegetables in the market, but she often goes to the country to rest.
It was just after dawn, and the sky was gray. Mickey, Jr., slipped on his sandals and led me to May Pen. He threaded the narrow paths running between the graves. In places, the way was paved with old stone markers sinking into the dirt like cobblestones. “This one,” Mickey, Jr., said, sitting down on a tomb of pink tile. There was no headstone. In its place was a sun-bleached photograph of two stuffed bears, with the words “I love you so much.” “Me a’ bed, then go to school,” Mickey, Jr., said. He looked weary in a way that most nine-year-old boys never do.