2010 Kingston unrest

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2010 Kingston conflict
Part of the War on Drugs
Date May 23, 2010 – June 2010
Location Kingston, Jamaica
Result
  • 700+ people arrested
  • Christopher Coke arrested
  • 2 police stations burnt down
  • 85+ guns and over 14,000 rounds of ammunition recovered
  • hand grenades, dynamite, ballistic helmets, and protective vests also recovered
Belligerents
 Jamaica:

 United States:

Shower Posse drug cartel
Commanders and leaders
Jamaica Stewart Saunders
Jamaica Owen Ellington
Jamaica Patrick Allen
Jamaica Bruce Golding
United States Janet Napolitano
Christopher Coke
Strength
1000+ soldiers comprising elements of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions
300+ police officers
DHS P-3 Orion
500+ gunmen (est.)
Casualties and losses
JDF:
1 killed
30 injured
JCF:
3 killed
28 injured
50+ killed (estimate)
Several dozen injured
73+ civilians killed (including the estimates for the gunmen and policemen killed)
35+ civilians injured

The 2010 Kingston unrest, dubbed locally as the Tivoli Incursion, was an armed conflict between the Shower Posse drug cartel and Jamaica's military and police forces in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. The conflict began on the 23 May 2010 as security forces began searching for major drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke, after the United States requested his extradition,[1] and the leader of the criminal gang that attacked several police stations. The violence, which largely took place over 24–25 May, killed at least 73 civilians[2] and wounded at least 35 others.[3][4] Four soldiers/police were also killed[3] and more than 500 arrests were made,[3] as Jamaican police and soldiers fought gunmen in the Tivoli Gardens district of Kingston.

Much of the unrest happened in the constituency belonging to the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, who said he was "taken aback" by its scale.[3] Golding has been described by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) as a "known criminal affiliate" of Coke, which Golding refuted as "extremely offensive".[5] Although the U.S. government considered Golding one of Coke's associates, it said it supported the Jamaican government's attempt to capture Coke.[6]

When prompted as to his whereabouts three days after the mission was launched, police stated they did not know where Coke was.[7] Coke was eventually captured on 23 June, after initial rumours that Coke was attempting to surrender to the United States. Kingston police arrested Coke on the outskirts of the city, apparently while a local reverend, Reverend Al Miller, was helping negotiate his surrender to the United States Embassy.[8][9]

Background[edit]

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and Christopher "Dudus" Coke extradition request[edit]

In a sitting of Parliament on 16 March 2010, Opposition member Dr. Peter Phillips made reference to an alleged contractual arrangement between the Government and a United States law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to lobby the US Government on a treaty dispute[10] between the two countries that had arisen as a result of the Jamaican Government refusing to sign the extradition request for Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who was wanted in the US on charges relating to narcotics, arms and ammunition trafficking.[11] The Golding Administration refused to sign the extradition request on the claimed basis that the evidence was obtained contrary to Jamaican laws. Golding denied claims that Manatt, Phelps & Phillips was contracted to represent the Jamaican Government.[12]

A US Justice Department filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) showed that Manatt, Phelps & Phillips had secured a contract worth US $400,000 to represent the Jamaican government in the treaty dispute.[13][14] Karl Samuda, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, made a statement in which he noted that unnamed members of the Jamaica Labour Party had approached Harold Brady, to see whether—through his wide network of international contacts—he could assist in facilitating the opening of discussions between the US authorities and the Government of Jamaica, and thereby seek to resolve what had become a treaty dispute between the US and Jamaica.[15] In a statement made by Golding on 11 May 2010 in Parliament, he revealed that he had sanctioned the initiative to lobby the US Government but that the initiative was to be undertaken by the Jamaica Labour Party and not on behalf of the government.[16][17]

Following his revelation, the Opposition People's National Party; its youth arm, the PNPYO; and the National Democratic Movement called for his resignation as Prime Minister.[18] Manatt, Phelps & Phillips maintains that they were contracted on behalf of the Jamaican Government through Harold C.W. Brady of Brady and Co and have since severed ties with the Jamaican Government.[19]

On 17 May 2010, in a televised address to the nation,[20] Golding apologised to the Jamaican people for his involvement in the Manatt affair. He stated that he was prepared to step aside as Prime Minister and leader of the Party in a meeting of the party executive. The executive rejected his offer and reassured their support for his role as party leader and Prime Minister. In his statement, he outlined new measures including assigning some of his portfolio responsibilities to other government Ministers, and a renewed thrust to enact legislation for: the impeachment of parliamentary members, term limits for the office of Prime Minister and political party finance reform.[21] He also confirmed that Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne will sign the authorisation for the US authorities to commence the extradition case against Christopher Coke.[22]

Initial unrest[edit]

23 May 2010[edit]

Following the televised address, supporters of Christopher Coke began erecting barricades to the entrances of the Tivoli Gardens Community. This continued for several days as the security forces prepared to enter Tivoli Gardens to serve Coke with the warrant for his arrest. The unrest started on 23 May 2010, when gangsters assaulted four police stations in southwestern Kingston and managed to loot and partially burn out one of the stations.[4][23] A second police station was also later burnt down.[24]

Afterwards some 1,000 police and soldiers assaulted a public housing complex occupied by heavily armed gangsters defending Christopher "Dudus" Coke, considered one of the world's most dangerous drug lords,[25] who had been indicted in the United States on drug and arms trafficking charges. Cartel gunmen swarmed through West Kingston, battling police and soldiers, and trapping civilians in their homes. The aim of the joint police-military operation was to enter the community, with the objectives being to arrest Coke, clear the blockades, restore law and order and recover illegal guns believed to be in the community.

Coke has a heroic reputation in Kingston's slums. He has been likened to Robin Hood because he has helped the community by handing out food, sending children to school and building medical centers.

State of emergency[edit]

24–25 May 2010[edit]

On the night of 24/25 May 2010, the Jamaican government declared a state of emergency in the capital Kingston and in the parish of St Andrew to last for one month[26] while gunmen were pursued by the security services.[27][28][29] May 24, 2010 was also a public holiday (Labour Day).

Security forces broke through barbed-wire barricades and fought their way into the warren-like Tivoli Gardens neighborhood well into 24 May. While fighting raged in Tivoli Gardens, gun battles spread to other volatile slums close to Kingston.[25]

Tivoli was heavily fortified by gangsters in preparation for the inevitable onslaught by the security forces. Molotov cocktail "factories" as well as storage dumps for ammunition were created in various sections of the community to provide quick supply to the gunmen besieging Tivoli.

Electrified barbed wires were used to block the main entrance to the community along with old burnt out cars and sharp metal scraps and cement. These barriers were further fortified by the use of IEDs made from cooking gas cylinders armed with electronically detonated fuses. Manholes were uncovered and filled with spikes and the roads were lined with hidden IEDs made from somatol explosives.

Recon operations by JDF helicopters showed well organised roadblocks made of sandbags manned by 3-4 men armed with AK-47 and Molotov cocktails. Snipers were also stationed on the roof to kill as many of the law men as possible before they could start disassembling the barriers.

According to Colonel Rocky Meade the level of defensive work was becoming of a very well organised militia. Ground report suggested that it took the soldiers 2 hours to advance a distance of 200 metres at the start of the operation, a distance that usually takes 5 minutes.

A surveillance aircraft was seen flying over Kingston on 24 May, bearing identifying marks that belonged to the United States Department of Homeland Security.[30] The aircraft took live video of Tivoli Gardens, which was given to Jamaican ground forces via U.S. law enforcement officers.[30] The aircraft was identified as a Lockheed P-3 Orion.[30] The Jamaican government denied the presence of the aircraft.[31] The denials were repeated by National Security Minister Dwight Nelson after The New Yorker published an article on the raids in Tivoli Gardens.[32] Prime minister Andrew Holness later admitted that an aircraft from the United States had been involved in gathering information in the raids.[33]

26 May[edit]

On 26 May, police stated that they had more than 500 people in custody.[5] The civilian death toll was raised to 44.[5]

An independent assessment team said there were "appalling conditions" to be seen in Tivoli Gardens as people were stuck in houses.[3] Lack of food, running water and a surplus of visible bodily waste were reportedly problems faced by many,[3] while dozens of children and toddlers were lost in Rasta City with one wounded woman losing her 18-month-old son on the way to hospital.[3] Corpses belonging to young men under the age of 30 were said to be lining the morgue.[3] Prime Minister Golding said: "The government deeply regrets the loss of lives, especially those of members of the security forces and innocent, law-abiding citizens caught in the crossfire."[34]

Journalists were ordered to "keep back" by the military[3] while buildings were burnt by cartel gunmen, and looting occurred.[35][36]

27–28 May[edit]

On 27 May, police said they had located the corpses of 73 civilians.[2][37] Three members of the security forces (2 JCF and 1 JDF) were reported dead.[38]

Journalists were permitted to view Tivoli Gardens for the first time since the unrest began, meeting soldiers who described the "ongoing operation" and residents who said "an atrocity took place [...] they are not showing you the homes which have bodies and a lot of blood".[citation needed]

However, independent observers, such as Political Ombudsman Bishop Herro Blair and Public Defender Earl Witter, who visited the community expressed satisfaction with conditions. Residents were also quick to praise the conduct of soldiers.[39]

By 28 May a total of 22 illegal firearms and 8,550 rounds of ammunition had been seized from the area of operations.[40]

29 May[edit]

On 29 May it was reported that 58 members of the security forces had been injured in the operation (30 soldiers and 28 policemen). While rumours persisted that Coke had fled the island, the Police Commissioner Owen Ellington revealed that the police had intelligence that Coke was still in Jamaica. Speaking further on the operation, the head of communications of the Jamaica Defence Force, Colonel Rocky Meade said of Coke's militia "They were very well-organised, they knew what they were doing. We encountered very sophisticated defensive layouts. The resistance was fierce and lasted for about 12 hours,". The security forces presented a slide show and video footage from the operation showing improvised explosive devices rigged to barricades, plastic explosives, shrapnel, rifles and handguns recovered and men walking freely with firearms and using binoculars from high-rise buildings in the community. The soldiers also reportedly found that the explosive devices were attached by wires to remote devices which led to houses in the community with one photograph showing the sprawled body of a man posted at one of these remote control points and who was taken out by a JDF sniper before he could trigger the device.[24] Up to the evening of the 29th of May a total of 28 guns and 8,885 rounds of assorted ammunition were recovered from West Kingston.[38][41]

The security forces also discovered a closed circuit television system inside Coke's Presidential Click office which monitored all the entrances into Tivoli Gardens. They also found large amounts of local and foreign currency in the office.[24]

Referring to the persons who died during the firefight Commission Ellington said that some of the men who died in the firefight were dressed like females at the time they were killed and emphasised that the police had not interred any bodies and said the badly decomposed corpses which were slated to be buried in the May Pen cemetery have been removed to a facility with the capability to store them until they are properly identified. Post-mortem examinations were to be conducted on the 73 persons killed by the security forces on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week and the photographs of the dead persons will be posted on a billboard in Tivoli Gardens. There were two women among the dead, one of whom—based on the state of decomposition of the body—appeared to have been killed before the offensive started.[24]

30 May[edit]

On 30 May the last group of persons detained during the nearly week-long operation were released.[42] Over 700 men were detained during the operation, 400 of whom had no address in Tivoli Gardens.[41] The police ended up processing these men to determine if they were wanted by the police in other divisions. These men were suspected to be members of other criminal networks from across the island who had gone into Tivoli Gardens to lend support to Christopher Coke. "They gave false names and they have no address in Tivoli Gardens," reported Commissioner Ellington.[24] After processing most of the approximately 700 persons were released, however more than 50 of these men were wanted by the police for various crimes[41] and remained in custody,[42] and a large number of them were listed as persons of interest and remained under police watch.[41]

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Charles Scarlett rejected claims that the detainees had been abused and denied basic amenities such as toilets. He said that several interest groups, including the Red Cross, had been allowed to visit the detention centres and expressed satisfaction with the measures that were in place to deal with the persons detained.[42]

Meanwhile an explosives expert, supported by other former members of the JCF and JDF (who had been dismissed for varying reasons) and thugs loyal to Coke, was suspected of masterminding the elaborate defensive systems established around Tivoli Gardens prior the events of May 23. The elaborate defence network included booby traps (such as LPG cylinders laced with explosives) and explosive devices. Some which were similar to devices used in Afghanistan by the Taliban and included bits of steel for maiming. Other explosive devices found included Molotov cocktails. Supplementing these booby traps and explosives was an army of thugs estimated to be over 400 strong and arriving from as far away as Montego Bay, Claredon, St. Catherine and St. Thomas. Road blocks consisting of old cars, scrap metal, crates, pallets, sandbags, barrels and discarded household items also formed a part of the defensive systems. The more elaborate road blocks consisted of sandbag-camouflaged concrete slabs with peepholes. The high rise buildings in the neighbourhood were also prepared as lookout points and signalling centres with truck tyres placed there and intended to be lit to create smoke screens against possible helicopter assaults.[41]

Ultimately all of these defensive systems were overcome during the joint JCF/JDF operation mounted in response to the attacks on police stations on May 23. At the end of the violence a total of 14 police station stations had been attacked including 2 which had been burtn to the ground.[41]

Ongoing searches for guns in the West Kingston area unearthed 8 more illegal fireams (5 of which were discovered on May 29 and the other 3 (pistols) discovered on May 30). This brought the total number of illegal weapons retrieved up to 36 along with 9,241 rounds of assorted ammunition for use by SLRs, AK-47s and M16s.[38]

Aftermath[edit]

Vote of no confidence in the government; Gun count rises[edit]

Following the revelation that Prime Minister Golding had sanctioned the initiative for the Jamaica Labour Party to hire US lobbying firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and his handling of the extradition request for Christopher "Dudus" Coke, members and groups of civil society, church groups and political parties called for his resignation. With the backing of his party, the Prime Minister maintained that he would continue his term as Prime Minister. This prompted the opposition People's National Party to table a motion of no confidence.[43][44][45] The opposition leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, led the debate in Parliament outlining the arguments for Golding's removal from office and moving that he be censured. The debate lasted for four hours on June 1, 2010, and at the end the motion was defeated 30–28, with members of the House of Representatives voting strictly on party lines.

By May 31, a total of 40 firearms and more than 9,200 rounds of assorted ammunition had been discovered in the ongoing secondary searches conducted by the security forces with 12 weapons having been discovered around May 29 to May 30 and an additional 7 weapons being found between May 30 and May 31. The latest discovery (of 7 guns) had been made among debris in garbage trucks leaving the Tivoli Gardens community.[46]

In explaining the difficulties faced in recovering illegal weapons in the area, Commissioner Ellington noted that many of the thugs who were shooting at members of the security forces were themselves hit from distances of over 300 yards. Thus there would be ample time for some residents to retrieve weapons from the slain gunmen as the members of the security forces themselves would have to proceed with caution before attempting to retrieve those firearms after hitting the gunmen.[46]

The Police Commissioner also voiced his doubts about whether or not all the bodies recovered in West Kingston were of persons killed during the security forces' operations as the advanced state of decomposition led him to believe that some of them may have been killed prior to the security forces entering Tivoli Gardens.[46]

On June 3, two more firearms were recovered in Tivoli Gardens, bringing to the total number of guns recovered to 52 along with over 10,000 rounds of assorted ammunition.[47]

Capture of Coke; Gun count continues to rise[edit]

Coke was arrested on June 22, 2010 at a police roadblock near the outskirts of Kingston. He had been trying to reach the US Embassy to surrender himself. Reverend Al Miller, an influential evangelical priest who tried to facilitate the surrender, was interrogated by police, stated that Coke had decided to give himself up, but had feared he would be killed if he surrendered directly to police and decided to give himself up at the Embassy instead, and claimed to have been asked for aid by Coke. Coke was reportedly disguised as a woman when he was arrested.[48]

Two days after Coke's capture, the security forces found more guns and ammunition in Tivoli Gardens, bringing the total number of guns recovered to 88 with over 14,000 rounds of ammunition also recovered.[49] These illegal guns included over 40 pistols and 45 rifles/shotguns ranging from sub-machine guns and the Chinese version of the AK47, to the .22 pistol. The recovered ammunition included a wide assortment such as 7.62mm, and 5.56mm rounds for rifles, to 9mm rounds which can be used in handguns and submachine guns. In addition to guns and ammunition the security forces also recovered 19 grenades, 32 improvised explosive devices (IED) and 34 "other forms of explosives".[50]

Extradition of Coke[edit]

Coke being taken into custody by DEA agents following his arrival in the United States

In a 15-minute hearing, Coke waived his right to an extradition trial before a judge. The hearing took place under heavy security at a military outpost in Kingston, due to fears of possible attacks by supporters. Coke was then taken to Norman Manley International Airport by a military helicopter, transferred to a US aircraft, and flown to New York, where he was taken into custody by DEA agents.[51]

In 2011, Coke pled guilty to racketeering and drug-related charges in a New York Federal court, and was sentenced to 23 years in prison on June 8, 2012.

International response[edit]

Several airlines cancelled flights to and from Kingston after foreign governments issued emergency warnings against travel to the city.[52] Canadians were told not to travel to Kingston unless essential.[53]

The fifth one-dayer cricket match and first Test cricket match between West Indies and South Africa were transferred to Trinidad due to security fears.[54][55][56]

On 27 May 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for an impartial inquiry into the unrest.[57] Amnesty International and Jamaica's third party have echoed these sentiments.[39]

References[edit]

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