The heavily armed police and soldiers met with stiff re- sistance. An armored personnel carrier was repelled, forced to retreat with a damaged tread. “The gunfire was consis- tent and sustained,” said Major Ricardo Blackwood, spokes- man for the Jamaican Defense Force. Roadblocks made of ancient tubs, rusted truck parts and battered appliances were booby-trapped with IEDs. “It really sounded like some- thing that you hear about in Iraq and Afghanistan—not Jamaica,” said Peter Bunting, General Secretary of the Peo- ple’s National Party (PNP). Though he admits that Tivoli is not Jamaica’s only gangster-run garrison—indeed, that some may be aligned with his own party—he insists that Tivoli is the “nerve center” of all organized crime in Jamaica. “The police and the military had been chomping at the bit for a long time. For many years they have been putting a case together to go after [Dudus],” Bunting says. “On at least two occasions in the previous 10 years, there had been major operations in Tivoli which had to be aborted based on the stout resistance they were getting, but also based on the political pressure to withdraw. So the security forces were anxious. They basically just needed to be unleashed.”
The Ninjas are well prepared for this kind of urban warfare. They’ve got snipers of their own, positioned on dis- tant rooftops, waiting for the signal to rain death from above. For two years they trained with Canadian and U.S. special ops troops, learning the same “clear-hold-and-build” counterinsurgency strategies and tactics used in Kabul, Afghanistan. And unlike the ill-equipped police who used to clash with Kingston gunmen in the 1970s, they were armed to the teeth with support from U.S. drones in the air and navy ships anchored off the coast.
On the second day of the siege, a group of young Jamaican filmmakers defied the media blackout to go get an inside story. Ras Kassa, Ras Tingle, Storm Saulter, and Jay Will—the men responsible for some of reggae’s biggest music videos—loaded their cameras, piled into two cars and headed straight for the battle zone. “These are my people,” said Kassa, who directed Jr. Gong’s “Welcome to Jamrock” video. “We have to film this!”
As they reached Orange Street, police with M-16s pulled them out of the car. “They had all the young directors up against a wall at gunpoint,” recalls Storm Saulter, whose gritty new film, Better Mus’ Come, explores the roots of Jamaica’s political violence. “Cops in Jamaica are so gang- sta that you feel like they’re never scared,” he says. “But these police were afraid. You could feel the fear.”
There were reports of firefights all over the city, but in Tivoli and Denham Town, the manhunt became a massa- cre. By the time the fires died down, authorities reported at least 76 dead, and over a thousand detained. Security forces retrieved over 10,000 rounds of ammunition and 47 guns, yet Dudus remained at large. Speculation as to his whereabouts ran wild. Cops searched for underground escape routes and weapons caches. As survivors lined up to identify the dead, Red Cross observers were ushered through sections of the battlefield. “We observed no level of abuse,” said Bishop Herro Blair, Jamaica’s Political Ombudsman. “We saw no bodies being burnt.” But Tivoli residents tell another tale.
Prudence Kidd-Deans, former special assistant to for- mer Prime Minster Edward Seaga and director of the Social Intervention Department of Kingston’s Urban Development Corporation, took the incursion personally. “It was like you hit my heart,” says the woman who’s known and worked with thousands of Tivoli families over the years. Sit- ting at her desk in a downtown high-rise office build- ing, she says the people of Tivoli feel it’s them against the world. “Miss Prudence,” they ask her with tears in their eyes. “Why dem treat we so? Wha’ we do?” But residents of the place some call “the mother of all gar- risons” suffer from more than just a problem of per- ception. “Certainly not everybody who lived [in Tivoli] was a criminal,” says PNP Secretary Bunting. “But the entire community was held hostage, in a sense. It was like they lived in a criminal republic.”