Gunman World: Inside Jamaica’s Shotta Culture

Exclusive Excerpt from Mass Appeal Mag Cover Story by Rob Kenner, Photography by Ruddy Roye

Jesquan Spence was not quite two years old when he saw the police kill his father. “The soldiers come in and take ’way the phones and say everybody fi sit down,” says the child’s grandmother, Michelle Davis, recalling that fateful Monday, May 24, 2010. “Then some police come in. Them say, ‘How many man in here?’ And them point ’pon me son.”

Jesquan’s dad, Errol Spence, was 22 years old, the only adult male in the Tivoli Gardens household where 17 family members and neighbors had been waiting out a government-imposed state of emergency for a week. Michelle Davis and Jesquan’s mother Jesean Williams will never forget the cops’ chilling words: “Them turn to us and say, ‘You know the good haffi suffer for the bad.’”

“But me no badman,” Errol Spence protested as three heavily armed police officers ordered him out of his seat and walked him into the kitchen. “Dat you say?” one of them replied. “You gwan dead today.” Continues After The Jump…

After ordering him to sit down against the kitchen wall, the officers lifted Spence to his feet, beat and searched him, swabbed his hands for gun-powder residue, and accused him of being a gunman loyal to Tivoli’s notorious “don of dons,” Christopher Coke, aka Dudus, who ruled Western Kingston so absolutely that he was widely known as “The President.” The state of emergency had been declared after Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding—also the Minister of Parliament representing Tivoli Gardens—reluctantly succumbed to nine months of increasing pressure from the United States government and signed a warrant for Coke’s extradition on charges of trafficking drugs and guns.

“Me no inna it,” Spence told the police. “Me no badman. Me a barber.” The police were not convinced. Like many Tivoli residents, Spence and his family had ignored orders to evacuate in ADVANCE of an epic gunfight (involving snipers, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, American surveillance aircraft, explosives, and electrified barbed wire) when security forces stormed the heavily fortified “garrison” community to apprehend Coke. Jamaican authorities said evacuation was the only way to ensure public safety, but Tivoli residents had to weigh these warnings against the difficulty of leaving the only home they’d ever known and the risk of provoking Coke’s infamous Shower Posse enforcers. “You a gunman,” one of the officers told Spence. “Bwoy, you ah go dead.”

Michelle Davis’ voice cracks with emotion as she recalls begging for her son’s life. “Something come over me, and me go to the police and say ‘Sir, him ah me only likkle bwoy, and me pickney ah no badman.’ And him walk away. Him no say nuttin’ to me.” Moments later one of the officers squeezed off five shots from his Glock 9mm pistol.

“Them just kill him,” says Michelle Davis. “And when we scream out, them say, ‘No make no noise or we ah go kill the likkle bwoy.” She covered Jesquan’s head and told the child to be quiet. Finally the police moved on to another home, and the family never saw them again.

Errol Spence was one of dozens of young men shot dead during the “incursion” into Tivoli Gardens. Although the official civilian death toll was 73 (plus one Jamaican soldier) former Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga—the man who created the “model community” of Tivoli Gardens back in the mid 1960s by having the Rasta shanty-town Back O Wall bulldozed—estimated the real figure at twice that amount. Journalists and human rights observers were not allowed to inspect the immediate aftermath of the slaughter, which failed to capture Coke. Security forces did, however, seize some guns, although the exact number became a matter of debate.

Initial reports put the figure at just five or six firearms recovered—which made the amount of residents killed all the more curious. This discrepancy led to speculation that Dudus and his key henchmen fled before the long-awaited firefight. “How can you have a gun battle if the people with the guns have gone?” Seaga asked in a televised interview days after the raid on Tivoli. Amnesty International called for an investigation into the civilian deaths, saying that “evidence indicates that many of these killings are unlawful.” By the end of June  2010, police commissioner Owen Ellington announced that security forces had actually found tons of guns—40 pistols and 45 rifles and shotguns including several “Chiney Ks,” the Chinese version of the AK47—and more than 14,000 rounds of ammunition, plus numerous grenades and IEDs.

Head over to Mass Appeal for the rest of the excerpt…

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3 Responses

  1. […] mentioned in the latest Mass Appeal cover story, “Gunman World,” Jamaican music has a long tradition of songs in which a metaphorical gun salute is the highest form […]

  2. musttapha says:

    that’s horrible…..likkle pickney ah likkle shot

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