Yesterday/May 23rd marked the sixth anniversary of the two-day police/military incursion on Tivoli Gardens in Kingston to apprehend don Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. At least 77 people, including a member of the Jamaica Defense Force, were killed in the operation. Coke, who was wanted in the United States on drug-trafficking and firearms charges, was captured a month later and extradited to the US.

Six years later, Tivoli maintains a volatile reputation. It’s one of the areas I am not allowed to visit on my own. Some of the students in the YMCA’s Youth Development Program live there. I try to imagine how it must have been for them to witness such horror at age 7 or 8; it makes it easier to understand why they do poorly in school, why they are so mistrusting and resentful of authority, why they think it is more important to learn how to use a gun than a computer.

The thing to understand about Tivoli Gardens is that it wasn’t such a terrible place before the incursion. Dudus and his father before him were like Robin Hood, making a fortune off violence and drugs in North America and Europe and sharing it with the community back home. Tourists would visit Tivoli to experience ‘the real Jamaica’, enjoying dance and music and partying until the early morning.

This video from Al Jazeera provides a balanced, well-researched overview of the incursion. It is 23 minutes long, but I highly recommend that you take the time to watch it if you want to understand some of the issues that face Kingstonians, Jamaicans, the Government of Jamaica, and the community the Kingston YMCA serves.

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