Photography by Peter Dean Rickards
The pictures don’t say enough, there is blood splattered on the walls, there are holes through the windows and marrow on the floor, they are gruesome, but they are not enough. It is the smell that lingers, that which struck us most upon entering that house, that smell, like meat left for weeks in an unplugged freezer, these were human remains, it is the unmistakable stench of death.
It is oddly quiet in the community, despite the bustling traffic on its exterior, unsupervised children play games on the concrete and I wonder for a moment if this is the right place, then we draw closer. There are easily more than one hundred tiny bullet holes in the tin window on the top floor, but from a distance, on the outside the house looks like any other on its scheme, a two-storey wedged in between other two-stories. Inside it is a slaughterhouse, like something out of a movie I had never wanted to see, and I feel the temperature fall as I step inside out of the stifling Tivoli heat. Complete and total disarray, like a storm had blown through.
Sunday dinner remains seasoned and uncooked on the kitchen sink, and the flies watch as their larvae wriggle to life. There are pictures strewn all over the upstairs floor not far from the front page of The Outlook; even the dresser, the bedroom closet, a Styrofoam box has bullet holes, life has been interrupted here. The bloody, bullet-holed pillow sitting on top of what I assume had once been used as a dining table screams that this was no small effort – had they stripped him here, the one whose blooded, tattered jeans remain?
To the people sipping wine from the assumed safety of their balconies, Sunday, January 13, 2008 would have been another day in Tivoli Gardens – the community is known after all for being Jamaica’s biggest garrison and five people dying there would be neither a surprise nor a concern to one who believes the place to be seething with decadence and crime, but things were quiet here before they came.
Mere meters away from the scene, separated only by a fence is the Edward Seaga Sports Complex and a batch of young boys have gathered in a circle on what looks to me like a basketball court while an older man stands giving instruction. They and others like them in Jamaica’s inner cities must have the strength of lions to be able to remain productive in an environment that does not foster such things as productivity, in a country that believes them to be a failure before giving the chance to succeed.
In Jamaica, we generally have what I call ‘crowd conversations’; everyone speaks at the same time, yet everyone is heard, and for a grassroots community such as this, the crowd is a single entity, a common identity is shared here and most often the mystery becomes clear when you turn a listening ear. But I can only tell you what I saw two days after the shooting. The bullet holes nearly blanket the walls of the house; there is a trail of blood leading from a splash on the wall through to the back of the house where they say the bodies were dragged out and transported to the morgue, smudges behind the fridge that look like they had come from a gripping hand and the stove they had moved to clear the way for their transport is covered in the same.
No matter how we spin this it looks like a massacre; one like too many others in Jamaica’s recent history.
Then the crowd speaks, we are all human and subject to biases, but this is what was heard. There is a woman, sitting out in front of the gate leading to the house, a baby bouncing about in her lap. She tells me she doesn’t like to relive it, then of how he cried that day, and how she begged for both their lives, holding him naked in her arms, crying “He has asthma” and how they had tried to push her in with the rest, in the room upstairs. They did not care the child was there.
The old woman, in the house next door, her sheets are burnt from where the teargas canister fell. Others say the rain fell heavier as the bullets sprayed from the helicopter above. There was one lucky enough to hear her brother die, on the phone. He told her he was cold. They beat her with a piece of board for defending his life and then handcuffed her and took her to the hospital for treatment.
They told me they celebrated, took pictures posing with the bodies, proud of their feat. Many have lost their allegiance to their government, they feel deeper disenfranchised, and I am not the only one worried about retaliation.