Death in Tivoli Gardens

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.


21 thoughts on “Death in Tivoli Gardens

  1. NattiB says:




    1 LOVE, 1 HEART, 1 GOD.


  2. Johnny2Bad says:

    Chilling…I like your writing and I love Peter’s images. I appreciate your real perspective on things. But, your subject breaks my heart too.

    When I was in high school, I had an english teacher by the name of Mr. Brooks. In spite of his best efforts, our class of rowdy boys each day slipped into anarchy…out of his control. He would sigh and mutter “slavery is not over”.

    I always wondered what he meant by that. Today I get it. Your story is another portrait of what Mr. Brooks meant. Jamaica is defined by an enduring legacy of division between two populations. That’s the way is has been since the days of slavery and that is the way it is today. One side has helicopters, organised guns and the law on their side, the other has none of these. Full emancipation has been slow in coming…”but none of them can stop the time”


  3. Lee says:

    I am really bothered by the things that are happening in JA. I am an jamerican lol.. (Yankee bwoy) but my family is from tivoli and some are still there. To see the painand suffering that they have to endure on a daily basis is really troubling. When will the world realize that violence is never the answer we need a change and we need it now. God is coming back for his earth and we need to get it right.

  4. Aliana says:

    This is really good, great writing. It would have helpful though and more insightful had you explained what really happened here. Who were the people that had died..why were they killed…what exactly happened? Don’t make it impersonal, personalize it. Don’t be so vague, it disconnects others. If you really feel for the situation at hand..explain the situation at hand… Don’t just go for the shock value of pictures with blood and gore.

    Also it is not as if you are writing for only a few..are you? Others, strangers, will stumble on this blog and vague really won’t help for them, let them know the story of the pictures you show…not just how you felt about what you saw.

    I look forward to your other articles.

  5. LadyJazz says:

    Thanks for your insight , but this has been happening for years and this is why the people of TG are arming themselves. The police is there to protect but when there are ROGUE officers who think because they belong to one party they can run a raid anytime they are wrong Thats why there are so many JAMAICANS living abroad this is what they are afraid of Keep writing GOD BLES YOU

  6. marcia vernon says:

    TG people need to be treated like humanbeen i am sick of the spell that they have cast on those people down there police and the wider jamacian same thing they have been doing with norwood glendevon and spanish town wake up people wait untill the police reach your door TG STONG STRONG I AM A JAMACIAN TOO KEEP THE CHEERS GOING FOR YOU community

  7. marcia vernon says:

    panter with the trouble communities to build a better nation stop tearing them down STOP MAKING THE PERSON IN THEM FEELING LESS THAN THER ARE.mister and mitress big and rich because many of u use these same men an the communities they live in for you dirty job

  8. Dread says:

    The fisrt and only rule is, the people must be first in all that man-kind do.
    Un till then there will be no justice on EARTH, just war.
    One Love

  9. Scuba Guy says:

    I admire the gripping story and the horrifying pictures presented. But I must ask the many who think this is a one way affair…. where are the guns used by these dons and criminal elements coming from? Secondly, have any of you ever heard a mother or sister come out from TG and say my son/brother was not always a good man, and I told him to stop the violence.

    Time and time again these garrisons cripple our country. Our warm hospitality and culture is no longer revered by the world because of these thugs. The unfortunate thing is, it ripples all across the country

  10. David Johnson says:

    It’s very easy to write words, (no disrespect to anyone). But what words can you write when evil, pitiless criminals murder your family because they have GUNS and HATE and you don’t? What words can you write as you hurry home from work, quickly to your house so as not to be on the streets after dark for fear of criminals, thugs and rapists? Where are words when gunmen hold you up, take all your money and leave you with a bloody nose ( if you’re lucky)? Criminals, mindless thugs, rapists, cut-throats, cold-blooded murders – WHAT ABOUT THE COUNTLESS VICTIMS OF THESE CRIMINALS FROM TIVOLI and elsewhere? I am Jamaican. I am from Tivoli. I grew up in Jungle, Rema, Jones Town… these areas. I grew up there. I know what it’s like. This situation cannot be sanitised and mythologised. It is raw, nasty and evil and must stop. The only question is the price we must pay for it to stop…

  11. David Johnson says:

    We in Jamaica are afraid. We are afraid of the evil criminals who hold our country to ransom. For decades the situation has continued because our politicians such as Edward Seaga, Bruce Golding and some others have been instrumental in fostering the situation where criminals such as Dudus ( and many others) are used to win votes in election for their constituencies. We Jamaicans know that this is the way things run in Jamaica. We talk about it quietly among ourselves but no one will bring it out into the public arena, because we are all afraid. The media in Jamaica knows this but fears to report the details. We are a nation afraid of itself, living in FEAR and PRETENCE. It is this fear that has defined our culture in recent times. It is the same fear that will eventually consume us, if we don’t find the courage to stand up and fight this great evil that threatens to destroy our nation. We must end the PRETENCE and let allow this incident to open our eyes to the stark choices we must now make. FREEDOM or PERPETUAL SLAVERY. It’s not so difficult to understand.

  12. The big change has come.dudus coke and his loyal gang believed tivoli gardens will remain evil forever but today jah has spoken.we need to make more swoops and arrests in the gettos of tivoli.dudus is the root and for that matter he should be kept behind bars for good.

  13. marlon says:

    what the fuck u talking abot gun man is every were in jamaica not just tivoli. one thing i can say about dudus is that no bull shit dont go on in his place and it`s not every bady a gun man in a tivoli there are good people how whould u like police come in a your yard a kill your family u whoulkd`nt fell good about that so before u talk think about your family because it could happen to u one day to all tivoli people keep your head up cause god is not sleeping

  14. marlon says:

    it`s been along time since the police wont to come kill off tivoli people and the usa give them the ok but to all the people that dont like tivoli people one i can say to u your not god so dont judge us leave that to god cause one day we all have to answer to him god be with u all tivoli people in this time jamaica people open your eye it`s not just tg people it`s going to happen too it`s just the start for the police them

  15. u guys up there who are doing those stuff i was thinking of coming up there as a tourist but i change my mind i would be scared in a way because in case someone rob me

  16. u guys up there who are doing those stuff i was thinking of coming up there as a tourist but i change my mind i would be scared in a way because in case someone rob me and i am from England

  17. Elissa says:

    rex Tivoli Gardens is a specific community in Kingston, Jamaica it would be foolish to assume that all areas in the country suffer from this kind of violent crime… Not even a month ago the streets of London, England broke out in civil unrest. No country is perfect. I have been there twice now (I am from Canada) and will return, it is a beautiful place.

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