The Cokes then and now
TIVOLI Gardens strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who the US Department of State last week branded one of the world's most dangerous narco criminals, is the latest member of the Coke family to have made headlines for the wrong reasons.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency says Coke has inherited the reins of the notorious Shower Posse and has accused him of trafficking in cocaine, marijuana and arms.
Coke, also known as 'The President' and 'Shortman', has lost his father, two brothers and a sister violently and now faces life imprisonment in a US penal facility. He is the adopted son of the late Jamaica Labour Party political enforcer and accused drug dealer, Lester Lloyd Coke, more popularly known as 'Jim Brown'.
Lester Coke rose to prominence following the deaths of his mentor and predecessors, Claudius Massop and Carl 'Byah' Mitchell.
Massop; racehorse trainer Lloyd Fraser, 21; and Canadian resident Trevor Tinson, were cut down by police bullets in February 1979 in what lawmen described as a shoot-out at the corner of Industrial Terrace and Marcus Garvey Drive. Mitchell died from a brain haemorrhage brought on by a narcotic overdose in May 1978.
Mitchell was second in command to Massop; his death opened the way for Lester Coke to step up and fill the breach of political enforcer, who was key in the fight for political spoils during the turbulent era of the 1970s.
The timing of Lester Coke's ascension to the top rung of the Tivoli Gardens garrison was perfect as a year before, the party he fought tooth and nail for - the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) - swept the national elections.
The party was led by a fiery Edward Seaga who was also the member of parliament for West Kingston in which Tivoli Gardens was the central lynch pin.
The JLP was assisted by the US to oust Michael Manley's People's National Party which, at the time, seemed to be in cahoots with America's arch rival and political enemy, Cuba's Fidel Castro.
In return for the US support, the JLP Government embarked on a ganja eradication campaign. Ganja was at the time a major cash crop for some Jamaicans, and the destruction of acres of the seedlings, sometimes with deadly chemicals which destroyed other legal crops, paved the way for the island to become the major trans-shipment port for the deadly drug, cocaine.
The opportunity was ripe for Lester Coke and his cronies who formed themselves into the Shower Posse and exploited the cocaine trade to amass great wealth and opulence. The gang got its name from the JLP election slogan 'Shower', which was a response to the PNP's 'Power' that was coined from Manley's 'Power for the people' slogan in the 1970s.
They took on the name after a speech by Seaga in which he promised that: "Blessings will shower from the sky and money going jingle in your pockets."
Lester Coke, along with his confidante Vivian Blake, were the two leading figures in the Shower Posse. Blake was responsible for the US-based operations of the gang, while Lester Coke held things together on local soil before he made his foray into the US and helped to set up cells of the Shower Posse in New York, Miami, Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities.
As the Shower Posse extended its reach, it became an increasing annoyance to the US federal authorities because of its blatant disregard for life. Several gruesome murders related to drug deals gone sour were blamed on the Shower Posse and soon the US Government were determined to stamp out the gang.
The largesse garnered from the illegal drug trade brought Lester Coke a new found power, and coupled with his ruthless enforcer style, resulted in a new breed of political thugs who no longer looked to politicians for handouts.
The power that came with the ill-gotten gains soon began to play out in the streets of Kingston. In the early 1980s, Lester Coke was virtually untouchable.
The brutal slaying of a bus driver, who allegedly bad-mouthed Lester Coke in the aftermath of a traffic incident, showed that he wielded considerable power.
The driver had apparently realised too late who he was bad-mouthing and made a mad rush for the Denham Town Police Station where he sought protection from police officers. But the cops could not save him; he was dragged from the police station by Jim Brown and his cronies who shot and stabbed him to death.
Lester Coke was eventually charged for the murder but was acquitted after no witnesses turned up in court.
In 1984, Lester Coke reportedly led a large gang of armed thugs from Tivoli Gardens into the nearby community of Wilton Gardens, popularly known as Rema, and laid siege. In the end, 12 residents were killed in what was dubbed at the time, 'The Rema Killings'.
The attack was reportedly launched because factions in Rema were upset that the community, which was the JLP enclave's first line of defence against PNP gunmen who often launched attacks from nearby Arnett Gardens, was being neglected by the political leader.
Soon after, an arrest warrant was issued for Lester Coke, but he fled the island for the United States. Still, the Shower Posse was coming under increasing pressure from the US Government and in 1987 Lester Coke, forced to flee that country, slipped back into Jamaica and was arrested on the outstanding warrant.
Again, the case against him was weak; the alleged eyewitness changed her statement and was eventually charged with perverting the course of justice.
When it was announced in the Supreme Court that Lester Coke was freed, dozens of supporters gave a prolonged gun salute in front of the court, leaving cops, judges, lawyers and members of the public cowering in fear. The crowd then lifted Coke on their shoulders and carried him triumphantly into Tivoli Gardens.
But Jim Brown's troubles were just beginning. Months later, tragedy would strike in his family. Lester Coke's daughter, known as 'Mumpi', was shot and killed during a gunfight in which her man was also killed. Mumpi was reportedly crouched over his body crying when his killers walked up to her and ended her life.
In 1990, Lester Coke, who, along with Blake and several other leading members of the Shower Posse, was indicted by the US Department of Justice, was again arrested by the Jamaican Government. This time he would have a harder time walking free as the US Government had racked up a series of federal charges against him.
Despite running the legal gauntlet, Lester Coke was ordered extradited.
While languishing in prison awaiting his day in the US courts, his eldest son, Mark 'Jah T' Coke, was shot off his motorbike near the intersection of Maxfield Avenue and Spanish Town Road. Mark Coke was returning from his mother's liquor store when he met his demise. He was reportedly organising a memorial dance for his father's mentor, Claudius Massop.
The incident happened on February 2, 1992, almost two years after Lester Coke was held for extradition.
Weeks later, on the day that his son Mark was being buried, Lester Coke died in a mysterious fire inside his cell at the General Penitentiary, now called the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre.
Mark Coke's murder triggered a vicious gang war in West Kingston, prompting then Prime Minister Michael Manley to call for dialogue with the JLP and forced a peace march by church and civic leaders through the war-torn communities.
The violence even spread to Florida where several drive-by and club shootings left dozens dead and injured.
The death of Christopher Coke's brother and father created an opening for him to step up and rule the roost in Tivoli Gardens and by extension, the Shower Posse.
On the night of May 4, 2005 Coke's younger brother, also named Christopher but who was popularly called 'Chris Royal' or 'Royal Blend', was also a victim of the gun.
Chris Royal and his crony 'Jello', angered at the killing of Tivoli Gardens elder Donovan Griffiths, also called 'Zion Train', by the security forces, left a wake for Griffiths in Tivoli Gardens with one intention - to avenge his death by taking the life of a policeman.
They succeeded in their bid as both rode up on a black motorcycle to Corporal Hewitt Chandler of the Protective Services as he waited in a marked police car at a stoplight at the intersection of West King's House and Waterloo roads in St Andrew and shot him dead.
However, they did not live much longer as members of the security forces who were early on the scene challenged them both. When the shooting ended, Chris Royal and Jello lay in pools of blood beside the toppled motorbike. Their killing triggered a gun attack on the Cross Road Police Station and the murder of policeman inspector Lascelles Walsh downtown Kingston the following morning.
Now Dudus finds himself in the headlines as the US awaits a decision from the Jamaican Government for his extradition, similar to his father who took that route 17 years before him.
A senior cop who wished to remain unidentified, had a word of advice for 'Dudus'.
"I suggest he makes arrangements to hand himself over to the US authorities and waive his right to an extradition hearing. It would probably be safer for him. He should then tell all he knows and sink some of the high-ranking people who are linked to drugs and arms dealing," the cop said.