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The women behind the dons

They see benevolence rather than crime

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large Investigative Coverage Unit icu@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 23, 2010    

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A noticeable feature of last Thursday's demonstration in support of Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was that the majority of protestors were women.

In what was obviously a well-organised effort, the women -- most dressed in white T-shirts -- were very vocal in their praise of Coke's benevolence and firmly told the authorities to leave him alone.

They were prepared, they said, to die for the man who the United States Government has accused of trafficking in guns and drugs and for whom the Americans submitted an extradition request in August 2009.

The authority to proceed with that request was signed last Tuesday by the Jamaican Government which spent the past nine months squabbling with the US over the matter, in the process damaging diplomatic relations between Kingston and Washington.


The political fallout, however, appears to be of little consequence to the women of West Kingston who seem more concerned with the fact that Coke has been a benefactor for many years, a man who, they said, ensures their safety, is mainly responsible for sending their children to school and putting food on their tables.

"Leave 'Dudus' alone. Him a law-abiding citizen," many of them shouted as they assembled outside the Denham Town Police Station from where they marched to other sections of downtown Kingston, holding aloft placards and dismissing a claim by the police that thugs in Tivoli had seized people's cellular phones and were holding some persons hostage.

But despite the fervour of the demonstrators, skeptics believe that many of them were participating against their will, arguing that anyone who failed to protest would be disciplined.

That view was partially confirmed by women from inner-city communities who admitted in interviews with the Sunday Observer last week that they often come under pressure from those who wield considerable power.

"My man used to be a gunman. Police killed him a few years ago and me never surprise, because him did a gwaan too bad," one woman from the South St Andrew community of Arnett Gardens said in an interview.

The slain man was a kind of second-tier don who commanded respect in his area.

"Police did raid the house and never find him the first time, and before dem lef, dem tell me say me fi prepare fi him funeral because dem muss kill him. A few weeks after that them shoot him," she told the Sunday Observer.

The woman confessed that she was forced to keep her mouth shut about irregular activities that her man undertook, including drug-pushing and gun-running.

She would prepare his meals, wash his clothes, look after the child she had with him and two others she bore from a prior relationship. Sexual favours, she said, were a regular requirement, although sometimes she would place a virtual wall between them if physical abuse set in.

"Sometime him woulda beat mi and mi woulda just leave the house and go up a mi mother. So him nuh get nuh sex," she explained. "When him wait a few days and see things look too bad, him come back fe me and start apologise, so him stop beat me after a time, because him know seh me wi starve him and nuh give him nutten a night-time. But apart from dat, him tek care a all a we."

Another woman from a West St Andrew community said that women often supported dons and area leaders as they had to comply with the wishes of rough characters, who would often abuse them if they failed to do as they are told.

"Me did have a man who beat me every day. Right now, him haffi run weh from round here, because them say him kill a man from the area," the woman told the Sunday Observer.

"The amount a gun whey me see in a dis ya place from mi live ya, me nuh think say police and soldier have all a dem," she added.

"The man dem naw really trouble you, because you live inna the area. Is only when up dey so a fight gainst dung dey so, that them will shoot dem one another," she said, pointing to the areas to which she referred.

"When I see them with guns, it's like a normal, everyday thing, but is some a dem same guy dey who support we and mek we feel good, send the pickney dem go a school, gi wi money fi do we hair and nail and protect we," she said.

Other women with whom the Sunday Observer spoke confirmed that a strategy used by their communities to protect gunmen was for women and children to go out into the streets when police and soldiers raid an area. The idea, they said, is to prevent the law enforcers from shooting at gunmen as they would be less inclined to fire once women and children are in the way.

"When times tough wid we, is the same man dem go a road go rob so that we can eat food too," one woman from a Central Kingston community said. "We inna de ghetto nuh get nuh ratings from the people who live a Norbrook, Beverly Hills and Cherry Gardens. Dem think seh nobody good nuh come from the ghetto. We cyaan get nuh good work, and so if di man dem inna we area start do some juggling fe help we, everybody from outside just a come dung pon we so."

That mindset, as well as last Thursday's pro-Coke demonstration are not surprising to Anthony Harriott, professor of Political Sociology and head of the Department of Government and the Institute of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of the West Indies.

According to Professor Harriott, women will always benefit from the work of dons and area leaders if their agreement is kept.

"The one yesterday (Thursday) was special in that it is a garrison relationship," Harriott said in an interview Friday. "The women would have enumerated those benefits, being safe from rapists, etc. Plus there are other traditional benefits like free light, etc, so there are tangible benefits.

"The politics of the day would explain yesterday. It is a communal thing and there is a common identity -- one benefits simply by being a member of the group," he argued.

"There are privileges and obligations, one of which is to protect," added Harriott. "If the don makes money and doesn't let off, then the contract is broken. As long as the don upholds his end, there will not be a problem."

One woman from the South West St Andrew constituency, represented in Parliament by Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, echoed similar sentiments.

Play your role and co-operate, she argued, and you will get support when the time comes.

"Inna this area we feel safe, because man from outside and even dem whey live ya cyaan come in and rape we," she said. "If any rape a gwaan, a when we go out a road and man try a thing. "Up ya so nuh come een like a place like over Seaview (Gardens) where them don't have no don in charge and everybody do as them like. Up ya so we have a one man who run things and when anybody bruk the rules, we report him and the boss deal wid him.

"We haffi support all a man like that because him a do what the Government naa do fi wi," she said.

The source of the don's benevolence is never an issue, as when the women are asked where they believe he gets all his money in order that he can help so many people and do so many things, the answers are usually: "Me no business wid that, boss"; "Den you nuh see seh him have him wholesale and him truck and taxi dem"; and "Him mek nuff money offa him business dem."

Only one woman with whom the Sunday Observer spoke admitted that the dons' funds were derived from the trade in illegal drugs and guns, and even then she sought to downplay its significance.

"Lickle a dat gwaan, but dem man dey nuh mek much money offa dem things dey," said the woman who lives in Spanish Town.

"A because some a dem man dey run good business mek dem can support the woman dem so," she added.

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