REVEREND Al Miller says Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke maintains he is misunderstood by those who failed to see the many initiatives implemented by him in West Kingston to make the crime rate in that police division the lowest.
Miller, who last met with Coke — now a fugitive — two days before the security forces took control of his Tivoli Gardens stronghold, said Coke spoke openly about, among other things, the role he played in helping the elderly and providing a start to many youth who would otherwise have turned to a life of crime.
Tivoli Gardens residents stage a peaceful street protest and march in support of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke on May 20, urging the authorities to leave him alone.
Miller said Coke spoke of the perception that the public had of him which caused them to view him differently from who he really is.
“He voiced his concern that his side of the story was not being told,” Miller told the Observer on Monday.
Miller said Coke insisted that were it not for his input, violence would be a constant feature of Downtown Kingston. Instead, he said that he tried to do the positives which no one spoke about.
“He felt he took the initiative and called together the men from other communities and encouraged the peace and unity for those areas as well,” Miller said.
According to the pastor, Coke not only maintained that crime was the lowest in that police division but he was able to quote exact statistics.
Coke attributed this to his influence in West Kingston.
“He asked why people thought he is trying to create mayhem and war when he has done everything to ensure peace,” Miller told the Observer in an interview Monday night.
Coke, Miller said, also spoke of encouraging other communities to examine the development model being used for Tivoli Gardens where many persons were encouraged to start their own small businesses and to stay away from crime and violence.
“He said he tried to get into the heads of youths the need to develop themselves and work and to cease from their violent ways,” said Miller, adding that Coke also spoke of helping the elderly, organising after-school programmes within West Kingston while insisting that young children must attend school and be off the streets by a certain time nightly.
According to Miller, he took the initiative to visit Coke in his Presidential Click office in Tivoli Gardens on Wednesday, May 19 and Saturday, May 22, to arrive at a peaceful solution to the stand-off between the community and the security forces.
Residents and gunmen loyal to Coke had barricaded the community in an effort to prevent the police from executing an arrest warrant on Coke who is wanted by the US Government on drug- and arms-trafficking charges.
On Thursday, May 20, hundreds of Tivoli residents, mostly women, staged a peaceful street protest and march in support of Coke, urging the authorities to leave him alone.
As the head of the National Transformation Programme (NTP), which falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, Miller maintained he did not go in there wearing that hat and neither was he sent.
“I decided I would take the bull by the horns and so I just went there by myself,” he said.
While not outlining how he made contact with Coke, Miller said he had met with him for several hours in January as the NTP and Peace Management Initiative (PMI) teams journeyed around Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine and sections of Montego Bay to meet with area leaders and dons to bring the message of a fresh start for Jamaica.
As such, Miller said he did his homework and made connection with Coke.
When he arrived at Tivoli he was immediately granted access to the community and taken to Coke.
Anxiety, he explained, was evident among some residents, fearful that
the police would be barging in with brute force.
Miller said he questioned Coke and those around him on the reasons for the barricades and was told they were mounted because of fear of excessive force from the security forces.
On that day, Miller said there was no talk by anyone of leaving Tivoli, as although there was a stillness to the perimeters of the community, life was abuzz beyond the barricades.
Adults, he said, went to and from work.
The pastor said he and Coke spoke for close to three hours.
“He was very open and he talked about the situation, his concerns and what were his options,” Miller said.
“He asked why he should be treated any differently from another citizen as the police would not come with such brute force for somebody else,” Miller told the Observer.
Miller said Coke’s big issue was the approach of the security forces as he repeatedly voiced concerns about the manner in which they would carry out their duties.
The pastor said that although Coke contemplated the idea of turning himself in, he expressed grave reservations about being extradited to the United States.
“He did not like that option because of its implication,” Miller said. He, however, declined to disclose to the Observer what were some of the reservations Coke had.
“He had some reasons which I understood and appreciated but he was prepared to go through the Jamaican court system,” Miller recalled.
But Coke did not want to be held in custody as he feared a similar fate to that of his father, who was burnt to death in his cell at the then General Penitentiary, shortly before he was to be extradited to the US.
“That memory was very strong in his mind,” Miller said. “So we talked about how to allay that fear and to build his confidence in the system which I told him was different from what it was then.”
But Miller said while Coke was contemplating his options for surrender from as early as Wednesday (May 19) Coke wanted more time to be better briefed on the court process by his lawyers and to explore the best option.
When the talks ended on Wednesday, Miller said Coke promised to think about the option of turning himself in. “He gave me his word that he would think about it,” Miller said.
The pastor said he informed Coke that if he was serious about turning himself in, he would speak with the police high command, which he later did.
Miller said he later spoke with Coke via telephone, and informed him that the police, too, were interested in an amicable solution and an arrangement was made for the talks to continue on Saturday, May 22.
On Saturday when he returned to Tivoli Gardens, Miller said there was a visible tension hovering throughout the community, although life appeared normal beyond the barricades.
“There was still no restriction of movement as people went to work,” Miller said.
Asked if there was an unusually high number of men seen in the community then, Miller said there was nothing unusual about those he saw.
Coke was said to be maintaining his same “cool” composure.
Miller said he informed him then that the police were not interested in using brute force but needed an early resolution to the situation.
But, according to Miller, the “media hype”, as he described it, was only heightening the tension and resulted in even greater reinforcement of the barricades.
“I told him that it didn’t look good to be increasing the barricade when we are talking to the police, that the matter could soon be resolved and he agreed but the fear was there because of what the media was saying,” Miller said.
“Imagine at that time the media begins to recount how his father died and that
was killing the dialogue,” Miller said.
“Here I was telling him the police were not going to barge in but they are hearing all these things through the media and so I told him to trust the word of the police,” he said.
At the end of Saturday’s meeting, Miller said he and Coke reached an agreement to remove the barricades on Labour Day. Coke also arranged to speak with his lawyers in Tuesday to get their views on the options proposed by Miller, and which he would not disclose and for the final decision to be made on Wednesday.
Miller said he communicated this to the police high command and the decision was taken then to hold off entering Tivoli Gardens.
“He spoke with his lawyers after I left and we were making excellent strides,” he said.
On Sunday when thugs launched an attack against the security forces, Miller said he still maintained a dialogue with Coke who was disappointed about the turn of events.
As the mayhem intensified into Monday, Miller again contacted Coke.
“I was told (by him) to come now and deal with it and I was heading there when my intelligence indicated the security forces operation had begun,” he said.
Unable to locate the relevant police authority to inform them that he was going in, Miller said he was forced to abandon the mission.
Miller said he is still willing to help Coke surrender to the police. “I understand the fear, but I would appeal to him to go in to the police and allow the courts to deal with the matter,” Miller said.
[Update made via Jamaica Observer]