It is doubtful that the incident occured on a whim by heightened tempers due to one slip of words or actions from either party. Evidence would suggest that it should have been expected even years prior.
In the late 1950’s, there was heightening tension between the Rastafarian community and the British colonial government. Rastafarians suffered much discrimination, including cannabis use which is a religious sacrament in their culture. Those Rastas who were not killed, were instead arrested, but after their arrests, were never seen again. Unfortunately, back in the 1950’s when Rastas were just beginning to establish a foundation for themselves, they rarely had any outside support. If in 2022, people still find it in their heart to refer to this group as “dutty Rastas”, and discriminate about locs in school, imagine back then when we had an almost all-white government and were more highly influenced by slavery. Thus, many people sided with the police regardless of the inhumanity Rastas faced.
In 1959, a Rasta security and a policeman had an altercation at Coronation Market and the altercation ended with the police beating the security guard, causing nearby shop owners to react violently. The police brought reinforcements which resulted in 57 Rastas being arrested, some being brutally beaten, and their dreadlocks shaved by force. A police car and firetruck were also set on fire during the incident.
Later that year, Rastafari leader Reverent Claudius Henry was accused of plotting a revolution and communicating with Fidel Castro. In 1960, his son was arrested on the grounds of plotting a revolt. Him and his alleged co-conspirators were then executed after a state of emergency was declared. These events prompted a series of arbitrary arrests of Rastas, justifying their actions by stating that Rastas were involved in orchestrating a communist revolution.
There was still abhorrence toward Rastas even after Jamaica gained independence in 1962. It is believed that officers in police training schools would use images of Rastas as target practice. Rastas were not only hated by the government and police forces, but would also be the target of regular civilians; they were forced to avoid public spaces after being beaten by them.
Why Coral Gardens?
Coral gardens was part of the Rose Hall estate. The property hosted two sets of people: Rastas who used it for small-scale farming, and landlords and government officials who had plans to convert it into a tourist destination. Rastas were seen as an obstacle to reaching their goals, so they would evict them.
In one particular incident, police shot Rudolph Franklyn in the stomach six times and left him to bleed out. He received plastic surgery but was warned by a doctor that he would still die once the plastic rotted. Immediately after being granted a second chance to live, Franklyn was arrested on the grounds of cannabis possession and sentenced to six months in prison.
After being released, he swore to take revenge on Edward Fowler, the overseer who attempted to evict him.