73 Lives Later, Jamaican Drug Lord Gets 23 Years

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The question, now that Jamaican drug lord Christopher Coke has received the maximum sentence of 23 years after 73 people died during a raid on his compound, is was it worth it? Sure, The New York Times' Benjamin Weiser points out, Coke pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges and sat atop a criminal enterprise with "200 soldiers" who sold crack in Jamaica and New York, but that's a lot of collateral damage.

That's what New Yorker writer Mattathias Schwartz suggests, after he won a Livingston award for international reporting for his massive story exploring how 73 people wound up dead in the raid on Coke's West Kingston compound: As Schwartz wrote in a blog post on Thursday: "Did seventy-three civilians have to die for the arrest of one drug trafficker, no matter how powerful?"

It's the natural thing to wonder, in light of Schwartz's finding that most of those killed in the May 24, 2010 raid on Coke's neighborhood-compound, carried out by the Jamaican Army at the behest of the United States, were unarmed. Schwartz says the U.S. has footage of the operation, but it won't release it. In its press release announcing Coke's sentencing on racketeering and conspiracy charges Friday, the U.S. attorney's office made no mention of the May raid, since Coke wasn't actually arrested during it. He was finally arrested a month later, on June 22, 2010, while en route to turn himself in to U.S. authorities.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.