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Dear Editor: Does T&T practice selective law enforcement? And what are the ramifications?

“The disproportionate prosecution of working class criminals ultimately serves to maintain ruling-class power and to reinforce ruling class ideology—thus performing ‘ideological functions’ for the ruling class.”

Orson Rogers considers potential flaws in the way that Trinidad and Tobago deals with crime:

Photo: Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

As an armchair crime watcher and based on considerable research/ readings on crime, conclusions may be summarised into four key points:

  1. This society encourages criminal behaviour—that is it is crimogenic;
  2. The Law is made by the elite of this society and tends to work in their interests;
  3. All classes, not just the working classes commit crime, and the crimes of the elite class are costlier than street crime;
  4. The state practices Selective Law Enforcement. The Criminal Justice system mainly concerns itself with policing and punishing the marginalised, not the wealthy, and this performs ideological functions for the elite classes.

This society can be said to be crimogenic in three major ways:

  1. This society encourages individuals to pursue self-interest rather than public duty;
  2. This society encourages individuals to be materialistic consumers, making us aspire to an unrealistic and often unattainable lifestyle;
  3. This society generates massive inequality and poverty, conditions which are correlated with higher crime rates.

Now for the surprise! If you agree with the above, you are agreeing with the Marxist perspective on crime.

Photo: "Two for me, none for you, two for me, none for you..." Former ILP political leader and FIFA vice president Jack Warner shares the wealth. (Copyright Diego Urdanete/AFP 2015)
Photo: “Two for me, none for you, two for me, none for you…”
Former ILP political leader and FIFA vice president Jack Warner shares the wealth.
(Copyright Diego Urdanete/AFP 2015)

And do we have selective law enforcement?

It is a persuasive argument that the police mainly focus on policing working class—and underclass—areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals. By and large, the system ignores the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes.

The disproportionate prosecution of working class criminals ultimately serves to maintain ruling-class power and to reinforce ruling class ideology—thus performing ‘ideological functions’ for the ruling class.

According to Marxism, ‘selective law enforcement’ benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  1. By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ and we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime.
  2. The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system.
  3. The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it.
Photo: Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption by the United States Government. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan (right) shares a tender moment with UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh, who is wanted for corruption by the United States Government.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

In Trinbago we may also add a fourth benefit—that all of the police, court and media focus on working class street crime means that our attention is diverted away from the immorality and greed of the elite classes.

So maybe as Trinbagonians we should be looking at a different system to solve our problems. Ah jes talking out loud!

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7 comments

    • I borrowed Lester Logie’s post from elsewhere to make a point. Especially in a small society like ours, where the social networks are strong.
      Why don’t we use a system like the CCJ to dilute the influence (recall recent revelation about 16 cases dismissed etc) and/or perception of corruption that shadows our judiciary? For both magistrate and high court, so the composition of any coram would be regional.
      We need to bring some semblance of integrity and justice into the system ASAP, as clearly it is crumbling. And therefore defeats it’s purpose.
      And there is a valid point. With an entry requirement of 3 o’levels still, I am not sure how many competent staff and how varied the available skill set would be to successfully investigate increasingly complicated and intricate crimes.

    • thanks for sharing the article.

  1. This person Mr Rogers must be a visitor from a distant planet to come up with the view that selective law enforcement against the lower classes and working class is such a big problem.
    What about selective law enforcement based on race? Don’t look so surprised. I will explain.
    1. Law enforcement has always been selective by race in Trinidad. In the colonial days the benefit was given to the white and “French creole” gang who ruled the society, and full punishment was meted out to the blacks, the Indians and the mixed race group. There is no dispute about this.
    2. The selection of the law enforcers has always been heavily influenced by race in Trinidad. In the colonial period the choice of local enforcers was heavily oriented to the Africans and against the Indian section of the population. This has continued in the self government and independence era since 1956, when for example we saw a police force that was over 90% black when blacks were less than 40% of the population. The army and later the coast guard were the same. Even today blacks are heavily overrepresented in the protective services proportional to their share of the population. That is racist selection pure and simple, and arguments can be made to cover it. Nobody can argue that Indians cannot make decent police,army or coast guard officers.
    3. In the self government and independence era law enforcement has been flagrantly selective in favour of blacks and against Indians. I will give a few flagrant examples.
    a) Descriptions of suspected criminals have for decades been absurdly obstructive and out of kilter with international police procedures. In Canada and the USA for example, police routinely describe a suspect’s colour, race, hair, age, clothing etc, and when possible circulate a police artist’s sketch of the suspect. Trinidad police do not usually give the colour, race, ethnic identification, and almost never provide sketches even though that is so easy to do. They say so and so was robbed by two men on Queen Street, even though the victim gave more than adequate description. Why? Certain forces find it’s politically unacceptable to have the newspapers featuring a parade of black suspects. It makes black people look bad, you see. I have myself examined the robbery squad diaries in Port of Spain and seen numerous reports of black men and Indian victims, but noticed that the police reports in the media leave out the race of the suspects. How many sketches of suspects have Trinidad police released? Very few I believe, and for the same reason, they don’t want to make black people look bad!
    b) Look at how the police handled the recent kidnapping epidemic in Trinidad, where the victims were mostly wealthy Indians. They were happy to release reports of the names of people kidnapped, how much ransom was demanded and paid- very bad policy, as it encouraged copycat kidnappings from street scum who became entranced at the prospect of pulling in hundreds of thousands from a single crime. The police did not make a countup total of kidnappings as is nornally done with murders, never gave an account of kidnappings solved. To my knowledge no sketches of suspect kidnappers were ever released, despite eyewitness evidence of many kidnappings. It appears many ransoms were paid, but do you remember any reports of kidnappers being caught trying to collect the ransom? I don’t. But that is the weak point for kidnapping, which is used very effectively by the RCMP and FBI in North America to keep kidnapping for ransom a rarity. Trinidad police never used the proven enforcement policy. When the head of the Kidnapping Squad resigned saying he knew who the kidnappers were but he didn’t have the staff to catch them red handed, I said what?! Take pictures of the suspect kidnap gangs and show them to the many witnesses and victims of kidnappings and you will pick up a bag of criminals with first hand, eyewitness testimony that guarantees conviction. Did they do it? No. I pointed out, and I am sure Trinidad police knew it, the existence of GPS tags no bigger than a man’s fingernail that could be hidden among ransom money and used to track from as much as 25 miles away. Never used to my knowledge. When there was a rash of bomb scares that were causing many copycats the police and the media agreed not to report bomb scares, and they died down immediately. Trinidad police and the media never considered non reporting of kidnappings, which would have certainly had the same effect as the bomb scares. Why? The victims were rich Indians, and the criminals mostly black people, that’s why.
    c) Trinidad police seem curiously unable to control certain crime hotspots which by strange chance happen to be controlled by black criminals. Take Beetham Estate, where any car breaking down on the highway nearby is sure to be robbed with impunity in broad daylight by black criminals. This has gone on for over 40 years and police are helpless. But there is a well known method of curbing such crimes, which is the good old sting. You send a couple of police officers in an unmarked vehicle that breaks down on the Beetham Highway, with another police car full of officers in the background. When the criminals come out to rob the police decoys they are arrested, beaten while resisting arrest and jailed. After a couple incidents like this Beetham criminals will not touch another broken down car for fear it’s another trap. Simple stuff. They brought down Rudy Juliani and he told them what he had done to curb similar crime in New York, but they never implemented his suggestions. Why not? Because those black criminals on Beetham Estate are PNM supporters, and neither the police big boys or the PNM wants them squashed. Race and politics trumps law enforcement. Any time they want to throw planks over the Priority Bus route and rob motorists they are sure to get away with it.
    d) Has anybody noticed that for decades police stations in Indian areas are heavily staffed by black officers? Is this a bad thing or a good thing that the police are conspicuously different from the population they are alleged to protect?
    e) Why is it that the praedial larceny squad has been such a joke in preventing theft of agricultural produce and animals in rural areas (full of Indian farmers)? Many Indian farmers have given up farming because of such widescale theft, and that is a bad thing when farmers leave farming you know. But who cares? It’s only Indians. Why did we have for decades a police squad breaking up the roadside stalls of (mostly Indian) farmers, on the absurd notion they were disrupting traffic. You answer. In Canada we see roadside farmer’s stalls all the time in summer harvest time and they are not disrupting traffic, and are NOT being broken down.

    I could go on for several more paragraphs, but I think readers will get the idea. Trinidad policing stinks. It stinks racially too, much more than it stinks by class in my opinion.

    • I will use your paragraph labels to comment:

      1) I wasn’t there nor did the research but anecdotal stories suggest what you stated.
      2) I am too young to give first hand information here, but was told by 1 older person that the justification was that in those days Indo Trinis were slightly built and therefore not suited based upon the requirements (official or otherwise). I note that Nizam Mohammed (if memory serves) pointed out that Indo officers scored higher on promotion exams (most senior positions) (objective criteria) but scored lower in the interview section (subjective criteria). He was fired for his words but I don’t recall whether anyone bothered to confirm the truth of his statements. I myself suspect they were true.
      3a-c) I always chalked that up to plain incompetence as opposed to a racist policy. I notice a general ineptitude across the board in TnT that has nothing to do with race (both public and private sector), hence my hesitance to attribute a racial motive.
      d) I don’t live in an “Indian area” so I can’t comment.
      e) Is it because they are farmers and farmers are generally not respected in TnT or is it because they are Indian? African sidewalk vendors have been routinely harassed by police. Although I noted the recent removal of Caroni stalls (I think they were allowed to return) but no removal of the nutsmen and water vendors on the CRH despite the warnings by the police of extortion by the water vendors.

      I can’t say whether there is a racist policy in law enforcement but I do know that people inherently favour their own. For example it is par for the course to bash the middle eastern and white community in TnT with broad generalizations but that same behaviour is frowned upon if another race is the target. In country with two major ethnic/races populations, the lack of cooperation on all fronts means we all suffer in the end.

  2. Since the column concludes that there is selective policing then if you are criminally inclined and don’t want to be harassed by the police, learn your school work, dress the part, talk the part, socialize the part and you could commit these “crimes of the elite class” and be left alone. Easier to manage your actions than other people.

  3. hmmmm. What other system you suggest, since I beleive the Marxist system described is practiced by many other countries.