Vidale: Brace for more; repressed, unanswered societal problems do not go away

I wrote the following words in 2015:

The diminution of a murder to ‘gang related’ has promoted a (group think) consciousness that some deaths are acceptable. Moreso, we embraced extra judicial killings as a justifiable response to a situation which is out of control.

“Kill everybody an done!”

Photo: TTPS officers on patrol.
(via Heritage Radio)

However, there is no statistical correlation between these extrajudicial killings and a reduction in crime. We have justified ‘street justice’ and asked the street not to participate!

Unless and until the state can demonstrate that its institutions are capable of delivering justice then what we are seeing is, unfortunately, only the beginning of worse to come.

I repeat that our embrace of extrajudicial killings has sent a clear signal that even those who uphold the law expect no justice from the state apparatus and therefore it should be obvious that others in the society who are searching for justice would also do so outside of the State apparatus…and therefore outside of the law!

Here we are! Again!

I was not surprised at all by the deliberate strategy to depoliticise the response to actions by several communities yesterday. The objective is clear—to delegitimise the protests.

By militarising the response, the narrative is changed from communities trying to carve out an equitable space for themselves, to communities attempting to destabilise the country and make the ‘rest of us’ unsafe. A situation that the police must protect us from rather than one which the politician must address.

Photo: Morvant residents remonstrate with TTPS Inspector Alexander, after the police killing of Morvant residents Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(via Stabroeknews)

The problem with this response is that the issue will not go away. The irony is that are many who do not believe that there is an issue!

We have the same debate all the time. We hear certain phrases all the time like, ‘take personal responsibility’ or ‘they have themselves so’ or ‘they too lazy to take up the opportunities’. Then we ask where are the protests against the criminal element in your own community.

I wonder if we realise the fundamental problem with trying to hold the TTPS and criminals to the same standard? Or maybe its Freudian and subconsciously we do make that comparison. But that is for another time.

For these choirs, the notion that there is an actual injustice in the State policy toward these communities is a fabrication of people who just want to protest to destabilise the country.

Imagine protesting for justice and the first objective is to convince persons that there is injustice; even in the face of glaring evidence. Well played to the State on this one!

Photo: Morvant resident Joel Jacobs, 37, (background) holds his hands up as do other passengers in the car.
It was not enough to save their lives, as they were gunned down moments later by the TTPS on 27 June 2020.

Convince the choir and ‘law abiding’ citizens that the protests are really criminal activity and galvanise more of the society against these communities.

What could go wrong? It’s the TTPS on the frontline anyway; they will handle it.

This is not about the people vs the TTPS. It is the people vs the colonial state!

How many times will we have to remove burning barricades from the streets? It should be obvious by now that our response of suppression and ‘running people home’ has not worked.

Until we address the fundamental inequity in the society, which is a political issue, we had better strap in. The outcry for justice will get progressively louder and a lot more ‘uncomfortable’ and if we care to read any of our history, a lot more ‘violent’.

Michelle Maiese in a 2003 paper entitled ‘Social Structural Change’ focuses on the supra structure of societies and examines the attendant characteristics which act as forces that influence and direct the power relations within a society.

Photo: Beetham residents chase MP Fitzgerald Hinds from their community.
(Copyright Enrique Assoon/TT Newsday)

She suggests that in particular societies: “structural forces often create a system of winners and losers in which people become trapped in a particular social situation. Structural violence often results, in the form of power inequity, poverty, and the denial of basic human rights.

“Basic human needs go unmet, and groups suffer from inadequate access to resources and exclusion from institutional patterns of decision-making.

“[…] There will be protracted conflict until there are changes made to these basic social structures. And in many cases, if social structural changes are not made, eventually change [oftentimes for the worse] will occur by means of violence.”

How many of the persons who condemn the violent possibility of protests also openly applaud extra judicial killings? The fact of the matter is that there seems to be two States which co-exist and, from time to time, they overlap; and we see a side of ourselves that we refuse to acknowledge.

In 2003, there was a drive by shooting at Movie Towne. A reporter interviewed a patron and I will never forget her words.

The young lady said that: “she didn’t expect that to happen here.” She did not live in the State where the violence was. That was somewhere else.

Photo: A woman poses for a selfie with Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith in the Socadrome during the 2020 Carnival.
(via TTPS)

Whatever has been done to address the deficiencies in the justice system is simply not enough. Our process of decolonisation and march to independence are incomplete exercises. We have to come to terms with this fact.

Moreover, it is difficult in a majority black and brown community to understand the internalisation of racial profiling, and institutional racism because those people who profile us look like us.

I have made the point before that we live in a society where there was a large free black population, which for the most part steered clear of any anti-slavery or emancipation movement. So I am not surprised by the callous indifference to blatant injustice and inequity meted out to some communities.

In my humble view, the PM needs to find himself on the ground in these communities. Listen to what these communities are saying. These are PNM strong holds, act like it.

We have to address the failure of successive governments to address the basic needs of these communities. The intervention has to be made by the seat of power because what we are seeing is a challenge to power.

Contemplate if you will, the irony of the success of the Black Power movement of the 1970s. The actions of the hills of Laventille, East Port of Spain and Shanty Town gave rise to another acceleration of the black middle class, which now looks upon these communities with scorn and contempt.

Photo: Mourners march down Frederick Street on 9 April 1970 for the funeral of the slain Basil Davis.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

If as some teachers say in the classroom there are enough A’s for everyone, why do so many of us behave as if there is limited justice to go around? Justice cannot be a privilege.

In the words of Peter Tosh, ‘peace is diploma you get in the cemetery’—what people want is equal rights and justice!

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About Akins Vidale

Akins Vidale
Akins Vidale lectures at the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies and is a UWI graduate with a B.A. in History. He has served as the president of the Trinidad Youth Council and is the General Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN). Read his blog:

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  1. Mr. Vidale,
    As a Trinidadian…”black and brown”…really? Who is “black” (skin colour reference) and who is “brown”? According to this imported crayon box, Hazel Manning is black, while is Suruj Rambachan is “brown” ? In a learned, progressive society, skin colour, is NOT the criterion in discerning whether someone is of african or indian ancestry, or “latinos” for that matter. Therefore, if hair texure and facial features are in fact the criteria used, then WHY import ‘Black & Brown’ to T&T ??? The communities in T&T that historically have police brutality issues, are ALL African communities. The jails prison population, is also dominated by africans from those very communities.

    Trinidad & Tobago, is not a box of crayons!

    • Most police in Trinbago are black or mixed then come the Indian descent officers, and the odd Chinese descent or white. The cops who shot the guys in the car are almost certainly black just as the persons who were shot, so race would not be a logical reason for this incident. Imagine you are a cop in TT, you must be fed up, being insulted, shot at, not the best paid job to start with and then when crime is high you get the blame. Without the Police TT would be a war lord country, no matter how high your walls and gates are the criminals would get into your house. The truth is the police has a job to do and it is a thankless job. They do however make it bad for themselves if they take bribes or abuse people, these are totally counter productive things, the parliament must give the police the laws to legally kill gunmen so nobody can reproach these necessary actions. Let it be know if you carry an illegal gun you die, end of story, this is how it must be done, this is a language that every criminal in TT and probably globally understands, the language of violence. They don’t care about court documents, they will care if it’s bullets, as Picard said ”make it so”.

  2. Ofcourse there is no statistic to back up extra judicial killings and a reduction in crime, because extra judicial killings would be a small number of the killings. Let’s imagine for a second that every single person caught with an illegal gun in the last ten years had been executed by the police on the road side, now such numbers which would amount to about 200 persons per year would have absolutely reduced crime in TT, why? if you know that when cops catch you with an illegal gun they will kill you for sure, is it logical to carry a gun? plus everything you were going to do with that gun you now can’t do because you are dead, the friends you would have led astray now can see where that path leads and steer well clear of it.
    We need capital punishment for illegal gun possession, let the gunmen receive their traitors reward for damaging Trinidad and Tobago. No more extra judicial killings, instead capital punishment for illegal gun possession. Make it an emergency law without appeals. We could have mobile courts following the cops as they search people, so the magistrate can witness the events and give a verdict instantly, the verdict should be carried out on the road side immediately with the illegal guns that were seized, shoot them with their own guns, have a coroner waiting to clean up the scene and remove the body to the funeral home. Gunmen go to prison or die eventually, all I am saying is let’s speed up the process, the quicker they see the END the better for all of us who are law abiding. What those gunmen should have done is to stick that illegal gun in their mouth and pull the trigger, but they won’t do that, so let the magistrate facilitate it for them, it’s only fair. And don’t come with the ”human rights” crap, the only time criminals know about human rights is when they getting squeezed by the system, but when they are out there robbing, rapping and shooting they don’t give a damn about human right or the humans.

    • Lasana Liburd

      And whose word are you going to take that the boy had an illegal firearm? A court of law operating in a dispassionate environment? Or a policeman acting in the heat of the moment?
      Why bother with courts at all then?
      Are you happy to let policemen decide on a daily basis whether you should live or die? Do you know many officers who you are happy to give that choice to?
      Michael Patrick Aboud was held with what police said was an illegal firearm, do you think they would or should have happily gunned him down? Or is that reserved for hot spot residents?
      Should the police be also allowed to gun down everyone else in the car, house, vicinity of this supposed illegal firearm?
      I hope to never to live in the country that you seem to want Trinidad and Tobago to become.

      • We will never fix TT with the same status quo solutions that got us here in the first place! So yes anybody and I mean anybody including bigshots who gets caught with illegal guns should face capital punishment, let them die so the rest of us who don’t get involved in such things can live in peace. There has to be a red line, the illegal guns must be that red line, otherwise enjoy your five hundred murders a year, being robbed for your car, jewelry, gang rape etc. If a magistrate is personally present to witness the searches how is that not acceptable, you know what lets make it 5 magistrates and atleast 1 priest and either an imam or pundit, that should be more than enough eyewitnesses of high caliber to satisfy any right minded citizen, that is one level of scrutiny that doesn’t exist so today. Any person that plays with illegal guns is undoubtedly working against the entire nation at this point in history. If somebody has to die then let the criminals who are responsible for the mayhem feel it.

        • And I include corrupt cops and politicians that traffic weapons in that as well. Hell in their case that should be treason. How can you wear a uniform or a government suit and swear an oath and then you do acts like drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, corruption etc. that are the very opposite of what you are supposed to be doing. Remember the cops and robbers game that kids like to play, now who plays that game taking bribes to let somebody get away lol.

    • It is something of a surprise that someone would read this whole piece and then assert that they (meaning the society’s bad boys) “…don’t give a damn about human right or the humans.”

      You, of course, oh so clearly do!

      I was not yet in primary school when I had heard for the 100th time that two wrongs do not one right make. Unfortunately, if you didn’t grow up in a completely different type of household, any such messages fell on deaf ears.

      • Since when is it wrong to give killers their just rewards?
        What do you think these hundreds of people carrying illegal guns for every year, maybe to change car tyres or to cook a good pelau, they are would be murderers and we would be foolish to see them as anything but. If you buy a basketball it is safe to say that your intention is to play basketball, if you buy a car it is safe to say that you intend to do some driving, if you walk the streets with an illegal gun your intention is to kill, what part of that don’t you people understand. We need a law that declares illegal gun possession as a crime in preparation for murder and it should be capital punishment on all second offenders for sure. They must go so we get to live. It is illogical for us to wait for a dead shopkeeper, taxi driver, raped woman etc. for us to say ”ok now we can act” especially when the eyewitnesses get gunned down or intimidated, we must use what we can convict them on, and possession is the easiest crime to convict on, because the illegal item is with you. You all mean well, and in many ways I understand you, you are where I was a couple years ago, now keep reading about the daily murders, keep watching the white suit people take pictures and put numbered cones on the street, keep listening to politicians promising that they will ”attack crime”, and keep seeing that TT continues on the exact same path of death and destruction. If the current laws would work then why aren’t they?
        I am not against you my fellow Trinbagonians, we all want a solution, you want to reform these people, I want to get rid of them quick because we have a 51% recidivism rate and I don’t want to wait 50 years for the safety. But don’t worry because we do not have any politician in TT that would try my plan, they are too tame, they want to rub elbows with Sweden at the UN and not be snubbed. So our country continues to be abused by criminals with illegal guns made in USA, Austria, Brazil and Russia. What is your anti crime plan if I may ask?

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