Noble: The Men Behind the Curtains—beware the manipulators among us

“[…] The police, they’re going after the young kids on the streets…the big fish don’t come to do deals directly.

“The big fish are […] politicians and businessmen; them is the men, and they’re the ones who are bringing the drugs in, too. Dem is the men who behind the curtain; them hiding, leaving us in the front line…”

Resident, Beetham Gardens, Phase 3, May 2014. (Corruption, Cocaine and Murder in Trinidad, Vice News, 2014. YouTube. 9 Million views, 6,000 comments.)

The big fish…

Crime sells. Crime Watch, a television programme in 2012 on TV6, had an average daily viewership of 365,000 persons; in 2013, on CNC3, it had 242,559 viewers.

This show provided an impressive lead into these stations’ newscasts (MFO MediaTrak, 2012, 2013).

Remember, this show followed two years of record-breaking homicides in 2008 and 2009 (over 400) and a kidnapping scourge which attracted international media attention.

An aerial view of Port of Spain, Trinidad at night,

“Trinidad is a country with sudden wealth from record oil prices that fuel the island’s growing GDP. It also saw around 245 kidnappings last year, an increase of more than 100% over five years.”

We may have forgotten this comment.

“People perceive the Indian population to be more wealthy. Most importantly, they are seen to be weak and soft targets who will not fight back,” Kumar Mahabir, an anthropologist at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Kumar Mahabir.

He asserted that 75% of those kidnapped were of Indian origin. This perception led to the politics becoming more ethnically divided.

Remember that Inshan Ishmael became active then with the marches associated with the kidnap and murder of Vindra Naipaul-Coolman?

The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) – Ian Alleyne partnership was an “institutional reaction to public perceptions of police failure and their lack of visibility” (Ajim, 2024).

Crime Watch host Ian Alleyne.

It fed off the communal anxiety. Fear of crime has political currency. Citizens feel the need to protect themselves.

The Ian Alleyne link was broken when he and others tried to cash in the chips for electoral gain. Crime Watch went “on hiatus” after Alleyne filed nomination papers for the St Joseph by-election.

Why is there a fascination with crime stories? People can see themselves as the victims. They insert themselves into the stories. But who is highlighted is as crucial as the story.

Andrea Bharatt, 23, went missing on 29 January 2021.
Her body was found in the Heights of Aripo on 4 February 2021.

Stories of marginalised persons get short shrift. Think of the news reporting difference between Andrea Bharratt and Ashanti Riley, killed days apart in 2021. Or initial Facebook posts about the aspiring doctor, Jayden Reyes, killed in Gonzales (Express, 4 June 2024).

Reyes was accused of being a bad boy involved in crime. The opinion tide turned only after vigorous pushback by prominent Twitterati and other bloggers, including the CIC alumni group.

The initial comments lacked empathy and were tinged with racist slurs. They must have been painful for the family to know.

Jayden Reyes, 21, was gunned down in Belmont on 2 June 2024.

The Vice News story was done in the wake of the 2014 Dana Seetahal murder. They showed a recovered UZI gun from a dead gangster. They interviewed the late Kenneth ‘Spanish’ Rodriguez in his bailiwick, describing how his alternative government worked.

Yasin Abu Bakr declared: “This place is going to explode!”

Then-Inspector Roger Alexander summed up the TTPS’ dilemma: “Government contracts give way to corruption… to strengthen the very gangs. It’s making our job nine times harder.

Snr Supt Roger Alexander on Beyond The Tape.

“The crime rate is going up, public confidence in policing is at an all-time low. The police don’t get the kind of respect that they would hope for, and 1990 exposed the weakness of the police. They could take on the police.”

Trinidadians never analysed nor owned the problem. As the Beetham resident said, “Everybody on the dollar!”

Then came Gary Griffith.

Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith takes a snap with a well-wisher.
(Photo TTPS)

Ajim (2024) reported that the TTPS Communication Department (31 officers and eight civilians) rivalled multimedia broadcasting houses and corporate communications departments in the private and public sectors. It had an annual budget of TT$1 million, not including salaries.

“The TTPS case has demonstrated that uncritical arrangements between police and media run the risk of affording air-time for police spin, or worse, police propaganda.” (Ajim, p 216).

Ajim revealed the TTPS’ need to control the narrative surrounding crime. Remember the raid on Transformed Life Ministry?

Former US president Donald Trump epitomised the new breed of public figures who routinely bypass the traditional media to reach the public.

Traditional media houses had no answer for the rise of social media platforms, such as Facebook, thereby losing their custodianship of publicity.

“Their (traditional media) watchdog role has been undermined by a series of unfortunate events, including a declining news industry, dwindling human and material resources. They are under-resourced, whereas the police are well-resourced.” (Ajim 2024).

Gary Griffith, the brand, became the avatar for the TTPS. He was our presumed saviour with the largest non-political party Facebook page.

Former Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
(Photo TTPS)

We no longer needed to “call Kirpalani”, as Chalkdust advised; we now called for Super G. Prominent businessmen supported his efforts.

This “success” encouraged him to challenge the Head of the National Security Council, throw his hat into the political ring and dispense advice to all and sundry. Shades of Ian Alleyne!

This is the context in which we should assimilate the story of Chris Must List. Compared to the Vice News, he is a wannabe. He is not a journalist! Remember Devant Maharaj and his disclosure of information?

Former UNC senator and agriculture minister Devant Maharaj.

Justice Kevin Ramcharan “scoffed at the suggestion that Maharaj should be classified as a journalist simply because he writes on Facebook and has followers there.”

Vloggers are a global trend where we, the children of the former colonised, are feedstock for the economic goals of corporate video sites. The vloggers are not here to help us but to show our ills for monetary gain.

Facebook and YouTube pay their stars a cut of the revenue stream. Their algorithms are designed to feed into biases and to provoke the worst in us. Considering these social media sites are motivated to generate exponential revenue from people using them, you would appreciate the dynamics involved.

We are in the jaws of powerful international media corporations. We, the users, provide free labour to the vloggers to monetise their base of followers.

If we study the political economy of the media, we will see that the questions of power will arise. Who has the power to make decisions about the slant of the news? Who benefits from these decisions? How do these power relationships work?

If we are alert, we will question Gary Griffith, Ian Alleyne and this vlogger’s use of social media sites coupled with the decline of the legacy media houses.

Vlogger Christopher “Chris Must List” Hughes.

Why do you think he does not want to go home anymore? There is money to be made here. He has risen to become a celebrity.

The featured gangsters, with their big guns, remind me of some Chaguanas schoolboys I interviewed at the beginning of the school fighting video genre at the height of the ISIS recruitment. They wanted to be recognised as “a bad boy”.

They wanted the videos to capture the fights to make others fear them. They were trading in fear. “Rank” mattered.

A thug shows off his weapon in Trinidad.

Showing off their guns is, for these gangs, a means to invoke fear, not only in their rivals but the nation as a whole. Does any right-thinking licenced firearm user believe they can outgun these men?

The folly of issuing gun licences instead of fixing the TTPS by removing corrupt cops and putting men on the streets is painfully evident. We believe in fairy tales. Quiet, diligent work is not appreciated.

The media is supposed to be a watchdog. They sometimes scream about being muzzled, but can they bite? Breathless stenographers, aka “journalists”, sup at the table of the elites.

Image: A satirical take on the US media’s relationship with the independent regulator, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

We recently saw a thinly sourced front-page story with several red flags. Facebook posters ridiculed the TTPS. Interestingly, it led to a change in representing counsel for the vlogger.

Mr Anand Ramlogan SC, the new counsel, told the magistrate “that he would be taking the State to court for a breach of his client’s constitutional rights, which he said may invalidate the charge.”

He argued that the media report may have endangered the vlogger’s life. “He said while the story was false, the gangsters in the prison may not have seen the correction published afterwards and labelled Hughes as a police informant.”

Vlogger Chris “Chris Must List” Hughes shows a made-up Trinidad Express story that had potentially deadly consequences.

This media story, therefore, delivered a damaging two-fer. How could a leading newspaper run a false narrative on its front page and retract it by late evening? It is baffling.

What value did the vlogger deliver? None. Unless you were asleep, most of the material has been known.

Be aware that there are folk behind the curtains trying to manipulate us. We are witnessing in real time the convergence of these men as they attempt to milk the situation. Let us be discerning.

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One comment

  1. IMHO a very perceptive analysis. It is a pity that it will be not more widely read.

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