In my last blog, published on 5 June 2014, I suggested that our political situation was not unlike George Orwell’s Oceania, which was the fictitious setting for his timeless novel, “1984”.
On 11 June 2014, within a week of my post, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared that we must “unleash the dogs of war” on criminals and those who flout the law to create havoc.
“We must bring them to their knees, we must give no quarter,” said Persad-Bissessar, in a Trinidad Newsday article on 12 June 2014. “… let justice prevail; let peace and justice finally prevail.”
Our Prime Minister almost on cue declared war in the name of peace and justice.
In the same article, the Honourable PM is quoted as saying that “there are those who have been under attack while serving the citizens of the country. I am prepared to commit every resource possible, explore all options available in ensuring we reclaim our country from the criminals.”
There is just one problem here; and it lies in the distribution of resources.
There is wide speculation which has not been refuted through proper independent investigation, that many government contracts also go to these criminal elements.
In October 2013, National Security Minister Gary Griffth told the Trinidad Guardian that he had discovered “persons involved in criminal activity who had state contracts” particularly in the Life Sport programme. If this is true, then there is a real possibility that the State is funding both sides of the ‘War’ it declared and this puts our Police Service in a very precarious situation.
Yet, without consternation, we have embraced this declaration of war.
I suppose that we all have a price, even in suffering.
In a situation characterised by hopelessness and desperation borne of poor governance, the Government would have us buy into its offering of salvation through the dogs or war. The crime situation is a complex one and a policy of ‘get them before they get us’ is as destructive as it is vacuous. We must review the extent to which our development agenda fosters criminality, thus, making criminals not an anomaly but an inevitability.
It is easy for us to say that it is individual choice and that persons in these depressed communities do not take advantage of opportunities offered to them; that these opportunities provide a clear path away from a life of criminality. But this argument becomes problematic when we start to address the reasons for white collar crime.
Let me say here that if we reduce criminal activity to murders, no matter how gruesome, we simply will not find any solutions. It is obvious that a clear short term and immediate plan must be presented to curb the increase in murders. However, accepting extra judicial killings in lieu of justice is not and cannot be the answer.
The fact is, for many citizens, the high murder rate remains the number one concern. The increased risk for officers carrying out their duties is also equally obvious.
If one was to look at the raw data though, it tells us that we have accepted no plan as the plan.
At the end of May 2014, according to the TTPS website, the murder figure stood at 181 while for the corresponding period last year it stood at 155. On average, we have a rate of 25 extrajudicial killings per year for the last 15 year; and we have already passed this number in 2014.
If in fact these extra judicial killings were removing those responsible for the scourge of crime shouldn’t a reduction in murders be a logical expectation?
Democratic societies such as ours, must espouse an unwavering commitment to human rights and reject the extra-judicial killing of any person. There must be a clearly articulated policy for police engagement of persons armed and unarmed.
It is impossible to accept extrajudicial killing of persons arbitrarily identified as “criminals,” regardless of the nature and circumstances of their alleged crime; especially when in light of the post humus ‘evidence’ which suggests that such persons were allowed to operate unfettered within their communities. This is unacceptable in any civilized society.
The rule of law requires that a person accused of a crime be charged and placed before a court of law. It is, of course, fair to presume that officers must protect themselves at all cost if under threat. However those who represent the law cannot feign ignorance to its diktats. One cannot expect to ignore the law to engage those who ignore the law.
We have buckled to acceptance not because we condone killing but precisely the opposite—because we do not. This is the contradiction. That is the double standard. That is the hypocrisy. That is why it will not work.
We must admit that we did not arrive at this point overnight. We have as a nation been dismissing execution style killings as gang related for some time now.
In fact, commenting on the high number of murders in 2013, Minister Griffith said that it was a case of criminals killing criminals. He went on to say, in a Guardian interview on 6 January 2014, that, if you are not involved in criminal activities, you have no need to fear about crime in this country.
If I was a journalist, I would have asked the Minister if he still held that view after the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal.
With every murder that we dismiss we feed a culture of violence which would eventually overtake us. The impunity with which criminal elements are operating, coupled with the increased frequency and the gruesome nature of the recent murders, would unsettle any right-thinking citizen.
In addition, the low detection and conviction rates leave every citizen exposed and vulnerable.
American writer Henry Mencken stated that for every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, neat and wrong. In my opinion, this very neatly sums up our approach to the issue of crime in Trinidad and Tobago. We have oversimplified everything to a point where we now accept that no solution is the solution.
The declaration of war cannot be mired in semantics. War cannot mean anything other than war. A declaration of war is an extremely serious pronouncement and must be treated as such by every citizen.
Just contemplate for a minute that, prior to this declaration, there was quiet discord about the ODPM’s order of 12,500 body bags and a subsequent announcement of the National Security Ministry’s purchase of 15 armoured vehicles and the possibility of surveillance drones.
Ernest Hemingway: “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”