Playing mas but ‘fraid powder; Noble on Griffith, crime fighting and the media

Little seems to attract public attention like crime news. Crime Watch, in 2014, had a 10 percent larger audience than News at 7pm.

Our perceived reality of crime has evolved where there are certain assumptions about crime and justice that are no longer questioned. We conclude with each new atrocity that ‘crime is at its worst’ without realising that we mainly see the gory side in our news feed, which is greatly enhanced by the rise of social media and the smart phone.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
(Copyright TTPS)

Our language has changed: we no longer speak of ‘policing’ but of ‘crime fighting’. For certain police, camouflage clothing is worn as if we live in a jungle.

Crime news reporting is a cumulative process with each new story building on the past ones and adding to our memory bank. This contributes to our fear of crime and our sense of vulnerability.

Our societal lack of trust heightens our awareness of the threat and we elect politicians to deal with it and instinctively support drastic measures. In this, we are like the US population, post 9/11, willing to give up our rights to attain greater security.

This environment enables our present Police Commissioner to grab for power—stepping past late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s efforts—to become our Editor in Chief.

There has always been a mutually beneficial relationship between the police and the media: the police gives them newsworthy images and the media gives them positive coverage. How else could we have instantly received pictures of the hapless Ms Krystiana Sankar of Westmoorings fame?

The police have been quoted more than any other source in the last six months in our media. The police is seen as being effective courtesy the media, since the insatiable appetite for crime news joins the two parties at the hip.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (centre) poses with masked officers after a drugs and weapons bust in central Trinidad.
(Courtesy TTPS)

If one watches the local news, there are two main classes in this country: the rich and the criminal. The middle class is peripheral, and the poor is invisible.

Have we discerned that one major media house has decided to act as the public relations agency for the incumbent Police Commissioner?

Have we ever seen a journalist being welcomed into the police headquarters with video camera in tow to discuss a purported top-secret internal document on death threats to the Commissioner? Have we noted the timing of the information released about the two death threats?

In case you have not, the release of the confidential police reports always comes on the heels of a raid on gangs. The intended message? We are hurting the gangs and they want to fight back and kill—not the frontline guys but the Commissioner, our hero.

This week we had the release of a ‘top secret’ 2014 document supposedly penned by the same Commissioner, who was then the National Security Minister and who now helpfully confirms the veracity of the report. This report purports to warn of the link between criminal activity, government contracts and suspected gang leaders.

Photo: Photo: Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald (left), Cedric Burke (centre) and President Anthony Carmona at McDonald’s swearing in ceremony as Minister of Public Utilities on 30 June 2017.

MP Roodal Moonilal chimes in with a corroboration that says that Gary Griffith had raised the matter and it was being addressed collaboratively. But this flies in the face of the reports at the time.

Firstly, Deputy Police Commissioner Richardson on 11 August, 2013 denied any knowledge of the development of a Duncan Street Police Post. The famous picture of Moonilal shaking the hand of Mr Kenneth Rodriguez—the reputed gang leader/construction boss—took place shortly after on tour of the facilities by Jearlean John, Moonilal, Griffith and Stephen Williams.

At the opening, on October 4, the then Prime Minister laughed off a direct inquiry about Rodriguez saying, “I do not know who you are referring to… I am just an invitee… What he is doing there is anybody’s guess.”

Williams, at an anti-bullying seminar within days of the event, said “the police has intelligence that Rodriguez was involved in gang activity.” To which the then AG Anand Ramlogan retorted, “If the Commissioner knows who the gang leaders are, they must go and put handcuffs on them…the awarding of a contract is not an entitlement…get the names…”

Ramlogan further mused, “if these people do not get work, what will they do and how will they live? Will it result in a further spike in crime?”

Photo: Self-titled Muslim radical and Jamaat-al-Muslimeen member Rajaee Ali, a beneficiary of State funding under LifeSport, was held several times by the anti-gang legislation and was charged for the murder of Dana Seetahal.

When asked specifically about William’s assertion, Griffith told reporters that he was not about to reveal ‘intelligence’. We are being played as unsuspecting idiots in the village square.

The anger now expressed by the Commissioner is over the loss of control of the narrative. The same frustration as with the independent videos that alerted us about the handling of The UWI incident.

Now it is the turn of the media house that refused to toe the line and published the story of the children of the purported gang leader.

Griffith should recall the then AG Ramlogan’s advice, “If you brand these individuals by publishing their names and pictures in the absence of cogent, clear and compelling evidence that is admissible on behalf of the prosecution in a court of law, then all of these persons will come to sue the AG and the State for defamation of character and discrimination and breach of constitutional right to equality of treatment.”

If a court prosecutor cannot make comments outside of the court that would heighten public condemnation of the accused, why can our Police Commissioner do so?

Photo: Police Commissioner Gary Griffith (left) poses for a photograph with a supporter.
(Courtesy TTPS)

The media has to be independent in investigating since it avoids unthinking acceptance of the police official story and the stereotyping of entire communities.

We should not allow our Police Commissioner to be the new ‘Ian Alleyne’. Every creed and race must find an equal place. God bless our nation.

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  1. Excerpt on 3 October 2013: Pressed on whether the information police had included Rodriguez, Williams said: “I am not being specific to any single individual in any point in time. “I am saying we have information about all gang leaders. In the city, out of the city—all.” Asked again whether this would include Rodriguez, Williams said: “Yes, it would include Mr Rodriguez. We have information on every said individual the media highlights.”

    Williams then again distanced himself from the award of Rodriguez’s contract, asking: “Do I have control as to who is to be assigned a contract? I would say yes in relation to the Police Service. “And I want to give you the assurance that we give out contracts; I have given out in excess of 100 contracts and not a single gang leader or a gang member has been given out a contract by the Police Service.” He reiterated he had no control over contracts which were linked to gang members.

    On whether the Government was aware of allegations about Rodriguez’s involvement in gang activity, Williams said the question the media ought to pose was who had control over governmental contracts, adding it was not he. “I would say I passed it on and that is as far as I am willing to go,” Williams added.

  2. Story on 5 October 2013: Contractor Kenneth Rodriguez is denying a claim that he is a gang leader. Rodriguez is the contractor for the new $2 million police post on Duncan Street, Port-of-Spain. It is expected to be opened later this month. He spoke with reporters after a tour by acting Prime Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal yesterday. During the budget debate last month, Opposition senator Pennelope Beckles told legislators a gang leader had been given a contract to construct a police post in the capital city.

    “As we speak, one gang member has a contract to repair a police station,” Beckles said. She later called for an investigation. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams and managing director at the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) Jearlean John, who were also on the tour, along with Minister of National Security Minister Gary Griffith, subsequently denied that any contract had been given to any gang leader or gang member to construct a police post.

    Responding to those allegations yesterday, Rodriguez said he did not see himself as any gang leader. “I am a community activist that carries out my jobs. If I was a gang leader, there isn’t anything that could stop the police from putting me in prison,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez whose alias is “Spanish,” said he had never been charged with any offence, and no one could say he had encouraged anyone to commit a crime.

    He said people could say whatever they wanted to say, but those who knew him would also know that he was no gang leader. He welcomed the project, adding that he was a registered contractor who was working for what he wanted and was also involved in another construction project for the HDC.

    Rodriguez also admitted he was not particularly interested in denying the claims that he was a gang leader. He said he had never been reported in the news media or on CNC3’s Crime Watch as a gang leader, so he was not concerned about the claim. “Nobody has any proof against me so I don’t have to carry on any talk. I’m just working and that is about it,” he said.

    Griffith said in the Senate recently that no gang leaders would be given any government contracts, saying if given such opportunities, they would only use the money to strengthen their criminal gangs. He said, however, that people seeking to turn away from crime would be given such opportunities.

    Jobs will bring peace

    Yesterday, Rodriguez said those who raised the issue may have been given false information, and noted that Griffith made no mention of that matter during yesterday’s visit. Rodriguez also said once there was employment in the community there would be peace. “A payday is a very important thing to every human,” he added. Apart from talk there must be food for citizens, he added, saying, “If you can’t do that you will still have problems on your hands.”

    Employment must be created for all youths in crime hot spots across the country, he said. According to Rodriguez: “Plenty employment will change the streets of T&T.” The setting up of the police post is seen as one of the initiatives to help curb the rising spate of murders in the community. It was announced by PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar after a visit to the community last month in the wake of a series of murders.

    Griffith: No support for criminals

    Asked specifically yesterday if any gang member was benefiting from the contract, Griffith told reporters he was not about to “reveal intelligence.” “What I am telling you is that you can’t have the State support you, then utilise the funds to ply your trade and to commit criminal activities.” He said the Government will act if any gang leader remained committed to using his earning to buy more guns. “If you want to utilise this and still purchase more guns, that is when we will put our foot down,” Griffith said.

    He denied saying that any gang leader was employed on the project. “I made no mention of it. I am not going to make specific mention of any areas. We have intelligence (and) it could be anywhere,” Griffith said. He said the authorities were fully aware if any gang leader had changed his life or was using others as fronts to acquire a contract. Griffith said the new police post will have a positive effect on reducing crime.

  3. d media know d gangster does feel like stars when dem name in d papers and on tv.dey go care when it reach home.

  4. The media has been giving him all the attention. Do they also give attention to people that probably shouldn’t have it? Sure but GG is not being ignored or silenced by the media. He’s losing control of the narrative because he never got the lesson on less is more. He doesn’t understand that discretion is the better part of valour.

    • No, he is losing control because he is a politician. And like all our politicians, when they taste power they become self serving and reach for the sun.

    • I tried to avoid being blunt here. But basically politician,ex TTDF or whatever else, it’s because he doesn’t know when to hush. Chasing every car that drives by is idiocy at best. Because of this flaw, he’s now on the defensive daily. But he was like this even before. Many of us encountered this insanity right here on Facebook before. This megalomania was on display even when he was an advisor then MONS.

    • Yup, and he is a position that has afforded him tremendous influence. Even if he ultimately fails in his current role he has already done enough to get tremendous support and be seen as an unassailable hero. I have seen it with my own eyes, you don’t question Gary in public.

    • I notice that he stands with his hands on his hips in all the photographs I see of him. lol

      I don’t think he’s that megolomaniac. I think it was all likely because he wanted to raise the image of the police due to lack of public confidence. Now he should relax and step back a bit. I think everyone got his message. Of course, I night be wrong, who knows.

  5. But … he has been arresting people in Westmoorings, we saw a mug shout of a white girl too. Maybe I’m not reading local news enough because I hardly buy the papers to be quite honest. Otherwise, sounds reasonable.

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