As a primary school child, rearing aquarium fish was a joy. Of special delight was one called a ‘fighter’, which would flare its gills and spread its fins when it saw itself in a mirror. You could not put two in the same space because they would bite each other.
They looked threatening but were never more than three inches! I remembered this while observing the ongoing saga of the Transformed Life Ministry (TLM) raid.
There must be no endorsement of the inhumane conditions in which the persons were kept. But as a society, we need to examine ourselves. In 2000, Martin Daly in the Senate distributed copies of a newspaper with pictures of patients in cages at St Ann’s Hospital—a place he described as Dante’s Inferno.
He said, “ …we should be embarrassed as people who are movers and shakers in this society that exists in Trinidad and Tobago…” Apparently, we were not embarrassed enough.
The situation at Arouca was no secret. The Arouca Police Station is a few steps away. The Police Commissioner, by mid-morning 9 October, admitted that his senior officers knew. This was confirmed by the jaw-dropping inter-ministerial press conference later that day.
While all three Ministers claimed to have only known the very morning, they admitted that their subordinates knew and treated with the TLM personnel. Minister Stuart Young initially said that the Police were ‘stepping into unknown territory’—apparently to explain the raid and its method—before admitting that his Counter-Trafficking Unit had complained to the TTPS in August about the operations at the location.
Who told who what? Is reportedly putting your boot on Mr Glen Awong’s neck reasonable force? Is this part of the routine in investigations? Was he planning to run away or resisting arrest?
That morning the Police Commissioner had praised the media for a ‘tip off’ uncovering what was ‘modern-day slavery’ and ‘the biggest human trafficking ring’ in our country. The TTPS, in quick order, made a movie showing the special forces climbing walls wearing full masks and using footage from a media house. Somebody released still photographs, via social media, of the caged persons before realising they were violating the human rights of the caged persons.
Is embedding the media in an active crime scene acceptable? We appear so uncoordinated in conducting investigations but so slick in painting flattering pictures of our side of the story. The Jamaican media was able to secure an interview with police sources. Would their police return the favour to our media people?
The media has no responsibility to be the public relations arm for the police. It is therefore horrific and an act of bullying when a single journalist, Kejan Haynes, is singled out for ridicule in a press conference.
It is laughably sad when generalised statements are advanced to justify the Arouca action with one expert apparently not even being aware of the details since he kept referencing the Venezuelan situation. When we use terms like ‘modern-day slavery’ and ‘human trafficking’ instead of ‘inhumane conditions’ to describe this specific situation, we denude the words of their meanings.
“The way we think about problems is extremely sensitive to the language used to describe them” (Stone, 2001)
We were assured that our police will ‘parang from house to house’ to find offending ‘homes’. This response demonstrates how we tackle complex societal problems by ‘gambage’—or simply pretending to do something. We ignore the ‘Vagrant Dormitory’ in front of a major international bank downtown Port of Spain. In six months’ time is this where those ‘rescued’ persons will be?
Dr Keith Rowley faced up to the real challenges of closing down St Ann’s Hospital. We need to parang the early childhood schools and ensure that the children get the requisite care so that we do not have to scrape them off the streets later on.
But it is easier to shoot this particular fish in its barrel. Crime fighting is hard work. The legal vultures, some of whom were part of the governance structure, will think nothing of swooping in to make money off the same flaws they did not correct themselves.
Meanwhile, we have an unscientific survey by a statutory body pretending to measure the performance of the police service. The survey, like the nightly television polls, can be manipulated in that they can be taken multiple times by a single individual and the content cries out for a good research specialist. No attempt is made to sample the nation properly.
In 2019, is the effectiveness of the biggest budget allocation really being measured in this slipshod manner? ‘Let’s try a thing’ seems to be the modus operandi. Mr Griffith will be right to reject the results.
We have no shame, Mr Daly. We shame proof!