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Dear editor: Don’t justify ‘cockroach’ slur, commissioner—it is a slippery slope

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith obviously realised that his use of the word ‘cockroaches’ was at risk of being construed in a racist way. That is why he had to come out to ‘clarify’ his position. [Daily Express, 14/08/2020: ‘Griffith: Tone down race talk’].

But having recognised the danger of using the word, he simply justified its use in his particular context, about criminal elements in T&T.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (centre) leads a police exercise.

He said: “If you have a daughter and she is raped, wouldn’t you want to call them a cockroach? If your wife is killed, what would you refer to that killer as? If you have a son who is being lured by people into drugs and joining gangs, what do you refer to them as?”

This means that Mr Griffith believes that it is totally fine for everybody who is incensed about crime to use the word.

Research has shown such derogatory words are not only applied to the most violent, appalling crimes or circumstances. People tend to apply standards ever lower.

So, from being reserved for most heinous crimes, disparaging and insulting language becomes normal over time, applied to all crime. They then find ways to justify their point-of-view (Argyris and Schön, 1974). This would be dangerous if applied racially.

Gary himself did it above in the second paragraph of his quote. First, he applies it to a killer; then in the very next sentence he applies it to a person luring another into a gang. So, you stomp out a killer, but also a person luring another into a gang.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) poses with a protester during a black lives matter event at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on 8 June 2020.

The effect is to make the targets of such words as objects without human characteristics. So, just as you would stomp on a cockroach, a rat or other vermin, the idea takes root that it is okay to exterminate the targeted with the same callousness as you would any pest.

Mr Griffith needs to think a bit further than the end of his nose! Once the word, or similar, becomes accepted—and it is a dangerous word—it can then be used in racist ways to pick out a class of people who commit the most heinous crimes, and send people off looking for racial determinants of crime.

International criminal lawyer, Ula Nathai-Lutchman gave some worst-case examples. South Africa, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda and even today on the West Bank near Jerusalem, we see the effects of dehumanising people.

“Aha!”, I hear you say, “That can’t/won’t happen here.”

Those places never thought it would happen there either. Everything was alright… until it wasn’t.

I advise Mr Griffith that he should desist from trying to be Clint Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry’. A 44-calibre Magnum revolver is useless in fighting hate crime.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) and his wife Nicole Dyer-Griffith during the 2018 Independence Day parade in Port of Spain.
(via Ministry of National Security)

About Mohan Ramcharan

Mohan Ramcharan is a Trinidadian living in England, an LLB (Hons) law graduate, systems thinking practitioner, and critical thinker. He is a product of two cultures and strives to be ethical and impartial in his thoughts and actions.

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  1. Gary was a UNC minister when his infamous remarks were made. Who appointed him?Who blocked alll other candidates from election to his current position? all roads lead back to UNC and Kamla.


  2. Mr Ramacharan is right. Gary trying to be Clint Eastwood. He is out of his depth and making hate speech worse. Hate crime is not something he can address with his traditional ‘Dirty Harry’ tactics.

    • This a deflection! Gary was condemned then, and using ‘cockroach’ is not alkNaila Ramsaran said…she incited poisoning the water supply of her political opposites. why is ramcharan not contibuting an article towards the topic at hand? Is this another arm of the PR campaign to shift and deflect attention from RAMSARAN’S culpability and Naila’s despicable rant? We see you mohan!