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Vaneisa: Divided we stand… something has to be done T&T

One group: burning tyres, pieces of wood, cardboard—debris really—in protest against the conditions of roads that are impassable or collapsing; or the absence of water via taps or trucks; or maybe it’s a bridge gone, cutting them off; or a fallen tree yet to be cleared; or a downed electricity pole; or clogged drains and watercourses that bring floodwaters where they shouldn’t be.

Officialdom has not responded to their plights, and so, according to their playbook, the next step is to take to the streets. Call up media houses, maybe a rhythm section, and get ready to rumble. 

Photo: Police officers square off with Morvant resident after protests against the police killings of Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(Copyright Trinidad Express)

For the most part, that is the level of organisation. What happens after is largely improvised. Camera crews arrive, and a spokesperson might be hastily selected, and under a blazing sun, glistening bodies air their grievances.

If they make enough of a commotion, law enforcers will arrive. If there are many protesters, they would likely call for back-ups. But if the law enforcers see a substantial enough media presence, then maybe the commissioner of police himself might turn up; such is the power of the camera. And then, who knows what angle might make the news later?

We have seen these scenes so often that they have almost become standard components of a newscast.

And what are these people asking for? Basic human rights. The right to have their concerns addressed. We know that every need will not be met, but what makes people clamour on the streets is the feeling of being ignored, dismissed.

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.

At a far distance, another group is staging protests. Its form and construction is entirely different. Deftly organised via social media, citizens will gather at prominent locations. Articulate and philosophical signs replace burning debris as the method of communication. Photographs, banners and posters make up the armoury.

This past week, a raw nerve was violently slashed by the brutal murder of yet another woman. After days of speculation and hope that she would miraculously emerge, there had to be a collective scream of anguish.

It is not the first time that people have taken to the streets and held candlelight vigils and created public shrines to the fallen. These highly organised demonstrations are now the way of the world; an alternative playbook. In the last week alone, there have been record numbers of gatherings across the country.

Whatever the approach, people are forming collectives to publicly speak their minds. This is a kind of community that is not formed out of geographical proximity, but out of a shared sense of anguish and a feeling that something has to be done.

They are two different types of protests, but they share something profound. People are raising their voices to demand change.

Photo: A protest at the killing of Andrea Bharatt.

To demand that everyone who has accepted our permission to make decisions—institutions, public services, legislators, politicians and priests—to demand that they listen to their upraised voices. Everyone is simply asking for their basic rights to be respected.

In this time of emotional turmoil, when outrage is high and fear propels us towards the primal instinct for revenge, it is understandable that some of the suggestions are gut reactions. As unacceptable as it is, one has to consider that even the law enforcers were overcome by raw emotion when they crossed all kinds of lines with the suspects in their custody.

Yet, this cannot be allowed to be swept aside because it is one of the alarming features of a tyrannical and oppressive society.

We have to think past the cosmetic solutions. I agree with Raffique Shah when he says that PH drivers are not the problem. Those who would commit evil acts come under various guises.

I would even hazard a guess that many of the perpetrators of violence against women—in all its nuanced forms—are members of what we would call ‘respectable society’, and would stand on public platforms and denounce the very sleaziness and cruelty they practice.

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

I do not think the death penalty is a deterrent, nor do I believe that its barbaric quality can be a solution.

One of my abiding role models was Angela Cropper, who died in 2012. Even after her husband, her sister and her mother were brutally murdered in 2001, she remained steadfastly opposed to the death penalty. It is hard when one feels so much anger to hold fast to principles.

There are times when we feel we have to stand up and shout above the politics to let our feelings be heard. The mass responses to the death of Andrea Bharatt have focused ire on various public figures and entities.

We know that enacting legislation is no use if it is not enforced. But who are the enforcers? Do they not come from our midst?

Now that thousands have stood up to say we’ve had enough, we, the thousands, might want to examine our personal roles in creating the conditions that exist. If this is a place where anything goes, how did it get to be so?

Photo: A protester shows off her placard after the death of 23-year-old Andrea Bharatt.

It might seem irrelevant, but it comes down to years of corruption, the inequities in our systems, the willingness to turn blind eyes, even littering and hogging the roads… it is an insidious accumulation.

What is really at the root of what we call deviant behaviours?

Now that we’ve had it up to here, it’s a good time to reflect.

About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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5 comments

  1. thehandbehindthecurtain

    Capital punishment is not a deterrent, it cannot be, because there hasn’t been an execution for over 20 years, something that you do not use cannot be a deterrent. Also when it was used it was only used for murderers, murder is often the final act in a criminals career after having worked their way up eg from small thief, burglar, rapist, gang member and then murder. We need to be willing to act before the criminal can become a murderer. Give them their fair trial but after they are declared guilty in finality execute the traffickers, gang members, violent robbers, rapists, pedophiles, fraudsters, corrupt officials and of course the murderers too. You see we wouldn’t even have to execute every single one of these criminals and the horrible detection rate makes that impossible anyway, but if only they saw that some were executed it would have a massive effect on them. TT is a small country, everybody knows everybody somehow, chances are the poor soul standing before the hangman is their associate, friend, cousin or even their rival and to see him/her go so would affect them, they couldn’t function like normal. Let’s take Dole Chadee and his gang as an argument, how many people did they kill, how much drugs did they smuggle, how many police officers and officials did they corrupt, it took the murder of an entire family to finally stop them when we could have stopped them long before for all the other stuff that they were doing. Certainly their executions saved lives, certainly their executions reminded their criminal comrades that they are mortals. I say it here Dole Chadee and his gang should have been executed for the massive drug trafficking and the consequences of that alone, had we done that the family could have lived and that would have been worth it. I understand that this approach would not be accepted by the Privy Council or other international legal bodies, I understand that most countries do not practice this even where capital punishment is the law, I understand that our nation would be seen as barbaric as the contributor mentioned, I would rather we do it and restore the freedom, human rights and dignity of the innocent 99% rather than play games with criminals so our politicians can sit at the UN and rub elbows with the EU and Amnesty International.
    There is no human right to rape, kidnap, rob, take bribes and murder. If a dog goes around biting children we know what needs to be done, if a criminal has 70 charges to his name somehow we don’t. The dog of course has the excuse that it is an animal and doesn’t know any better. I don’t simply blame the 70charges man and his criminal brethren and sisthren, I blame our leaders in Parliament and the Executive and the general public that allowed him to exist. We all allowed TT to devolve. Fixing TT will take drastic measures, it is impossible that the same system and the same approach that got us here in the first place will achieve the goal of pulling TT back from the brink and to a safe and prosperous TT. When we say ”Together we aspire, together we achieve”, I don’t think they meant the 70 charges man and Dole Chadee. I of course understand and respect and even value the position of the anti capital punishment movement but I must ask is a country that refuses to execute a murderer, gang member, rapist, corrupt cops/Gov officials, the very destroyers of our nations, are they more humane, more moral, or are they horribly obscene, cowardly, even derelict in their duties to the majority that is law abiding by being unwilling and unable to do what must be done, the very laws of nature and man for more than the last 1000 years or more have taught us that murderers, pirates, gang members and the like must be put to death and with good reason, not simply as a ”deterrent” but especially as a punishment that is befitting of their crimes.

    I understand that there is such a thing as a blood price for our existence, the police officer shot at or even killed in the line of duty, the taxi driver who provides valuable mobility only to then be killed by criminals for the TTD200 in his pocket and the Nissan car that he is driving (what about his wife and children!), the woman raped and gang raped by criminals who are hardened by robberies, drug dealing, casual violence etc. Somebody will absolutely die, my position to put it simple is to redirect the ”Who” that dies, you see the majority have the power to do this, so in essence let the gang member be identified as a gang member and be executed so the taxi driver can live, let the ”drugsman aka bad man” be identified tried and executed so that he and his henchmen can’t corrupt the police and terrorize the community with impunity, let a multiple serious crime offender who enjoys raping women be tried and executed so he cannot destroy other women and possibly graduate to murder. Stop them BEFORE they can kill. If we intervene with capital punishment BEFORE they can kill we will absolutely make a difference. I am a gardener, you know what happens when I see eggs on a food plant and I leave them? they grow, the insects hatch and they start to eat their way through my plants, that is why you have to pull them off the moment you see them, maybe not the best example or maybe it is the best example, the point is don’t wait for worst when you can act now, act while you are dealing with a rapist, robber etc. so he cannot become a murderer.
    Obviously there need to be social programs and investment in civil society so that we don’t wait for delinquency and parents must talk to their sons and daughters about this thing called violence, about how to treat women, about the seriousness of sex and relations between men and women, and about how to solve disputes peacefully.
    And please stop the non stop influx of gangster culture into Trinidad and Tobago, let it be cool to hold the pan sticks not the glock, let it be cool to drink a coconut juice not to smoke cocaine, let having a wife or girlfriend and treating her right be cool and not being a womanizer with multiple females around who are being fooled and impregnated only to continue a cycle of single moms, out of control sons, poverty and subsequent crime.
    The good hearted part of Trinidad and Tobago is ready to move forward to a better nation but it can’t with the criminal element being so strong as it is.