I am frequently drawn by the direct and uninhibited language of fellow Trinidad Express columnist Joanne Paul.
In her commentary last Monday, Dr Paul treated with our massive diabetes problem. Interestingly, from my perspective, she came to the conclusion that it was time to acknowledge the truth.
‘Things are bad, bad, bad.’
If we want to stop dying prematurely from the state of fat and unhealthy foods, ‘step one is to accept how bad things are, step two, do something about it. Time for step two.’
Our enduring epidemic of denial in the face of the prevalence of violent crime has hurt us the most. Now we are rocked by exposures of abuse of children in state-supported care homes, of which the responsible authorities were likely aware but heedless—and of which an editorial in the Trinidad Express asserted that it is difficult to believe that they could be completely oblivious.
Before I apply Dr Paul’s steps one and two to violent crime, perhaps I might appeal to her to try to find out what became of the collaborative programme between Johns Hopkins University and Trinidad and Tobago. That programme was working directly towards improvement in our diabetes situation and to take us out of denial and into implementation of programmes to reduce the diabetes avalanche.
Regarding violent crime, which has been killing us for decades, I began writing about the killing fields, the dangerous intersection between the drug trade and big business and the lack of objective justice during the first Patrick Manning-led administration and have continued ever since.
I was clear about where we were heading by trivialising death by murder as ‘collateral damage’ or being unconcerned about murder deaths because it was only ‘those people’, or ‘cockroaches’, who were the majority of the victims.
I asked the UNC/PP Government, when they proclaimed a paper tiger state of emergency, what about detention of the ‘Big Fish’?
Preservers of the status quo, who float on top of the curdled cream of shady economic activity, were uneasy about my take on things. One cork who floated to survival in various public sector jobs, despite changes in Government, memorably told me: “Like yuh don’t believe in anything. You are a nihilist.”
It is clear we may be getting close to Step one, that is, accepting how bad things are—albeit two decades too late. See for example, this opening assertion in an editorial in the Trinidad Guardian Newspaper on Tuesday last:
‘Citizens are living in fear while criminals are roaming Trinidad and Tobago fearlessly. This is the reality today. Fear has gripped the country, as no one knows who the next target may be.’
The problem is that this Government too has failed in its national security responsibilities. Its attitude has deepened the rot nurtured by others. The nonchalance and the defeatism contained in recent high-level statements that the Government has no responsibility ‘to make us feel safe’ or that ‘we are a violent people’ are traumatising.
Managing national security requires a lot more than ‘investing in resources’, even if the physical resources like CCTV cameras or intercept technology are occasionally in working condition.
We are in a policy and implementation crisis. Rushing to find a ‘boom’, in order to reject and replace ‘bim and bam’, is not a solution to the same khaki pants of failed political and institutional games.
Responsibility must be taken and programmes designed and properly managed to alleviate widespread dysfunctional social and institutional conditions, including an education system completely unfit for purpose, as well as to re-engineer casual attitudes to violence.
We cannot lock up (police in schools), gun down (police involved killings), endlessly ole talk (Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob) or heartbreak (the pathetic Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister of State with responsibility for Gender and Child Affairs) our way out of the deep hole that we are in.
One institutional game that has increasingly troubled me is the fate of criminal referrals, complete with relevant CCTV footage or forensic science evidence attached. These go from the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Commissioner of Police and stall there.
Is the work of the PCA being choked off while we ole talk some more?