By Stephen Kangal
February 11, 2007
The arbitrary and selective conduct of the police in responding to recent popular protest movements raises fundamental questions on this response and its linkage with the composition of the protective services in plural Trinidad and Tobago. In cosmopolitan societies but more so in a multicultural but in an ethnically polarised T&T our cosmopolitan people must be provided with every basis to identify with the police. The police must never be perceived or be used as a mechanism for political repression or constitute a potential threat to any democratically elected government or act as an arm of the Executive as it is being perceived today in T&T.
The level of force used by the police to deal with legitimate social protests undertaken by residents in areas such as Barrackpore, Fyzabad and Chatham differs considerably from the response to that initiated in Point Fortin, Morvant and other urban areas. The lack of and skewed responsiveness of the police to Indians victims of the crimes of kidnappings, burglary and banditry as revealed by the articles written by attorney-at-law Anand Ramlogan is a cause for great concern and outrage for the entire national community.
The action of the police in treating with the peaceful protest against crime instigated by Mr. Inshan Ishmael reeks of political victimisation, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention and personal humiliation that cannot find justification in any existing law in T&T. Is this ample evidence of a creeping dictatorship aided by a “mongoose gang” that seems to be motivated by and acting to justify their covert political patronage? The salary of the lowest rank of the Police Officers (constable) .is above $8,000 per month.
In T&T the right not only to join political parties but more importantly to express political views constitutes a fundamental right from which no derogation is permitted except by due process of law passed in accordance with the criteria for constitution-amending legislation. The Anti Terrorism Act did not fulfill this requirement.
These events underscore the urgent need to ensure that the composition of our protective services does not pose a threat to the very people who they are precepted to protect and serve. The only way that this growing threat can be reduced and the attitude of the police response to people’s protests can be uniform, transparent and consistent is by the achievement of ethnic and geographic balance in the service. There is no excuse for 90% of the Police Service being recruited from the East-West Corridor. Perhaps this is why an African-dominated Police Service/Government has “no compunctions visitings of nature” with the predominantly Indian victims of kidnappings. Rumour has it that the rogue element of the police is in league the kidnapping mafia. Only with an ethnically balanced service can the policed co-operate with, identify with and feel protected by an even-handed the police. This is essential for our future peace, justice and stability.
Lord Scarman justified the adoption of a strategy of positive discrimination after the 1981 Brixton riots to make the London Metropolitan Police more reflective of the diversity of London’s ethnic minorities. We do not have to invoke the principles of positive discrimination in T&T to realise ethnic balance in the Police Service. There are enough Indian applicants from recent press information on the list of applicants. In T&T the largest minority that are prime victims of non-gang related crimes needs to know that the police can be trusted. That it will protect and serve them as well.
From my experience only accelerated Indo-T&T recruitment to achieve equity, widespread intelligence gathering and balance in the Police Service is the way forward for realising an effective service.