Brute Force, Blame and Bigotry: Police Killings in Morvant

By A. Hotep
July 05, 2020

lettersSome people in this country are intent on shifting the dialogue away from the questionable and seemingly extrajudicial killing of three men by the police in Morvant, which was captured on CCTV footage, to centering discussions on the conduct of black youths in deprived communities. The obfuscation of the issue, evident in the commentaries by leaders, and echoed by radio and online commentators, perpetuates the view that when black people in poor communities are killed and otherwise abused, it is they who are at fault. Another twist to the narrative by the police and by the government is the claim that protests against the killings are part of an organised plot to destabilise the country. This perspective serves the agenda of those who have orchestrated and/or sanctioned the use of strong-arm tactics to stifle the protests. Meanwhile, the real issues of community neglect, crime (including white colour crime) and the heavy-handed approach of the police in these mostly black communities are pushed aside.

We saw it for ourselves on TV and online: the police beat, shoved, teargassed, and pointed guns at unarmed protesters in Port of Spain a few days ago. They treat black people from the poor communities–not just the criminals with guns — as though they are enemy combatants. How then do they expect the wider community to react? The response to what they deem to be murder by the hands of the police — burning tyres and blocking roads — reflects years of frustration that people in these communities have endured. It is their way of articulating hurt and anger to the rest of society which has shown them nothing but scorn and neglect.

Highlighting the violent criminality that exists in these areas, which politicians and outsiders are wont to do, without addressing history, is a show of arrogance and ignorance. What we are witnessing when we see heightened criminal activities from these communities is the effect of a long history of racism and neglect that allowed a handful of gangsters to take control of these communities. We are also seeing the effects of politicians exploiting people’s desperation with short-term projects to get votes, then turning their backs on them. Why are people contented with stigmatising an entire community because of the conduct of a minority? These are not enemy combatants to be disrespected at every turn.

We must also ask ourselves, why should people in these communities turn against gangsters and place their trust in the police when many of them know members of the service who are on some gangster’s payroll? How are they to trust the police who are often abusive and who label their demonstrations as “disruptions” to the country. This is the same police, including Superintendent Alexander from “Beyond the Tape”, that had its day of total policing which disrupted the entire country as part of their protest. How could they not, in this regard, empathise with the protesters who also believe that their issues are urgent? The current Commissioner of Police, known for his intemperate language and combative demeanour, apologised for the “total day of policing”, but he is not innocent either.

The public has seen the CCTV footage and unless other evidence reveals that which we did not see, the police killings in Morvant seem to be unjustified. It does not matter how many charges the departed may have faced or whether or not they were involved in criminal activity; it is not the job of the police to take revenge and to operate like judge, jury, and executioner. From the footage captured, what people have generally observed is different from the narrative given by the police. How many other similar cases have been swept under the carpet?

The racist and classist attitude of law enforcement should not be dismissed because it is black police officers who abuse other black people; they were trained to view poor blacks the same way as others do. Black people have learned to be anti-black and harbour discriminatory attitudes over others whom they believe they are superior. Their treatment of them is worsened once they are in positions of power.

For those who say that the people in depressed communities are the cause of their problems and that they should get an education to rise out of poverty (as though many do not attend schools and get decent grades), I beg to disagree. What passes for education in Trinidad and Tobago is mostly rote learning that trains people to remember and regurgitate information in preparation for employment. People are not educated to be creative and truly self-serving. People are not informed about the history of Trinidad and Tobago, and African history in general, to understand their circumstances. They are not informed about how racism, colorism, classism and stereotyping, in general, robs them of opportunities. They are certainly not made aware of how many wealthy folks in the country acquired their wealth. Most did not become wealthy through university education. Many did not get wealthy by operating honestly. How many businesspeople can write an honest account explaining their rags to riches story or share a history that can serve as a roadmap for others? If any of them opt for the challenge they would have to omit the bribes and protection money they pay, the tax dodging, the wheeling and dealing with drug dealers — if not the outright selling of drugs — and the money laundering schemes. They would have to explain how they conspire with politicians to get big contracts at inflated prices and to keep the minimum wage at a bare minimum. Trinidad and Tobago is awash with wealth from illegal activities but the police and politicians mostly train their guns on black communities. There is also a myth that a university degree guarantees a lucrative career. However, many university graduates cannot find employment and many of those who do are forced to accept low wages. Indeed, there are many more graduates in this country than the business community and government agencies can absorb. These issues require a comprehensive assessment of the capitalist model that we have inherited to determine whether it, as well as the current education system, serves the long-term needs of the majority.

On the eve of calling the election, the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a Community Recovery Committee for socially and economically troubled areas. This should have been the priority of the government from day one, with a clear idea of the problems and a strategy for solutions. Even with the government’s COVID-19 recovery team and plan (really an attempt to recover the status quo), they did not appoint persons who appreciated the problems in these depressed areas. The Prime Minister is now, at this 99th hour, attempting to consider these communities in response to violent protests. Certainly, it is never too late to try, but the current government is at fault; the country is also at fault for having turned its back on the plight of depressed communities, and for the racist comments and attitudes that have stigmatised entire communities.

Trinbagonians need to come to terms with their prejudices and support efforts to uplift historically-neglected communities, failing which we would all “eat de bread de devil knead”.

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