By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 15, 2021
From politician to the ordinary farmer, Hutus united to get rid of the ‘cockroaches,’ working together to exterminate their Tutsi friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members.
—Kennedy Ndahiro, “Dehumanization: How the Tutsis were reduced to cockroaches, snakes to be killed.”
I use to think that the motto of the Trinidad and Tobago Constabulary was “to protect and serve.” Unfortunately, it seems that its present mission is “to belittle and berate.” Listening to Gary Griffith, the Commissioner of Police, one would think he is at war with the society or anyone who criticize his opinions or performance.
Nothing reflects this position clearer than his response to Kafra Kamon’s call for his removal from office. Kambon called the deaths of Joel Balcon and Andrew Morris while in police custody “abominable” and objected to Griffith’s description of young Black men as “cockroaches.”
Kambon, an eminent citizen, repeated what many in the country think. He said: “We cannot allow emotions to drag us down a precipitous incline to a police state where the crimes committed by demented civilians today may pale in comparison to the terrors of officially sanctioned violence and murders without redress tomorrow” (Express, February 26.)
Disregarding the sophistication of Kambon’s argument, Griffith responded with thuggish vehemence: “It seems Emancipation must have come early this year….That sweet sleep he enjoys for most of the year as hundreds of young black boys in ‘his’ community both becomes victims and perpetrators of violent crimes….Kambon claims to be a ‘black leader,’ [but]… he only pops out of his slumber to bully and beg government for money for Emancipation celebrations…which he never accounts for.”
Kambon and the Emancipation Support Committee are not responsible for preventing violent crimes in his or other communities. They seek to promote an awareness of African culture and history among Afro-Trinbagonians and advocate on behalf of Black people’s interests. They have been successful in these endeavors.
One questions whether Griffith understands the social and psychological sciences when he insists that Kambon is “offended by Gary Griffith’s use of cockroach and now has incredibly and racially linked that to mean black. So now he’s organizing a march to get rid of Gary….
“Like others, Kambon’s motives of protecting the criminals is [sic] clear as the glass house he snoozes in, and like everything else Kambon has done throughout his life, it will be an abject failure, because the vast majority of citizens are behind GG, and they know cockroach is not racial but FACTUAL.”
A commissioner’s success lies not only in the use of force but also in understanding the social psychology of his people. He must understand the adverse effects of labeling any segment of the population. Calling young Black men cockroaches sets them up for social stigmatizing, physical and psychological persecution, and racial profiling. It sets the stage for brutalizing and killing them.
Kambon was referring to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which the Hutus slaughtered over 500,000 Tutsis. To achieve its objective, the Rwandan government labeled the Tutsi as “inyenzi” or cockroaches which made it easier to exterminate them.
The Hutus had to demonize the Tutsis before they killed them. Writing in the New Times, Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper, Kennedy Ndhahiro noted: “For genocide to occur, it must be preceded by the dehumanization of a group. To dehumanize means to deny the humanity of someone, reducing them to sub-human…. Equating Tutsi with cockroaches meant that few would think twice about killing and attempting to exterminate something so vile, dirty and sneaky” (March 13, 2014).
Anyone who leads a police force must be aware of this elementary form of psychological warfare. And Griffith was a soldier. But Gary’s problem is not one of unawareness. It might be the manifestation of what Manfred Kets De Vries and Elizabeth Scott call “malignant narcissism.” The traits of this mental illness consist of regular egocentricity, paranoia, a poor sense of self and lack of empathy.
A narcissist can be a dangerous person. His/her “insatiable need for attention leads him or her to seek out a steady source of admiration. Where that is in short supply, the narcissist prefers to inspire fear or hatred than suffer the nightmare of being ignored. And unable to empathize, they are indifferent to the consequences of hurting people” (Adrian Tempany, FT, September 3, 2010).
Griffith’s desire for attention is evident in his response to Kambon and those who criticize him. He noted that the “vast amount of citizens are behind the GG” which implies that his conduct is unimpeachable because the general public loves him. He even commissioned a poll to support this position.
There is no denying that a little dose of narcissism in a leader is a good thing. It “protects [him] from self-harm; it enables [him] to form support networks, to find a mate and to procreate” (Tempany). It becomes disastrous when it contaminates his whole person.
Jennifer Senior called Donald Trump a malignant narcissist who possesses “a defect in moral conscience that is emblematic of psychopaths…. Their self-esteem cannot self-repair” (New York Times, January 10, 2020). This led De Vries to ask: “How does one stop that [little dose of narcissism] from progressing to someone like Donald Trump, whom he calls ‘a malignant narcissist.'” (FT, March 7, 2021).
Griffith’s narcissism prevents him from listening to others and responding to their points of view in a rational way. When a commissioner sets up a vulnerable segment of the population for elimination or persecution, then he has violated his mandate and should be replaced.
Kambon is correct. Griffith should be removed from his office of power unless he seeks treatment for his personality disorder. The psychological health and safety of the country depend of it.