Fallouts from the Emergency

By Raffique Shah
September 04, 2011

Raffique ShahNOT surprisingly, the Government has extended the State of Emergency (SoE), citing its “successes” thus far, and all but promising citizens a crime-free country by the time it is lifted. Although no one in Government made this commitment literally, daily, ministers and top officers of the national security agencies dazzle us with statistics that look impressive.

With arrests averaging 150 a day, our law enforcement officers are doing far better than their counterparts in war-torn Kabul or Baghdad. Indeed, if they continue at this rate, and should Government see it fit to extend the emergency for one year, our boys could place more than 50,000 felons, or innocents, behind bars. Do not laugh off the idea of a one-year emergency. In 1970-71, Dr Eric Williams imposed two six-month emergencies, and Sri Lanka and Egypt both had emergencies that lasted 30 years!

So we must consider ourselves lucky that we are facing only three months, at least in the first instance. If the numbers arrested are impressive, the relative tranquillity that citizens now enjoy is cause for celebration. In the designated “hot spots”, residents no longer dance to the music of “potow-pow”. Now, they hear only the rumble of police and army jeeps, the crunch of government-boots, the snapping of handcuffs, and the moans of mothers, “Oh Gawd…mih chile gorn!”

The refrain might be familiar, except that now they do not know where their sons might be. Before the Emergency, they had only to visit the morgue, and later arrange with pastors and funeral agencies for disposal of the corpses. Now, the arrested disappear in Trinidad-Gulags that are so secretive, not even the police can say where they are. I note that attorney and ex-minister Subhas Panday could not get a habeas corpus (present the body) for a client of his who has been detained. The disappearance of young people, even if they are criminals, is something we ought never to condone.

Last week I confessed to having been among the voices that screamed for something to be done about the crime epidemic that has crippled the country. However, I pointed out the serious flaws in the way the Government went about declaring and implementing the Emergency. One week later, I cannot say I feel comfortable with the way things have panned out.

There is a serious racial undercurrent swirling beneath the relative calm the Emergency has brought. It could prove to be explosive if we do not take stock now. The police and army have targeted as “hot spots” districts in which mainly Afro-Trinidadians live. No one, least of all residents of these areas, can deny that there are gangs and criminals in those communities.

But one gets the impression that the police (and maybe the army) have been arresting young men willy-nilly, by race and age profiling. It’s almost as if officers have arrests-quotas, or there is an arrests-competition among the various police divisions and districts.

Let me put it another way. Before the Emergency was declared, did the police not have the names and rap sheets of suspected gangsters? Did they not know where they lived? How could two suspected gang leaders hold sizeable contracts with government agencies? How many more among those arrested as gangsters have “arrangements” with state institutions?

There is also the manner in which people are arrested. As a journalist and former editor, I would love to get photos or video-footage of criminals being taken away by the police. But is it fair to these men, more so if they are innocent citizens who might never be charged with any offence? Often, the media use file photos, which means a particular photo or video-clip can be used repeatedly—wrongfully profiling one person.

I note, too, the Government has decided to clamp down on scrap yards operating off the Beetham Highway. These sites have been eyesores for far too long, and since they are no doubt located on state lands, they should be removed. But since they are businesses and offer employment to nearby residents, why not offer the operators alternative sites?

Besides, the Beetham scrap yards are not the only eyesores in the country. They may be the only ones operated by Afro-Trinidadians. There are many more, some along the Butler Highway, others on main roads in rural Trinidad, that are also eyesores. Many of these latter operate perilously close to roadways, with unlit shipping containers parked nearby. Why pounce only on those in Beetham?

While bandits from the so-called “hot spots” are known car thieves, the “big fish” who buy and alter or scrap the stolen vehicles have big businesses spread across Trinidad. Have the police thought of going after them? What about the gold jewelry that bandits steal? It is common knowledge that they sell these to certain jewellers. Given that many innocent citizens have lost their lives in such robberies, those who profit from banditry should be made to feel the full force of the law.

They do not. Indeed, many of them can be seen at receptions or in upscale establishments with senior political and law officers.

Which is why so many Afro-Trinidadians believe they are being unfairly targeted by the police and Government. This is what ought never to happen, more so in an emergency.

For those citizens who believe that the Emergency is a panacea to the country’s crime woes, I leave them with these words of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin: They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

3 thoughts on “Fallouts from the Emergency”

  1. In time, in time, big fish, small fish, shark, cascadura, guabin will enter the net the Minister of National Security is casting. The government is casting the net presently where the fishes are and I have to say even I am impressed as to how many fishes they are catching. Being an avid fisherman myself, I have been known to catch fish when no one else could (no lie). See I understand the nature of fishes, they tend to find places where they could be protected and feed easily. And so it is in the PNM areas, all kinds of URP, CEPEP and other projects.

    I was impressed with Opposition Chief Whip as she noted that the PNM was planning to build swimming pools in POS to keep the community leaders in the water so that they could take time offs from their neferarious activities. After all community leaders needed to relax too. The Minister of National Security is doing the right thing. He needs time to find all the fishes, the top soldier from the Commonwealth is again proving that he is prepared to take out all fishes. To the nay sayers I said “wait and see”. To the criminals you can run but you can’t hide.

    I hope that the government is taking detail statistics of those who are being charge to get a snap shot of gang activities. Age, race,where they were born,what type of family background etc. This is necessary for programs downstream. In the mean time happy fishing.

  2. Raff,You are right about Innocent ones being locked up.You were there in 1970,and Later on Freed.You can remember these circumstances very well.But I think it is different today.PNM allowed this to escalate and did little about it.PP govt must be very careful as it is very Sensitive,It looks Racial but look at the Victims,Rapes,Kidnapping,Robberies,Murder.Majority of people looks like you.A little Well off,working Hard and Being Robbed with NO Redress.The drug Killings are different.Karamath of Valsayn,PNM,what happened to this case? Ian Alleyne’s Lawyer fought for them,yet he never speak about it.Even when he was Shot at,Alledgely,Never solved it or was it a Hoax?
    Sheron Motors pays him and advertise on his show.Remember they were robbed,alledge, recently.These are very Quiet Happenings.
    Raff,Keep the heat on Shoot straight,as Trained as you are,
    PPGovt has lots of work to do and,You are doing a great service with your Views.Thank You Raff.
    GS deenan, Florida

  3. now if we could only do something about these other killers – Air & water pollution, contaminated food, nuclear fallout etc.

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