The CJ’s Wisdom

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 20, 2011

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeSooner or later it had to happen. Amidst the chaos and head-in-the-sand posture, a mature voice had to rise up and address the implications of the state of emergency (SOE) that was declared by the government. While so many of my fellow citizens, buoyed by the apparent calm of the society welcomed the suspension of many of our civil liberties, it took a brave voice to remind us that a constitution cannot suspend itself and that the declaration of a SOE does not automatically abrogate all of our right as citizens.

Such a restatement of our citizens’ rights was not only essential. It was crucially crucial (in the words of the Rastas) to assert that we are a nation of laws rather than a nation bullying personalities; especially when we are overwhelmed by an irascible and ill-tempered Attorney General who no one elected but who believes that his major function is to intimidate and chastise the public and an Opposition that has lost its way, unable to say much about anything; an opposition that has remained mute, unable to articulate a specific position on the SOE.

In spite of the PNM’s silence, at least we know where the CJ stands, how the judiciary sees its role; and how seriously he takes his function. Listening to the CJ address at the opening of the new law felt like a cool drink of water in a hot barren dessert. It was just what the country needs at this time. It was wise for him to remind the public that as one arm of the state it “hold a critical role in our government structure;” that, in fact, it remains part of the triumvirate that seeks to maintain the integrity of the society.

As a black man, the Chief Justice could have been pleased with what he is seeing. He admits that the nation is in crisis and bemoans that over the last 50 years “we have too often placed politics above statesmanship, personalities before principles and yes, family and tribe before the nation. We have lost the broad sense of community. In perceiving each other as enemies, or at least rivals for our country’s rich heritage, we have attacked and denigrated each other at the expense of those offices and institutions that are meant to provide the connecting tissue of our national corpus, and therefore should be held above the fray.”

These were brave words for a fitting occasion but I am not too sure where and how our CJ draws the line between politics and statesmanship; personalities and principles; tribe and nation since they are all so closely bound together. Necessarily, the CJ—if only in respect of the separation of powers—could not come out and say that the effects (perhaps, even the intent) of the SOE fell disproportionately on one of the tribes as certain politicians continue to do their best to extract the most political mileage out of it.

This is why the CJ bent over backward to emphasize the role of trust in the polity and its importance in binding any nation together. He noted: “Trust is important in strained economic times when we ask citizens to endure hardships. Trust is important for effective policing otherwise citizens will not cooperate and share information. Undoubtedly there are times when vigorous action must be taken in the face of a real threat, there can be no gainsaying that, but an effective justice system must ultimately rely on the trust of our citizens.”

Such a statement takes us back to what I asked last week when I noted that there are 180,000 Africans within the ages of 15-34 in Trinidad and Tobago of which approximately are African males. When the state and its apparatuses—including the courts, the police, and the politicians—brutalizes and criminalizes a significant segment of these young men—keeping in mind that their next of kin are also affected by this brutalization, how are they supposed to emerge from this experience trusting the system, reaffirming principles, honoring the nation?

It turns out that all of the leaders of the state were there to listen to the CJ: the prime minister, the acting president, the speaker of the House and the AG. The CJ did not have to point his finger in any direction but those who sat at his feet must have known what he was talking about if they possess an iota of sense, sensibility or decency.

Indeed, they must have frozen when he reiterated the words of the preamble of our constitution that state: “we are a people who respect the principles of social justice and therefore believe that the operation of the economic system should result in the material resources of the community being so distributed as to subserve the common good.”

In uttering those words a black CJ could not but have in mind the fact that young black men were being thrown in jail for a $1,000 worth of marijuana or the non-payment of $100 parking ticket while we are yet to find to person to whom a consignment of 20 million dollars’ worth of marijuana was shipped. No breaking down of apartments; no knocks at the door at night; no Mr. Big; n nothing.

I would have like to hear Keith Rowley offer something that reiterated our core values as a nation as I would have been happy if the PM could tell us, apart from the need to pick up young black men at random, why it remains necessary to extend this SOE and how such an action reaffirms our core values as a nation.

It was therefore a welcoming sight to see the intervention of the CJ if only because it served to remind us that we are a society of laws rather than men and that every action the government takes should be in the interest of all of its citizens rather than those of a tribe. In spite of the popular support the SOE we will live to see it as one of the darker periods of our history.

7 thoughts on “The CJ’s Wisdom”

  1. “In spite of the popular support the SOE we will live to see it as one of the darker periods of our history.” I beg to differ Mr.Cudjoe.

  2. Selwyn and others are applying American racial constructs which are not applicable in T&T to interpret a situation in T&T.He conveniently fails to discuss a significant part of the CJ’s speech which deals with unity and unqualified support for the SOE.

    Some words of wisdom from Israel Khan.

    Fed-up with racial spin
    Tuesday, September 20 2011

    THE EDITOR: I am totally fed-up with some of our politicians and misguided citizens who have been putting a racial spin on the arrests of citizens who have been taken into custody during the state of emergency.

    They have been alleging that the arrests were based on race. I refuse to believe that policemen and soldiers of African descent are arresting citizens of African descent based on race.

    But it is quite true that the great majority of persons taken into custody during SoE are of African descent. Perhaps the answer for this phenomenon lies in the fact, as made in a United Nations Development programme Draft Report that in Trinidad 83 percent of gang members are of African origin, 13 percent East Indian and four percent of other ethnic background.

    But I hasten to point out that if there are isolated cases of racial bias in the arrests of citizens of African origin they must be investigated and if proven right the officers in question should face the full brunt of the law.

    And I make the point that historically this country has had no real racial problems between citizens of African origin and East Indian origin. And every patriot must condemn and cast into oblivion those bigoted misfits (be they politicians or misguided citizens) who play the race card for their own narrow misguided self-interests.

    By now the politicians all know that the silent majority is not concerned about race. They want to know what their plans are for solving the problems for this country and whether they will deliver or just talk.

    In conclusion, the sagacious caution the Honourable Chief Justice offered to the Nation in his address for the new law term is worth repeating I quote:…it is in extraordinary circumstances in which the Country finds itself….Now is the time for restraints, careful thoughts and measured action and response…we only have this last chance to fix this nation. Let us not allow it to slip from our grasp…we must take pride in our heritage and understand where we came from but please understand that there is no mother Africa, India, Europe, China or Lebanon to return to.

    We are children of the Caribbean and we have to stay right here and fix it.”


    St Augustine

    1. It’s called trying to keep your job T-Man , my naive friend. Hopefully he has as much ‘cohones’ as our fearless DPP. What do you know T-man idly quoting the now grateful Israel Khan , whose wet behind de ears son , is suddenly the overseer of our nation’s backward prison. Yeah right , dat’s some objectivity for you.
      How can one still love this underachieving country folks? Maybe US $100,000 for our PM , along with her entourage , travel to the UN Grand stage ,to give some 10 minutes speech, on Health related ,Non communicable diseases , while her country endured, an unwarranted , state of emergency, most of our hospitals lie in a decrepit state, and in the case of Tobago… well, you fill in the blanks, as folks die of belly pains and head colds.

    2. TMan, Khan is simply trying to whistle his scared way past the historic graveyard.

      Racism is not only in T&T, but there has also never been an era since the arrival of Columbus when it hasn’t been the driving social force and economic indicator in the Caribbean.

      All the imperialists: the French, Spanish, Portuguese, the British practised it.

      However, while for the Catholicised powers, the first three above, one’s race was relatively less significant than one’s religion and one’s class, with the British, in addition to religion and class, race had the same status.

      Therefore, wherever the British went, they were more skilled than the others at ‘divide and rule’ tactics. This is because they had more available tools.

      Therefore, what they did eventually between Africans and Indians in T&T, Fiji and East Africa, they had done in Ireland.

      There, however, they had divided the Irish, not by race, but by class, and mot importantly, by religion: Protestant Irish versus Catholic Irish.

      The Protestant Irish were used as a fifth column against their Catholic brethren. They were given the lands belonging to the Catholics.

      Does this sound familiar within T&T? And with what effects then and now?

      This division is still seen today in the colours of the Irish flag, a tri-colour of Orange, White, and Green. The green symbolozes the Catholic patriots for whom Ireland was the green, or the Emerald Isle. The Orange reflects the support by Protestant Irish for William, Duke of Orange, later a British king who waged war, like Cromwell and Elizabeth before them against Catholic Ireland. The white is the symbol of peace now had between them.

      The British, ‘perfidious Albion’ did the same thing in T&T between the Africans, who were, like the Catholic Irish very rebellious—in fact, Catholic Irish were called the ni**ers of Europe—and the Indians, used as fifth columns against the Africans.

      The Indians, like the Protestant Irish were also given lands, but this time lands first brought into cultivation by the slaves (who were at the same time denied rights to own land or even businesses by the British)

      The only slaves who received land from Britain were those who, in America had fought for the British during the war of American Independence. Called British Loyalists, they were settled in Nova Scotia and in Moruga as ‘Company Towns’.

      Unlike the British, the French, for example did not deny Blacks from rising based on their colour.Therefore, decades before any Black Britisher, or Black Brittanica could achieve any such rank in Britain, the offspring of French slaves could receive the Legion of Honour, or Légion d’honneur.

      One of these was the greatest French author and playwright in the 19th century, Alexandre Dumas, fils.

      His father, Alexandre Dumas, pere, wrote famous “The Three Musketeers”. The father and grandfather of these authors was a French general in charge of Artillery stationed in Saint Dominique or Haiti, and a slave woman Marie-Cesette Dumas.

      In fact, the name, Dumas by which these authors are known was a slave name. The son, a more renowned author than the father wrote a novel, The Lady of the Camillias, which became the play, Camille. In 1853, Verdi, the Italian Romantic composer used this as the basis for his opera, La Traviata.

      These do not excuse the Catholic imperialists from their crimes, but within the 21st century TnT, ignoring
      or pretending that racism does not exist is at best, disingenuous.

      Look around you and see who have become the beneficiaries of past British tactics. In fact, the fifth columnist role accorded to Indians and based on the Bristish knowledge of their varna skin-colour based sense of virtue was seen in the 100% opposition to independence by the then Indian Hindu leadership.

      They travelled to London to try to prevent Independence while the Africans joined forces with Moslem Indians, and others to gain Independence.

      Also, the only race-based political parties ever seen in TnT were Indian hindu-based parties.

      There is a lot more, but suffice it to say that until these two major races see themselves, not in the old
      ascribed roles of the British, but in roles which acknowledge the sacrifices made by each and the historic
      roles of each, that there would be no Indian Arrival Day were it not for African Emancipation Proclamation Day, they both risk settling differences the way the Protestant and the Catholic Irish did.

      And having to rely on the British as peace-makers!

  3. My concern about the state of this nation is based on our inability to engage in meaningful dialogue about real issues but rather resort to a reactive approach devoid of empirical data and sound academic research. As a result most of what passes for information are based unfortunately on rumor and perception. So when for example the perception is that only ‘poor black young males’ are the targets of this ‘Indian majority government’ the lack of proper crime data and research outcomes are sorely lacking to confirm or refute such beliefs. For example, data on the prevalence of white collar crimes are perhaps deliberately ignored as perceived, due to the status of the individuals involved. How often do we hear of corporate tax evasion and non-payment of vat; shaddy financial deals at the corporate & management levels only resulting in resignations and the formation of new entities only to continue in their nefarious activities.

    I would like to suggest that until the perception that ‘the law only applies to the poor and defenseless not the so-called rich and influential; and must be dispensed with equity and fairness’ then I’m afraid that as a nation all efforts at developing a just society built upon the rule of law will fail miserably. People are carefully observing the SoE as a test case for the integrity of our constitutional safeguards.

  4. Good article. This SOE should be considered a success only if the MAJOR importers of drugs and guns into T&T – the ‘BIG FISH’ are arrested and convicted. “The occupational hazard of democracy is know-nothing voters” – Maureen Dowd.

  5. “Such a statement takes us back to what I asked last week when I noted that there are 180,000 Africans within the ages of 15-34 in Trinidad and Tobago of which approximately are African males. When the state and its apparatuses—including the courts, the police, and the politicians—brutalizes and criminalizes a significant segment of these young men—keeping in mind that their next of kin are also affected by this brutalization, how are they supposed to emerge from this experience trusting the system, reaffirming principles, honoring the nation?”

    At last count there were a mere 2000 people arrested many on minor offences. As far as I know amongst the 2000 there was no great brutal excesses by the police and military who are doing a wonderful job in protecting law abiding citizens. Some people would argue that the 2000 should not have been arrested because it would upset their family (lol). Yet the security forces have been conducting survellance of these hotspots as was evident by the CCTV footage. These are for the most part not arbitrary arrest, these are intelligence driven arrest. And the Nelson gang will be taken in or out in the process of time.

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