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The Keith Noel 136 Committee - More white saviours
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2005

By Ayanna

The Keith Noel 136 Committee is everywhere. Its advertisements are in the print media, its website and petition are making swift rounds on the internet, its volunteers are seeking signatures from the general public by walking around knocking on doors all over the country and the print, television and broadcast media has dutifully been covering its activities every step of the way. There have even been a few letters to the editor in the print media commending the group for its stance and its decision to use a petition to appeal to President Maxwell Richards to "Do something about crime". Everyone seems to be casually accepting the group's intentions, motivations and the validity of its actions. It is such naivetÚ and ignorance that usually places people in a position to be taken advantage of where they end up endorsing moves and positions that they have not really thought out.

Several factors are at work here that are preventing people from questioning the motivations of this group and at the core of it all is 'good old fashioned' racism and white privilege. When whites in the elite business community first began calling on the government to "Do something about crime" a month or so ago, people will recall that suddenly the issue of hanging resurfaced, and in the blink of an eye Lester Pitman was served with a death warrant despite the fact that his case was currently under appeal. People with memories from a bit further aback will remember a similar scenario playing out with Glen Ashby. The whites and elites of Trinidad and Tobago practically threatened the government to do something about crime, or else. In a curious turn of events, at the very hour of Mr. Ashby's hanging, his appeal against the dismissal of a constitutional motion was being heard in the Court of Appeal. Although an agreement had been made that the State would not proceed with execution until all avenues of appeal were exhausted and an application for a stay of execution was sent early that morning (before the stated time of proposed execution), Ashby was inexplicably hung early. The similarities with the present Pitman case are startling. After Ashby's execution, the government was then applauded for doing something about crime, ironically congratulated for breaking the law and trampling on both Ashby's human rights and the course of the legal system. The connection between white pressure on the government and the carrying out of questionable executions of black prisoners on death row is apparent. Why then have so few if any journalists in the mainstream media highlighted it?

The Keith Noel Committee petition follows the same pattern. Criminal activity reaches a level where the whites and light brown elites feel their businesses could be threatened or one of their communities is directly affected and suddenly we hear the familiar clamour for action. Conveniently, an African male ľ Keith Noel, is killed and these same white elites annex themselves to his family, forming a committee, collecting signatures from Trinidad and Tobago citizens to petition the President to "Do something about crime". No one asks what such a petition is supposed to achieve, no one asks why such a petition is going to the President who really has no jurisdiction to implement crime fighting strategies, and no one asks what this 'something' that they wish the President to do actually is. The committee has made no specific recommendations for crime fighting initiatives, it has not made specific discoveries as to the reasons for the escalating criminal activity and it has not made any particular request whatsoever to the President.

Under any other circumstances, the committee would have been dismissed as a bunch of jokers who have proposed nothing and are engaged in an exercise in futility. Yet somehow in this case, their actions are lauded and given much mainstream media attention. Even those in the media whom I have heard suggest that maybe the petition is going to the wrong person, or questioning what a petition against crime is supposed to do exactly, have still managed to applaud the group for at least doing something and hoping that some good will come of the whole exercise. Now, if an African group had posed such a course of action it would have been dismissed out of hand as a fruitless and ill-conceived endeavour. The holes in the plan would have been clearly revealed and PNM stalwarts would have certainly tried to uncover a conspiracy between this group and the opposition UNC to embarrass the government. Similarly, if an Indian group had begun this initiative it would have also been dismissed as an effort to embarrass the country and discredit the PNM. But whites piggybacking on the misfortunes of blacks propose the initiative and they are commended for having the foresight to 'do something'.

Right thinking individuals should read the play by now and see that 'do something', of course, is code for hanging more blacks and Indians on death row, turning Laventille, Morvant, Arima, Diego Martin and Carenage into police states, having more police search homes of the poor and shooting suspected bandits (and former accomplices) with impunity; 'do something' is a way for the government to sell to people that it is addressing crime and has a clue as to what is going on in the country; 'do something' is a ruse, a general distraction that satisfies all the necessary elements and makes the country 'safe' again for the elite to carry on its white collar crime in peace without undue attention being called to its own activities. In Trinidad it suits everyone just fine that crime is only defined as the illegal activities of poor Blacks and Indians and being tough on crime means killing, beating and locking them up. And of course, it is these crimes that make for better sensational press items, make better fodder to emotionally terrorize a nation and bombard it with images of a nation 'suddenly' gone crazy because of the delinquent, poor, African youth. Crime does not apply to the whites and brown skinned elites of the country; it simply applies to everyone else. In this way 'everyone' wins; everyone that matters, that is.

The truth is that whites in this country are somehow seen as impartial, as credible, as those on whom 'both sides' can depend. They are supposedly above the racism debate, which has been confined to Africans and Indians. The Whites, Syrians and mixed groups are seen as the 'true' non-racist Trinis who go to cricket in the Trini Posse stand and advertise Carib beer in fun loving commercials. They go to Maracas Beach and eat bake and shark, play Mas religiously and patronize theatre and the arts. They control the business interests and so they are seen as being 'concerned' with the bottom line, so of course their motives are not questioned. They continue the construction of the white saviour / plantation owner who only intervenes in the squabbles of its slaves when it begins to affect his own great house and has all the impartiality of a supreme judge. The biological family of Keith Noel certainly did not question their motives or the futility of the exercise. Blacks are only too glad when whites appear to become their champions and appear to be caring about their issues. It gives the situation some validity, as if the big boys are now in your corner. They are quite content to be someone's pet Negro for a day and allow themselves to be used. This factor, in addition to the grief that I am certain the family felt at the death of their relative and their desire for some retribution and attention to be given to their plight, made them easy fodder for this group whose agenda may be anything but 'pure'.

When informed Africans speak of the lasting legacy of the plantation culture on the Caribbean psyche and the ongoing racism that governs our mainstream media, education system and legal system, people are quite willing to turn their heads and accuse us of being racist or living in the past. Yet here we see, as usual, the divisions between Africans and Indians benefiting whites as it always has. In an article carried on, the question was raised whether, despite the media polls, the average Trinidadian is in support of the death penalty at all. The point was made that certainly UNC supporters who claim the ruling PNM to be racist and criminal would not support a PNM government having control over lives of so-called criminals, political or otherwise. Certainly, PNM supporters would not support the penalty under a UNC government either for similar reasons. I am certain that people can recall the furore that arose over the hanging of Dole Chadee and his gang and the insinuation that they were executed to prevent links between their activities and the then UNC Attorney General, Ramesh Maharaj from being highlighted. One rumour has it that the then Attorney General promised US authorities to have Dole Chadee and his gang executed in exchange for commuting the death sentence of his brother Krishna Maharaj (who was on death row in Florida) to life imprisonment. Following the execution of Dole Chadee and his gang, his brother's sentence was commuted.

In light of this history, let us now look at the current situation. In walks a white controlled group looking for political credibility and calling for 'something' to be done. They get mainstream media attention and thousands of signatures of ordinary citizens in support of their vague and ill-defined 'something' that is to be done against crime; a something that has the potential to become a very big something indeed, that the very signatories have not been made privy to, or have not even thought out. Is this an attempt to lay the groundwork for a group's political ambition? Is it an attempt to divert attention away from other pressing issues in the country? Is it an attempt to surreptitiously gather support for the death penalty? Is it yet another attempt to embarrass the country internationally? In truth, no one really knows and very few even have a good sense to be suspicious. Again, white over brown over black (and in Trinidad we can certainly add over Indian) applies and white involvement means ultimate and complete sanction. Na´ve Africans, Indians, and mixed in-betweens across the political and geographic spectrum casually signed their names to a petition that says nothing, simply because people of the right shade peddled it. This group now has the nerve to ask for funds from the public to continue to fund its ad campaign against crime and I am certain they are guaranteed to get many na´ve people to fritter away their own resources continuing the cycle of the resources of blacks funding organizations and moves that do not have their best interests at heart.

The more we continue to run from our racist and colonial history and pay lip service to the issues that continue to play out day after day because of it, we will simply remain na´ve and vulnerable. Unscrupulous, malicious people will continue to do what they do best because they can and the big time criminals with the resources and political clout will continue to cover their tracks because they can. They will also continue to blame crime on those who are simply without the resources to cover theirs. It is not that the issues are so difficult to see, it is that prejudice and unaddressed racist and superiority and inferiority complexes prevent people from developing proper discerning powers. Na´ve people who continue to leave their education in the hands of fools and casually accept the word of those who are supposed to be pillars of society will simply continue to be its victims.

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