By Raffique Shah
April 30, 2019
Gary Griffith’s unilateral declaration of a “cold war” on the conventional media in general, and the CCN Group in particular, was as predictable as it was inevitable. As a garrulous ex-military officer whose larger-than-life public image was literally forged by and in the mass media, he failed to understand that unlike publicists who are paid to promote a product or personality, successful media houses thrive on their fierce independence in disseminating news and views.
While Griffith was good “copy” for newspapers and radio and television stations from as far back as when he was military aide to then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, he became fair game for scrutiny and criticism once he entered the political arena. His exposure increased exponentially when he was appointed Commissioner of Police, the hottest of hot seats in the State apparatus, a job he campaigned for using—what else?—the media.
His recent fusillades of verbal fire that targeted this newspaper’s editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder was not merely misdirected (in the sense that she is not solely responsible for the contents of the publication), but also betrayed a measure of ingratitude towards an editorial team that was more than fair to him during the contentious selection process for the position of top cop.
Indeed, the Fourth Estate, in consonance with the wishes of the majority of the population, welcomed Griffith’s appointment, hoping that he would stem the tsunami of crime that has reduced this one-time paradise isle to a hell in which ghetto gunmen, sundry gangs, and a lawless and corrupt minority call the shots, quite literally. The law-abiding majority cower in the confines of their homes that are no longer safe havens, since they face invasions that often end with families being robbed of all their valuables, and increasingly, the lives of their loved ones.
Righting these wrongs, restoring law, order and justice to the extent that police powers permit them to act, these were what the media and the population expected of Griffith. No sane citizen thought he and the Police Service could do it overnight. He asked for one year to reverse the crime spiral: people were prepared to give him two, three, four years—as long as they saw incremental improvements, felt marginally safer every day.
To be fair to him, his Sandhurst-style leadership-from-the-front was a welcome change from the inertia that seemed to have paralysed most of his predecessors. And by design or happenstance, he enjoyed some successes, the highlights being the rescue of victims of kidnapping.
But the population judges the tide of crime by the number of murders and gun-related crimes that occur. And the numbers here are staggering: barring some miraculous intervention, murders will likely cross the 500 mark for the second consecutive year. More frightening are the increasing incidents of wild-west-style shootouts, presumably between gangs, that erupt day or night, mostly in so-called “hot spots”. These brazen battles endanger the lives of innocent citizens, including children attending schools.
Clearly, more guns are in the hands of criminals, and of greater concern, more ammunition. Griffith’s “one shot, one kill” policy does not apply to the gangsters. Theirs seems to be “one magazine, one kill”, or “shoot till you make the target a strainer”.
Not only do the criminals have more ammunition, and maybe even superior guns to the Protective Services’, but several people-in-the-know have told me that police officers and soldiers are afraid to enter districts like Laventille, Beetham, Sea Lots and others. I cannot believe this. I think of my days as a young platoon commander and wonder if my men, especially No 6 Platoon, would have hesitated to run through any of these battle zones. I think not.
So if the media are focusing on shortcomings of the Commissioner, or questionable actions he has taken, they not only have a right to speak out, but to expect reasonable answers. Take the near-genuflection to reggae singer Buju Banton, which I found was unbecoming of the CoP, but which was fully endorsed by Minister Stuart Young and Prime Minister Keith Rowley. Three of the most senior officials in sovereign T&T would peddle bull that had Griffith did not apologised to the drug-felon for a search of his hotel room by members of the narcotics squad, Jamaicans might have boycotted T&T goods, and that Government might have even contemplated severing diplomatic relations with us.
What utter hogwash! The only explanation I can think of for Gary grovelling before Buju Banton, and Young and Rowley endorsing it, is that some obeah-man told them the ritual was critical to them winning the upcoming elections. I know that sounds outrageous, but what else could explain their conduct? Look, stop making us out as fools and do your juju in private. If you must be obsequious to someone with ankle-length dreadlocks who has immense talents, how about our own Roy “Pappy” Cape, or Black Stalin who, some years ago, was charged by the police for the possession of one “joint” of marijuana? One joint!
Remember when Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then PM, bowed and touched the feet of some Indian dignitary (India’s PM Modi?) how Rowley and the PNM criticised and ridiculed her? From my limited knowledge, that is how Hindus pay respect to their elders or seniors.
But back to Gary: he cannot consider himself above criticism by any citizen or media house. I am not suggesting that editors and journalists are infallible, that many practitioners are not sloppy and a few rude, or that the mainstream media have any special rights outside of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
By similar token, though, the CoP is a senior servant of the citizenry who must earn their respect by his every word and deed. Gary must stop being petulant, zip his lips and get down doing the job he was hired to do—bring crime under control. Get those guns out of the hands of criminals, and put the gunmen and gun dealers behind bars—permanently.
We have a war to wage and win. The time for talk has long expired.