What to do with our power: all we know to do is tap

The senior police officer who called a flight attendant racist when she asked him to stop answering his phone as the plane taxied and the SRPs who joined in slapping up a beggar in a wheelchair and rolling him into traffic on a busy roadway are not exceptions. Neither are the team of officers who refused to write Juliet Persad a parking ticket but (to make a show of hauling her gold BMW away) handcuffed and dragged the 56-year-old out of the car she had left in front of her own business. Regardless of rank, these officers are just as symptomatic of the force as the one who stalked me in MovieTowne with two colleagues not wearing badges, threatening to take me off in their vehicle.

My officer had failed to properly direct traffic around an obstruction in the turn lane at the Ana St. lights, and I had failed to understand his instructions. Then the light changed, I was on my way, and all ended well—I thought.

In his mind, I had failed to obey.

I’m not sure how long it took them, but they found me as I emerged from Unit Trust, and I had to think, boy, if police were this good at catching criminals. The burly one, in the wool sweater, asked how long I had been in Trinidad, as if my sense of dignity meant I wasn’t local. I was the reason young people were lawless in this country. I wish he understood how much my experience with him made me want to be lawless.

Instead of showing off the drones and other expensive toys on his scary wishlist in tax-paid ads, Gary Griffith ought to have spent the past four years focused in his various national security roles on building a national coalition for police reform. We’re afraid of them. Maybe as much as the bandits.


What about policing can Gary boast of, speaking on the hustings this year? Forty-six civilian killings last year? Though he has at least learned the fundamental lesson Martin Joseph, rest his soul, failed to: If you are able to do little about crime, never allow yourself to be perceived as such.

I haven’t done enough analysis to feel authoritative, but some police reform measures are just commonsense:

It’s not just who’s Commissioner. Though leadership and the ridiculous appointment process Patrick Manning saddled us with is a key part of any reform.

Far better salaries. I want to pay the people who protect me well. Policing, like agriculture, is a calling for those without other options. To ensure the integrity and hard work of those responsible for our food and safety, we must reinvest their work with dignity if we expect them to serve with dignity.

Rigorous training; tools; motivation. I repeatedly encounter courteous, well-meaning officers who operate in environments that prevent them from being effective.

Aggressive steps to effectively remove the many bad officers across the ranks—which it seems Anand Ramesar will support.

Maybe a more diverse force will help, too. Nizam’s talk about few Indians in the force, though careless, mainly proved that you can’t talk about race in T&T, even when it might matter. (Did he ever pay his traffic ticket?)

Police reform means both fundamentally reengineering another unworkable colonial system and reinvesting the nation in the value of policing. Which requires a strong partnership between civil society leaders, politicians, and the leaders members of the force elect.

Let’s refocus there together, and away from hanging, whether Jim Armstrong or Roamar Achat-Saney should be Police Service Commissioners, and the media and Insp. Alexander sensationalising every new murder.

Though there was much to take issue with about SAUTT, an elite, strategic security operation has to be part of any nation with the economy and location we have.

It is also a vast opportunity for abuse. So strengthened human rights protections and transparency of party and election finance are critical components, too, of police reform. Changes continuing at the Police Complaints Authority are a great start.

As I looked into my uniformed officer’s screwface in Movietowne, though, I realised that we have no idea what to do with our power—and that is so much of what is wrong with everything.

From ACP Reyes to our successive governments—Helen Bartlett and others e-beating children to the countless stories of violence against women and their children by partners for horn or bhagee—they all remind me of my own resort to licks as I struggled to parent my harden little brother for a year. We just don’t have tools. To manage a complex world of relationships. Or we don’t know that we have them. All we know how to do is tap. Hang. Cut tail. Bully. Chop. Shoot.

Crime, bad policing, and poor governance share roots. Emotional illiteracy and stupidity lead to an inability to wield power by those whose gender, political office or weapons confer power on them. We’ve never taught our sons to value, respect, understand and manage their feelings and desires; and our daughters are following fast. Our schools teach few life skills, our parenting tools worked badly in the 1960s, and we still cling to them. Neither colonialism nor Independence have taught us how to be powerful, and over and over we are applying black and white solutions to the pointillism of our nation-building canvas.

Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith.


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