We must accept reality to spur change


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Category: Reflections 15 Nov 15


Last week as I opened my front door in London to get my early morning treat of a cappuccino in my local coffee shop, I was confronted with a sea of policemen. Their big white vans marked POLICE took up all the parking on my street, and the black and white uniforms, they swarmed around my area, spilling into the park, into the alleyway, and across the road in Scotland Yard. Baffled, and with some trepidation I ventured to get my coffee. At the entrance I was confronted with the incongruous sight of a long line of policemen queuing for coffee. A helmeted policeman stepped aside politely to let me in. I declined nervous now. As I headed home I picked up courage and stopped two policemen and asked them what was going on. Both smiled. The tall one was charming, “Absolutely nothing to worry about. We understand there is going to be a student demonstration and are on stand-by. Have a good day,” he said.

I realised then I was so used to feeling intimidated by our impotent, ineffective police force in T&T: either enervated, slumped at the station, unheeding of distress calls or pumped by grandiose menacing attitudes, their arms cradling their rifles designed to intimidate the people they are supposed to protect, that when I actually came face to face with the friendly neighbourhood cop it felt unreal. And there were no bullets in anyone’s heads. Amazing to us isn’t it?

We who are so used to police and bullets and disappearing witnesses and low crime detection and even lower prosecution. I thought, yes, the Brits have had problems with police brutality but its rare enough to make news for weeks and weeks. Later in the week, I saw some interesting responses to last week’s column when I called for the return of sacked Canadian police commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, who brought serious crime down by up to 20 per cent in T&T under the previous government.

Among them, a reader fed-up with ‘bad news’ wrote:

“Severe gang crime and murders occur in all the big US cities. The same is worse in most of Latin America. Almost every week there is another mass killing by some disgruntled or mentally unbalanced person in the US. Most of our murders (I am not saying this is not a problem!) are gang on gang related. I agree with Ira that we need a better and more professional police force. But still, I’d rather live in Trinidad. We overall enjoy a great life. I look forward to what it is that you find uplifting here, Ira?”

I wrote back saying, unfortunately, in our roles as watch dogs the media didn’t often dispense good news but I would try. Fortunately another reader came to my rescue. He wrote:

“I understand your view, everywhere in the world has crime but it's the role of the police to keep a damper on it so we can live in peace. This they are utterly failing at. Yes we can immune ourselves from the worst of it, if not most of it, but sooner or later it will strike home. You'll have no one to turn to other than friends and family to lend you comfort. But the law enforcement of a society or its failure impacts on every single aspect of life from noise, to traffic, to planning, to safety. What sort of society or country are we leaving for our children to inherit?

We will never have an effective, professional police force. Never. It will only get worse, as will murders, rapes, traffic and the list goes on and on. The only thing that may change is when there is a vociferous and angry enough body of people here to stand up and say, WE’VE HAD ENOUGH. Of the gangs, the drug lords, the rampant corruption in every single sector of life here. It may cost lives but change here can only come from below. The trouble is we don't have the belly to get out there and protest. We don't have the collective balls to march against the corruption, the police, the waste, the squalor, the chronically bad educational system that fails 90 per cent of our most valuable and important natural asset—our children. So, show me how 2020 will be better? 2030? Identify the saviour in our midst? When will we recognize the disease we have? Or are we content to avoid staring into the abyss we are heading to by partying down the islands, retreating into our family warmth to console each other and hope we don't get hit next? Maybe we even rationalise the murders or compare it with gun country USA. But think of those thousands that have already been wasted by police, gangs, drugs, car accidents, hospitals or just bad luck?

“There are countless amazing, creative, artistic, passionate, cultured, beautiful people in these beautiful islands but they thrive in spite of all else. When is the next party, holiday, let's go Tobago, Mayaro. There is, as you know, a constant brain drain. So, Ira if you find some uplifting subject please write, that's OK but it doesn't change where we are or where we are going. We will need to fight and confront our reality if we want to improve the future for our children. Do we have the stomach? I tired! Bring back Gibbs.”

The reader did have something uplifting to say. “The Carnival huts went up today.” That’s pretty uplifting ent? We haven’t had enough yet, clearly.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur