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
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.