Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ablogged About Crime Again: Time to Snuff It Out

Unfortunately, sometimes I believe I should have a blog just dedicated to crime as this is truly the recurrent issue for Trinidad and Tobago. Crime just seems to have a life of its own which continues virtually unabated and woefully unaddressed. Surely there are a host of other problems we face and need to tackle but crime is the one-true issue that keeps gnawing –no- chomping away, at whatever sense of basic civility and hope we have for our country.

It has been so long that we have been enduring our Hobbesian torment that has mushroomed and remains with us like some mal-mutating lingering nuclear fallout. It is sad and actually treacherous too, that many of us are becoming or have become inured and desensitized to the crime situation, and somewhat accepting of the way things are now as some ‘new normal.’ And others, because they support the current administration, absolve them of all blame and responsibility.

Nonetheless for the morass, our Prime Minister and his cabinet members keep talking about other ‘this and thats' and ever glowing about forging ties hither, thither and yon, smiling all the while and wanting us all to be doing the same in unison along with them. The government and police authorities seem bent on constructing for us an environment not unlike the structured and sterile harmony in Huxley’s Brave New World. Yet, all their reassurances thus far remain delusional as their rhetoric fails to match the sordid reality around us. Government ministers seize every opportunity to regale us about our increasing city skyline, mega projects and Vision 2020. Yet, as of this posting, our murder rate stands close to the 450 mark. One cannot help but wonder when the year 2020 rolls around if our murder rate will be 2020 too.

The likes of Keith Cadiz, Choc’late Allen, Rev. Cyril Paul among others, have all tried to wake us up as a nation for us to see the rot that has taken hold and continues to spread. It was just a few years ago when roughly 100,000 people signed Mr. Cadiz’s online anti-crime petition and this was when the murder rate stood at about half what it is now. Yet then, when the petition was submitted to our President, Mr. Richards, for all the gentleman that he is, basically stated that his hands were tied: his decision reminiscent of someone named Pilate but ironically in our situation it is the masses themselves who then, and now, continue to be crucified.

The imagery and analogies come readily with respect to what the government is doing with all its glib and glowing talk of all the mega projects they seek to embark upon, images such as: pouring new wine into old wineskins, painting a house where the foundation and structural walls are no longer sound. So even if we were to make Port-of-Spain the most gleaming city in the region and oil were some day to hit $300 or $400 a barrel, all would still be for naught if the country remains riddled with crime. Surely any reasonable, sensible person would agree with this sentiment.

In this year’s budget presentation there was mention of the new 555 Initiative: basically a change from the previous 999 telephone number of the Police Emergency Rapid Response Service. However, as of this posting the Ministry of National Security’s Police Service Web page had only mention of the 999 telephone number to call, with no mention or hint of any 555 Initiative (hopefully by the time you read this the Web site will have been updated). In her budget speech, the Finance Minister also spoke about 450 police personnel being trained in community policing and potential for improved [?] rapid response and a national surveillance network. This surveillance network is one we have been hearing about for some time but delivering no substantial success as yet, given the still high crime rate we have, which the government itself asserts is mainly due to the drug trade which the very surveillance is supposed to address.

Annoyingly too, there is the impression that whenever we hear government and police authorities speak on the crime situation it seems that relief will be with us a la Crazy's calypso In Time to Come. Clear evidence of this was borne out some months ago, when the National Security Minister told the nation to expect the murder rate to be reduced in about three years’ time.

So what’s next then for a longsuffering, ever anxious public? Perhaps firstly the National Security Minister or Police Commissioner should provide us with a template of what the barest minimum our police stations or major crime units might possibly be furnished with in terms of facilities e.g. one way mirrors for suspect lineups, maps (including digital versions) of the major cities and towns in the country, computerized data entry of police reports with printouts given to the persons making the report as part of a receipt or acknowledgement of the report received, a shared database network of drivers licenses, VIN numbers and vehicle license registration. Such a networked database should be accesible at all times to any police officer on patrol anywhere in the country, to check on any suspicious vehicle or driver. Additionally, as has been suggested before, the country with its ebb and flow of kidnappings should introduce an initiative similar to the US AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert system. AMBER Alerts:

interrupt regular programming and are broadcast on radio and television and on highway signs. AMBER Alerts can also be issued on lottery tickets, wireless devices such as mobile phones, and over the Internet.”

As such, a similar local initiative could work in coordination with the local media and ISPs (Internet Service Providers), transport organizations like the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) and taxi and maxi-taxi associations, and the Lottery Control Board. Digital signs on some of the nation’s highways can also be included for broadcasting any and all details relating to a kidnapping. The point here is to instill an overwhelming sense of odds against the kidnappers’ perception of escaping arrest.

Commendably, the Police Complaints Authority is a good idea but there is still no clear indication on how well it is utilized or serves as some sort of evaluator and motivator, albeit a coercive one, for our men and women in gray. Perhaps maybe someone or some nonprofit organisation can launch their own Web site, blog, or wiki, where the public can submit reports of their own interaction with police personnel. This need not only be about complaints but praise as well. One US organisation which provides such a service for ensuring proper police service to the public is a US national nonprofit organisation known as the Police Complaints Center (PCC) which has been in existence for 25 years. The PCC's Web site includes sections on Good Cops and testing of police response times. Policy Link, another US based nonprofit organisation promoting social equity causes, published "Organized for Change: An Activist’s Role for Police Reform" in 2004. This is a community-centered manual for improving community-police relations. Of course the document is pretty much applicable only to the US environment, nonetheless it shows an openness and connection that can be established for improving police and community relations.

We all know that the underpinning of any society is that of maintaining law and order. Our constitution commendably seems to underscore this by stating in Ch. 5 Section 75(2), that the barest minimum of the Cabinet must include the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.

Like any other country, we have a well-laid out and codified set of laws for the populace to follow. Of what good is our law however, when particularly in relation to serious and violent crime, we appear to have little success of apprehending and convicting those who break it? It is not uncommon now to hear many expressing the view that ours has a become a lawless country, where many flout laws and regulations at will. True, our familial relations, educational and religious bodies can and must do more to instil a sense of morality and respect for the law among us. Yet the ultimate stop when persons do break the law is solely under the purview of the police service. And given the level of crime, the police service has a great abundance of work to do.

With the recent killing of the elderly Swedish couple and a subsequent assault on two British couples in Tobago, we are only now hearing from senior police authorities that Tobago is in need of at least 150 police officers. The gaps of securing our safety and apprehending persons are terribly glaring indeed with Tobago now coming more into focus with respect to crime. Surely the wider public would be more assured and in approval of the government for greater police presence and effectiveness than any mega project of gleaming buildings and bilateral agreements that the administration has in store.

In Trinidad and Tobago we take pride in our use of double entendre or double meaning in our everyday communication, entertainment and even politics. We do well to make inferences and read between the lines. And so, perhaps a suitable turn of phrase with the play on a word with its own differing and opposing meanings, can be of use and well accepted and appreciated here.

The word of choice: sanguine - meaning one the one hand, cheerful and optimistic; on the other, bloody, bloodthirsty, murderous. See its entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

For we all do wish to hold a sanguine view of our nation's future. But lamentably, what we do have, for the present, is a sanguinary state of affairs created by the horrendous state of crime in our beloved country.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Somet'ing SAUTT to pass in mih [my] mout’

Now that we are in the month of October, the Christmas preparation in Trinidad and Tobago begins as this month brings the start of the Parang season. For the wider ‘Net audience, parang is a local word derived from the Spanish parranda, meaning 'to make merry' or 'to party.' Parang is a Hispanic styled music played in Trinidad and Tobago around Christmas time.

Traditionally, the themes of this musical genre centered on the nativity but over the years these have come to include more secular and Carnival-type themes, which led to the development of a derivative known as parangsoca, soca (soca being a derivative of traditional Calypso or Kaiso music) combined with parang. And more recently another, derivative, chutneyparang, parang combined with chutney, chutney being the name given to creolized festive East Indian music popular at our Hindu weddings and other celebrations.

All this is well and good, as it has shown the development of the music and its incorporation with the other musical idioms in the country. However, some parang purists have lamented these developments given a trend that seems to totally ignore the traditional or 'true' parang as it was known and performed: its integrity and value becoming completely sidelined and disrespected.

This brings me too, to the title of this posting which, as the locals would recognize, is a takeoff of what can be termed a classic Christmas calypso penned my the Mighty Chalkdust or Chalkie as he is affectionately known. The famous refrain in the calypso “Somet’ing soyt [salt] to pass in mih mout,” has long been used by locals as a plea for the serving of ham when they go visiting at Christmas time. The salty, savoury ham is seen as the centerpiece of Christmas fare: the pièce de résistance, without which somehow the integrity of the Christmas menu has been brought into contempt, despite whatever else has been served.

The question of integrity with respect to the government was again recently raised in parliament when independent senator Dana Seetahal referred to SAUTT (Special Anti-crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago) as the most likely resource that would have been used by the Prime Minister to monitor whether MP Kamla Persad Bissessar had a mole in the Integrity Commission. The irony of this situation as the senator had pointed out was related to several reasons:
  • (Perhaps the most pertinent one being) SAUTT is as yet to be lawfully constituted.
  • If SAUTT was indeed the instructed agency in question, as a policing unit it cannot or should not be taking instructions from political officials.
  • Given that SAUTT is as yet to be lawfully constituted it consequently answers to no one and as such is a law unto itself.

A digest - if it is all digestible -of all this is a conundrum whereby a law enforcing agency not lawfully constituted or not having legal integrity, was supposedly used by a political official to determine if another political official had managed to subvert the integrity another agency, an agency which, curiously, was established ensure the integrity of all the players involved. That agency, The Integrity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago, on its Web site, states that it is:

“mandated under the Constitution to ensure that persons in public life and persons exercising a public function comply with the laws governing integrity in the fulfillment of their duties and responsibilities to the people they serve.”

The above political-SAUTT-Integrity Commission muddle is sure to make anyone’s head spin and seems akin to the goings on at a Mad Hatter’s integri -tea party where similarly to the Carrollian chaos, answerless riddles and arbitrariness seem to rule the order of the day. It is notable that on the Integrity Commission’s Web site Community page, in an article titled What is Integrity, it quotes the famed playwright and former Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel:

“public officials live in a world of half-truth which saps the soul and integrity of any person.…Only responsible individuals of integrity risking the moral dangers of politics and persisting in their quest for a better public life can make a difference in the world.”

Havel as we see, notes that in public life there are inherent moral dangers and undeniably one factor which gives rise to such, stems from the Actonian admonition of what power and absolute power do to us.

But this fallout of possessing power also applies in many relationships e.g. adults abusing power over children, one spouse’s abuse over the other, senior workers abuse over junior staff.

And yet, unfortunately for some too, integrity means doing all that is integral to their own advancement regardless of the expense to others. In other words, their 'integrity' is only to ensure that their me-ism remains intact: lies by omission, half-truths, deceit and cheating bear no unrest upon their conscience so long as their desires are sated. In the book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Swedish writer Sissela Bok, she writes:

“Imagine a society, no matter how ideal in other respects, where word and gesture could never be counted upon. Questions asked, answers given, information exchanged –all would be worthless. Were all statements randomly truthful or deceptive, action and choice would be undermined from the outset. There must be a minimal degree of trust in communication for language and action to be more than stabs in the dark. This is why some level of truthfulness has always been seen as essential to human society, no matter how deficient the observance of other moral principles.”

One can see that the 'worthlessness' Bok warns of here is also not unlike the situation in Lewis Caroll's Mad Hatter’s tea party.

Christmas is a time when we traditionally become more sincere toward and more caring of our family, friends and anyone we encounter in general. Yet while the integrity that we see lacking from those in authority is abhorrent and should not be tolerated, let us nevertheless, ensure to maintain our own integrity so that in all our actions and in whatever service we provide our fellow humankind, our 'menu' contains and conveys the soyt [salt] of our true good selves.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Back to the Blog

Look at the image on the left. By now surely you don't have to "guess whose back?"
Well “OMG!” as we would now say in the texting lexicon, I can’t believe I let so much time pass by. It’s disastrous for me to say the least but let’s just say I had ‘other things’ going on and that sometimes I can be too much of a perfectionist afraid of just blogging for blogging sake.

I am back and will strive harder to keep this blog going from here on. I am glad of the little following I had picked up and for the encouragement and good comments on the quality of my postings. At any rate the word forever is in the title of my blog and my cessation of it after such a short time just absolutely cannot stand (at least for me). So happily and long overdue....I'm back to blogging again.