Gunning for glory

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By Anthony Deyal

If in these COVID days your country is in lockdown mode and a State of Emergency with police roadblocks everywhere yet, despite all this, citizens are shot to death by men in cars. Who would you believe are the perpetrators and who will you hold responsible? Or, let’s try another angle.

A few days ago, a Trinidad newspaper reported, “police vehicles equipped with flashing blue lights and sirens may not be under the control of legitimate police officers, as some of the 1,700 vehicles under the control of the service cannot be found.” The story added that the Commissioner of Police (CoP) Gary Griffith “admitted police vehicles may be in the hands of unauthorised people.”

Interestingly, and for the record, the CoP inherited a “Stolen Vehicles Squad” which long preceded him. It is said that the thieves are even stealing the wheels off the police vehicles but, praise the Almighty, the Squad is working tirelessly to catch them. Actually, in 2007, fourteen years ago, a newspaper ran a story about stolen car parts, “Police officers are now forced to spy on their own after a Sky-watch surveillance unit was placed at Sea Lots in Port-of-Spain to monitor larceny of car parts from stolen vehicles.” The commissioner in charge then, threatened that “officers who break the law will be charged”. None ever was.

However, if you Google “Trinidad police officer charged…” you will get 3,340,000 results in .56 seconds. These include cops arrested for murder, robbery and theft. In addition, three police officers were stopped on their way to commit crimes and there was one who was “wasting a police officer’s time.” I believe that what we need are four CoPs – one for crime, one for fraud, one for traffic and one for media relations. I suppose there is some kind of irony in having a four CoP police leadership in a four CoP country but one thing you can be sue of is that they will be a fearsome and ferocious foursome.

If you Google “Jamaica” you get 6,450,000 results including “murder conspiracy”, “six charged over killing”, two charged with fraud, one for murder and recently, “Constable suspected to be a high-ranking member of criminal gang nabbed.” Worse, if you think that the Trinidad and Tobago (TNT) CoP took over only a hopeless “Traffic Branch”, think again.

The US “Trafficking in Persons 2021 Report” downgraded TNT because of corruption and law enforcement complicity in trafficking crimes, as well as evidence that the government had not done enough to combat the problem. In other words, the COP also inherited a “Trafficking Branch.” Despite this, the same way that misery loves company, there are Trinis who are boasting that Jamaican police were identified by the US since 2015 and, just like the present TNT government, Jamaica’s party-in-power also does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

In the 1980s, when the influx of Venezuelan women into TNT increased and was then surpassed by what was called “white meat” (women) and “white lady” (cocaine) from Colombia, the person in charge was a policeman known as “Elephant Walk” who boasted about high-level support from Immigration officers and politicians.

A Gleaner story last week, “COVID hits Caribbean sex workers hard” gave readers a regional tour that made it clear that anybody interested in what is known as “sex tourism” and planning to undertake the long, costly and now probably banned journey to Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, has absolutely no need to. You can Bangkok right now, right here at ‘thigh-lands’ in every Caribbean country, even Barbados. Again, the police, immigration and politicians are said to be deeply involved in the trafficking of ladies and men, white or not.

While all this has been happening, the global perspective is even worse. The Police Corruption Perceptions index list Jamaica at No. 14 and TNT as 28 out of 100 countries.  Venezuela, the country from which most of the “legals” and illegals came before and during the pandemic, is fifth. In terms of numbers of police killings in the world, the latest figures have Venezuela as second. Comparatively, in terms of police killings projected per 10 million people, Jamaica is No.7 and TNT is No.8. Venezuela tops the list. The good news is that Barbados, although very concerned about the rise in its murder rate, is not on the list at all. However, by allowing so many Venezuelans into Trinidad, legally and illegally, the country is clearly gunning for glory over Jamaica.

Amnesty International, commenting on the targeting of those people who complain about police violence and murders, said, “Police employ illegal tactics to instil fear and prevent justice from taking its course. Police officers have raided relatives’ homes to stop them from showing up at court hearings, harassed witnesses to prevent them from testifying and intimidated those who managed to be heard inside the courtroom. In some cases, police officers have even appeared at the victims’ funerals, in a bid aimed at intimidating the surviving relatives and deterring them from pursuing justice.”

A US survey shows that while police officers are afraid of being injured or killed because their jobs are dangerous, being a police officer is relatively safe and is not in the top 15 list of most dangerous jobs in that country. The fear police officers have of civilians, especially people of colour, is exaggerated. Yet, in more than 90 percent of cases in which an officer kills a civilian, about 1,000 each year, officers claim to be protecting themselves, not a third party. I remember when the police killed an unarmed man in our community. Later, in plain sight of a few of us, a Police Inspector planted a toy gun in the man’s hand and then claimed that the man had pulled the gun on an officer who, fearing for his life, shot to kill.

As the statistics have shown, in both Jamaica and Trinidad today there are many police killings which not only gives rise to many concerns and questions but also generates considerable fear. This is why the answer to, “What’s the similarity between the police and a bikini?” is “What they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital.” There was a case where the government had to pay TT$300,000 to a man who was wrongfully arrested, falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted by two very senior police officials, one at the second-highest rank in the service. When I told a friend the story, his response was, “The man lucky.” I was upset and asked angrily, “How you mean the man lucky? All that punishment and suffering and you say ‘he lucky’?” My friend observed, “Yes, he lucky they didn’t shoot him and stick a toy gun in his hand.”

*Tony Deyal was last seen querying, “Why did the riot police show up so early at the demonstration in front of the prime minister’s office?” To beat the crowd.

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