Police and grief

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By Anthony Deyal

Ultrasphinx, the time traveller from the 80th Century, had captured Lois Lane and to get her out of a state of suspended animation Superman had to answer what is historically the unanswerable question or paradox of all paradoxes, “What happens when the Unstoppable Force (Superman) meets the Immovable Object (Ultrasphinx)?” This classic contradiction comes from a 3rd Century BC Chinese book in which a man was trying to sell a spear and a shield. He claimed that the spear could puncture any shield and the shield would repel any spear. However, when asked what would happen if his spear struck the shield, he could not answer. Instead of being caught between a rock and a hard place he was wedged between a sword, a shield and a conundrum.

While there are other variations like “If God is all powerful surely he can create a stone that he cannot lift?” the basic contention that Superman had to solve to save his sweetheart is that you cannot have one with the other at the same place and at the same time. This is expressed as, “The irresistible force and immovable object cannot occur on the same plane”, not even the massive Airbus 380, or worse yet, “robot taxis” in Jamaica, “PH” (Private Hire) vehicles in Trinidad, mini buses in Guyana or ZRs in Barbados. Superman saved his sweetheart by telling Ultrasphinx that the answer was, “They both surrender”.

This would make sense anywhere else but in Trinidad and Tobago (TNT) where the irresistible force of the recently re-elected prime minister, Keith Rowley, is on a head-to-head collision with the immovable object, Gary Griffith, former minister of national security under the 2010-2015 Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration. Griffith, his credentials being considered superior to other candidates, was the choice of prime minister Rowley’s government to fill the vacant post of commissioner of police. At this time of COVID with the gates closed and entrances blocked, it is not plane or even plain sailing.

When I was a schoolboy, we had a version of “hide-and-seek” called “Police and Thief”. Interestingly, all of us fought to be “police” and not “thief”. It was only when we recognised that both groups were becoming increasingly indistinguishable, we switched to a similar game called “Rescue” but without the ambiguity of roles. Now, at my advanced age, having retreated from both board or bored games, I am finally experiencing one that does not require any thought or offers any semblance of an intellectual challenge. It is simply an ongoing preoccupation, played out for the amusement of Caribbean people, that simultaneously confounds, confuses, amazes and amuses. It is called “Police and Chief.”

In Trinidad, hiring, firing and all matters of discipline including the appointment of the police commissioner are in the hands of an independent body, the Police Service Commission (PSC). Public servants, the teaching service and the judiciary also have their own commissions which were set up to protect ordinary people from their governments and are considered mechanisms for citizens to express their own views on matters important to them and their country. I remember the late prime minister, George Chambers (1981-1986), when faced with constant complaints about the low productivity and very poor attitudes of public servants repeating, “As prime minister of this country, I cannot fire any public servant, not even a messenger.” The irony is that the same public servants were among the voters who fired him.

If firing a messenger is impossible even for a prime minister, consider trying to get rid of a recalcitrant Commissioner of Police (CoP). Over the past week or so, the Caribbean media have been featuring the confrontation between the two top Trini officials. They butted heads publicly after the prime minister chided the commissioner on the need to apply government’s COVID-19 regulations equitably to all sectors of the society. Commissioner Griffith retaliated with his accusation that prime minister Rowley was making the police “the fall guy” for its unclear and inadequate public health regulations which do not cover private properties, and insisted that he would not take any action merely to satisfy public or political pressure.

In the meantime, every day brings more chat than dialogue, more heat than light, exceeding in volume and intensity any sense or sign of logic and decorum. Had Superman and Ultrasphinx behaved the same way, Lois Lane might have been replaced by Maxima, Misty, Lana Lang or even Mooki the Mermaid. The Trinidad and Tobago prime minister’s office in a recent news release stated that Griffith was “summoned” to a meeting by Rowley, but Griffith insisted that the prime minister’s people had got it wrong claiming he was “invited” and not “summoned”. This so added to his anger and complaints that we quickly had a case of “Police and Beefs.” Now a newspaper claims that Griffith is “in a jam”.

This is definitely not the sweet, soft food made by cooking fruit with sugar and is so secret that the writer did not spread it except to say that the government will send a written complaint about Griffith to the PSC. Meanwhile, the jamming has got even worse with rumours that Griffith had resigned or copped out or was fired and copped it. Despite the pressure, it is clear that Griffith has not given up the fight. In Rowley’s case, his nightmare is that while dealing with his jam-packed schedule, his CoP runneth over.

Unfortunately, the fighting and shadow boxing are not diminishing.  The battle for turf, credibility, the last word, the first punch, or the final solution are like two dogs in a battle to the death for territory, females, dominance, superiority, or just pure fun because they can.

The prime minister’s nickname in parliament and on the hustings as a platform speaker, based on his size and ceaseless, unstoppable, aggression, was “Rottweiler”. Gary Griffith, though trained at Sandhurst, the British Military Academy, is of smaller stature and is known as “Uncle Gary” or “GG”. Despite his constant readiness to shoot off and explode his verbal artillery at the slightest perceived provocation, Griffith was praised only a few weeks ago by the PSC for his management skills.

The situation, which in its ongoing deterioration and unduly prolonged antagonism, I think of as “Police and Grief”, is like the story of a man who walked into a bar one day and asked very quietly, “Does anyone here own that rottweiler outside?” “Yeah, I do!” said a huge, bearded, and angry biker. “What about it?” The man hesitantly explained, “Well, I think my chihuahua just killed him…” The biker replied, disbelievingly, “What the heck are you talkin’ about? How in hell could your little runt kill my big rottweiler?” “Well,” responded the man, “It seems he got stuck in your dog’s throat!”

*Tony Deyal was last seen asking what do you get when you cross a rottweiler with a hyena? I don’t know but I recommend you join in if it laughs.

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