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Criminalizing the Society

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 15, 2010

I always believe that the demise of the Grenada Revolution occurred because of the hotheadedness of forty-year olds who had little knowledge of the world and people. They knew theory aplenty but were not seasoned by common sense and wisdom that only comes with age. One is seeing a similar tendency in the UNC-led coalition called the People's Partnership.

Anywhere you look you can see and hear Anand Ramlogan, the attorney general, who believes that every social problem can be fixed by bombast, the police presence or burdensome laws that infringe upon people's freedom. Although it is true a T&T government only needs a Prime Minister and an Attorney General to exist, Mr. Ramlogan seems to feel that he is the law of land aided no doubt by the Prime Minister.

Image his fas'ness. Telling Jack to shut up. Well Jack really reach! A young man merely forty years old; holding his first substantive post in the society. Yet, he believes he could speak to anyone as he pleases. Jack, it seems, is merely the latest victim of his intemperance.

And what is Jack's crime? He believes he should run his ministry as the law of the land demands.

It is important to understand that certain realities and realignments come with 'Indian Time Ah Come'. One is faced with an essentially litigious mindset that believes that the law and the appeal to the law are the only ways to solve a problem. If yo' mother take yo' land; take she to court. If yo' brother bodder yo, take him to the Privy Council. No one in T&T has taken as many constitutional motions to the Privy Council as have Ramesh Maharaj and Anand Rmalogan.

At the end of day Ramlogan would have used more English lawyers to interfere in our business than any previous attorney general. Whiteness, it seems, confers a mantra of authority. If a local problem is too intractable call down a white man. He has the answer. It's a holdover from colonialism; a certain mindset that sees all virtues in whiteness and every vice in blackness.

A problem arises with the CAL board. Bring in a white man to solve the problem. There is too much murder, go back to the days of slavery; hang them high and bring back the cat-o-nine tail. "Beat dem bad and dey bound to surrender." Forget the socio-economic or even cultural conditions that may be at the base of this behavior.

Under the current law, a person (not a suspected gang member, a suspected thief, or a suspected swindler) can be detained by our police without charge for as much as five days. Ramlogan observes that the present law allows that "if there are reasonable grounds to suspect a citizen of committing a crime, [a police] can arrest and detain [him or her] for such a time as reasonable having regards to surrounding facts and circumstances."

Reasonable by Ramlogan's definition "could be 48 hours; it could be five days." Extending this logic, it could be five months or even five years. As it is asked generally in American jurisprudence, "What are the limits of this standard?" Should any law be so designed to give the police unfettered discretion to restrict a person's freedom?

The class bias of this legislation is obvious which renders it unconstitutional. Ramlogan's rationale for this draconian measure reads as follows:

"If you choose the bling culture and the sneakers culture. If you choose to laugh at a feller who is studying hard to reach somewhere but you want to wear a Puma and a Nike with air socks then the time has come for society to set you on a straight path and that is what this legislation is all about."

The target of this piece of legislation is the black boy in the ghetto whom I presume prefers not to study; laughs at those who study hard; prefers Nikes and Pumas; and is associated with what can be called gang culture.

I did not see the same urgency to detain anyone for five days, five months, or five years who, it can be reasonably assumed, fleeced the public of monies that equated a million times the cost of a Puma (about $1,000) or a Nike. Such citizens continue to live large; enjoying the largess of their ill-gotten gains; and continue to move in respectable international circles. Yet the little black boy, poor and unschooled, who is accused of stealing a Puma can be snatched up and kept in the pen for five days or five months.

Tucked away somewhere in Ramlogan's rationale is the proposition that all citizens are not equal in the eyes of the law. Under this legislation bail is being used in a punitive manner rather than to assure the attendance of the defendant when his presence is required in court.

Using Ramlogan's logic one can now understand how persons suspected of causing more harm to the state than these young boys who steal Pumas are not subjected to the same draconian responses from the state? Does losing $1,000 create more suffering and pain among citizens than the fleecing of the public of $1,000,000,000? Are those persons accused of committing such crimes subjected to the same rules of detention as the black boy in the ghetto?

Why the reluctance to extradite persons for whom there is reasonable evidence to believe may have broken the laws of another country. Why aren't the rights of the black boys in the ghetto accorded the same protection as those who are alleged of stealing millions of dollars? Why does the possession of blackness seem to be such a crime in the society?

Once any law is passed, it can be dusted off to suit any purpose an eager attorney general wants it to serve. Today it is aimed at the boy in the ghetto; tomorrow it can be construed to implicate the governor of the Central Bank. Next week it might be used to undermine the Chief Justice.

Tyranny does not come in one fell swoop. It arrives gradually as zealous ideologues chip away at our freedoms, a little bit at a time.

Let us refrain from going down the road of a police state. Holding a black boy in detention for five days without a charge is unconstitutional. Is this the price we want to pay to satiate Anand's predilections and the PP's fetish with legality?

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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