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Raffique Shah


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Doing the 'danse macabre'

By Raffique Shah
February 04, 2007

Last Thursday night, in districts as diverse as Carenage and Laventille, Morne Diablo and Enterprise, the criminal communities (oh, yes: those fellas have "communities"!) fired assorted gunshots saluting Police Commissioner Trevor Paul. Paul, along with Brigadiers Peter Joseph and Edmund Dillon, had earlier appeared on television promising to "run the criminals to the ground" over the carnival season. For the millionth time a CoP threatened "zero tolerance", vowing to lock up jaywalkers and gay-walkers and maybe a few pickpockets and drunkards and pamphleteers. Little wonder the real criminals, the gunmen who are our new rulers, who call the shots very literally, were celebrating.

I am poking fun at Paul here. But the "Commish" must know that similar injunctions over the past 15-odd years, by commissioners from Jules "Toothless Bulldog" Bernard to Kenny "Multi-Age" Mohammed, have frightened no one except the law-abiding. Seasoned criminals simply have no regard for the police, and now, it seems, for the army as well. Crime continues unabated, only now policemen and soldiers are now targets of "hits" as much as innocent citizens are.

Last carnival the police and army were fully mobilised and deployed, and there were few serious crimes over the four-day festival. I think, though, that respite had more to do with the criminals being unable to resist the sheer abandon of carnival than with any threat to their nefarious activities. I expect the same to happen this year.

In fact, as an experiment, Commissioner Paul may want to consider allowing his officers to play mas' like everyone else. Brigadier Dillon, too, should think of allowing his troops free rein over the festivities. Bet the crime statistics will be no different to what they would otherwise be?

Except for some criminals choosing the reign of the Merry Monarch to settle some old scores and pickpockets who feast on the inebriated, carnival is usually crime-free. So I don't think, assuming little or no criminal acts are committed during the festivities, that Paul's threats will have done the trick. If it did, the crime rate would have long plummeted.

I suspect that even the politicians in government would be "wining down" the place, much the way all government ministers and senior officials do (remember when Oma Panday and company played the you-know-what ...well, that was not mas!...with state security aplenty?). Look mih, they would proffer, yuh see how sweet Trinidad is? Sweet my butt! As soon as the sun sets on the carnival charade the real mas' will resume with the gunmen starring in the most brutal acts.

I have long argued that we have been taken down this slippery slope by a combination of factors. Lawlessness has overwhelmed this country. From the litterbugs, traffic offenders and tax evaders at the top to the pipers and PH-drivers at the bottom, most of us are part of the problem. But we all know, too, that by our own selfish-lawlessness, we have led ourselves into this valley of death. And unless we get a grip of ourselves, as my old sergeant-major used to say, we are doomed to live like prisoners in our own country, or to die like dogs at the sides of the roads.

The Government will not want to accept the fact that the only solution to the current crime wave lies in the declaration of a state of emergency. I know it cannot act now because it has waited for far too long. World Cup Cricket is around the corner and how it go look? But when international cricketers and fans from far-off countries are mugged or murdered, I want to know how that would look! I repeat: the same PNM in government declared an emergency in 1970 to lock up Daaga and Weekes and scores of others for marching and shouting and threatening. What now that the enemy of the people are shooting with live bullets and taking hundreds of lives?

Of course, such harsh measures would be useless if there is no intelligence, if you don't know who you are going to arrest and jail. The police will have to be prepared to lock up many among their own who are steeped in the sewer-lines of crime. Maybe even Government officials, preachers and other politicians would also have to be put behind bars for promoting banditry and murder. Lock them up. Too, you must have already gathered most or all of the evidence that will propel them into prison. They have no mercy for us, so why should we care a fig about them?

But I am engaged here in journalistic masturbation. The politicians won't act. And if they do, the police will buck them. We are engaged in a "danse macabre", that we seem to wallow in. Oh, pity the innocents among us, those who have done nothing to deserve paradise-transformed-into-hell. And cry, my beloved country. We have arrived at the sorriest pass of them all.