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Raffique Shah


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Emergency to protect Govt only, not the people

By Raffique Shah
January 13, 2008

If anybody can convince me that a state of emergency would yield benefits in the fight against crime, I'd be willing to listen and act. So said Prime Minister Patrick Manning last week as he and others, the opposition UNC included, insisted that emergency powers were not required to deal with this unholy mess. I respond to the PM this way: show me that you can lower the level of crime using Minister Martin Joseph's many "plans", and I'll concede that we do not need an emergency.

The PM would be hard-pressed to come up with answers. Last weekend the nation's top security brass met in retreat to discuss their 2008 strategies for dealing with the nation's number one crisis. I'd hate to think what the senior men did at Salybia was simply retreat. Reminds me of a lesson in military tactics I learned early in my training at Sandhurst when an instructor asked: what does an army do when confronted by superior forces? Eagerly, I put up my hand and responded: "Retreat, sir!" "Shah," he bellowed. "Neither your army nor mine ever retreats! You make a tactical withdrawal."

It was a euphemism, of course, the difference between a retreat and a withdrawal. But if only from the standpoint of morale for those involved in combat, an orderly withdrawal is always preferable to full-flight. While the presence of policemen and soldiers on the streets of the major town centres does not signal that the forces of law and order are in retreat, other signs point in that direction. I refer to police stations being ‘locked down' as early as 9 p.m. I point to police officers who bluntly refuse to entertain reports of criminal activities underway, but who would respond only after victims have been killed or maimed or raped.

In condemning those officers who tell you they are not being paid enough to put their lives on the line, I must commend those who take their oaths of office seriously, who think nothing of dealing rapidly and drastically with criminal elements.

Within recent times we have seen some co-ordination and rapid response by officers on the ground, guided by air support, that resulted in the arrests or elimination of bandits. I know, too, there are many police officers who, having been assigned to stations across the country, ensure they develop good relations with the communities they serve.

This is critical to gathering intelligence about criminals. It's a strategy that has been employed by the British military for close to a century, more recently in their forays in Basra, Iraq, and in the volatile Helmland province of Afghanistan. In both instances the British restored some order and reduced hostilities by winning the hearts and minds of people who live in these areas.

Once people are treated with respect, they would generally return the favour. And that favour is usually a big plus-giving you information you'd otherwise find difficult to gather. Intelligence is crucial to the outcome of any battle. One cannot expect to successfully engage unidentified ‘enemies'. One must first know who they are, where they are, before one takes action.

In the war against crime it's no different. What baffles me, and, I imagine, most people, is why only after some gangster is gunned down, the police reveal he was a notorious gunman wanted for so many murders, or for drug trafficking? If they had such information beforehand, why weren't these men arrested? By pinning unsolved murders on the dead, officers can then close cases. Dead men tell no tales, nor can they prove their innocence.

Mr Manning seems unperturbed by the accelerated murder rate, now standing at almost two a day. Reported robberies may be down, but people will tell you they are more rampant, brazen and deadly. Because thousands of petty robberies and thefts go unreported does not mean they don't happen. Self-imposed curfews in many communities are not even known to the authorities. The PM and his colleagues live in a sheltered world, surrounded by security, so they don't feel the heat.

It's easy for him, therefore, to dismiss calls for a limited emergency as so much hot air. In 1970, when the PNM Government imposed two, not one, states of emergency, it was because the politicians and big business were under threat from a mass movement. Bear in mind the mutiny in the army came after, not before, the declaration. So George Weekes, Makandal Daaga and others were arrested and imprisoned for up to six months because they were threats to the establishment, not to the people. They didn't kill or maim or rape anyone.

Today it's the people who are under the gun, quite literally. The people live in hell while the politicians are secure in their havens. So why declare an emergency? To bring relief to black hen chicken? Forget it. Forget them. As France's Marie Antoinette callously said when told the masses had no bread: let them eat cake. Take bullets in allyuh pueffen .until 2020!

(More next week)

Part I | Part III