March 03, 2002
By Raffique Shah
SO Sadiq Baksh believes that the police were being too harsh when they handcuffed his niece and three other women charged with elections-related offences! Well, welcome to the real world of crime, Trinidad-style policing, and the proverbial wages of sin, Mr Baksh. Maybe he and his political leader, Basdeo Panday, who is also kicking up a storm over the arrest of "that poor girl", do not look at the pages of the daily newspapers. Over the past two weeks, almost on a daily basis, victims of "Operation Anaconda" were paraded for media cameras, face down on dusty sidewalks, or hands up against grimy walls.
What Baksh and Panday must ask is whether the offence for which "that poor girl" was arrested is any different to what poor people who feel the brunt of Howard Chin Lee's "big snake" are suspected of. Because most of the young men from urban Port of Spain who have been searched, and in instances arrested and charged, could be as innocent as "that poor girl" and the scores of other UNC supporters who today face "vote padding" charges are presumed to be. If, given the crime surge, we agree that the police need to use desperate measures in dangerous times, then we must also agree that those who have perverted the electoral process should be treated no differently to suspected bandits, robbers and murderers.
It gives me no joy to see persons who have allegedly committed crimes being traumatised by their arrests. But mere handcuffs-to-courts pale when compared with the pre-dawn breaking down of doors, the rude awakening by armed policemen rushing into bedrooms, sometimes catching couples in compromising positions. Men are usually dragged from their beds, their near-naked wives screaming, children cowering in corners. And if the suspect were really unlucky, he would be carted off to the station in a battered condition, only to find that he had a packet of marijuana or some rusting gun he never knew was in his possession.
In the case of the scores of persons who have been charged with "vote padding", I feel particularly sorry for them. Mostly, they are "poor girls" like Sadiq's niece, or in instances older "nanis" who have never seen the inside of a police station, far less handcuffs and cells. And here they are, traumatised, quite possibly for offences they never intended to commit. Because their matters are before the courts, I cannot discuss details of the instant cases. In any event, I do not know what the details are.
But I can tell Baksh and Panday that persons who are suspected of aiding and abetting political "fat cats" to steal a whole government, if proven guilty, could be deemed much more menacing to the society than bandits and burglars. The latter are deadly and could commit murder in pursuit of their nefarious goals, which may be simply stealing a few dollars from their victims' pockets, or relieving them of their vehicles and valuables. In fact, because some of them are psychopaths if not outright sadists, the police find it necessary to use extreme measures when attempting to apprehend them.
The former, if they are guilty as charged, are much more dangerous to the country. Because what they will have done is undermine the electoral system in a manner designed to ensure that one party had an unfair advantage over the other. This meant that the elections' results did not reflect the will of the electorate. They will have helped put in power people who did not win the required number of seats in a free and fair election. That, in turn, meant handing the national treasury to a group (I almost wrote 'gang') that stole power and was about to pillage the public purse.
So whereas in the victims of ordinary criminals number but a few thousand people a year, the victims of those guilty of "vote padding" are the entire population, especially the poor. Their crime is not unlike that of the accomplices of bank robbers who enable the latter to make off with huge sums of money that belongs to the bank's clients. What is galling about this is the gullibility of those who were persuaded to commit the offences. Really, how could people, however strong their political ties may be, allow themselves to be so conned? The perpetrators of the crime are living happily (again, I almost wrote 'ever after') while those charged must suffer the humiliation of court appearances, not to add the dim prospect of being jailed.
Baksh and Panday are now crying crocodile tears. Both men know that police investigations into "vote padding" began a few months before the 2000 general elections. They know that while some persons were charged then, the police were actively investigating allegations against many more suspected of being involved in the scheme. Panday and Baksh are aware that certain files were passed on to DPP Mark Mohammed, and it must have been his office that gave final instructions to make the recent arrests. So these people were not arrested by "vaps", but after careful consideration of the information presented to the DPP's office.
To come now and speak of a "PNM plot", of police harassment, indeed, to threaten the police, is not only hypocritical, it's tantamount to branding the entire system of law, order and justice as being defective if not selective. That from a former Prime Minister and, to boot, Minister of National Security, is more than passing strange. Was he aware that the police could be political tools when he was in office? Did he utilise their services when he controlled them? Or have the police changed their attitudes and modus operandi overnight?
I am convinced that these two politicians and their cohorts are "taking in front", in Trini-speak, since they know that the police are closing in on the real culprits behind this "vote padding" scheme. These men met behind ornate and secure doors to plot the subversion of our democracy, much the way insurrectionists do. So when Panday brands me an insurrectionist, I have no problem with that-except for the company that's about to join me! At least I was open about what I did, I took my jail like a man, and more than that, I stood by my fellow mutineers throughout the ordeal.
Now, if Panday wants to walk the road the great Mahatma Gandhi did, he must offer himself for arrest in place of "that poor girl" and the many "nanis" who are being handcuffed and carted off to court. That is the measure of a true leader.
Copyright © Raffique Shah