Marianne Williamson is a bestselling American author and “spiritual lecturer”, a Democrat who had launched a campaign to be president of the United States. In a recent television interview, she declared that to defend civil rights often involves taking risks.
In the Trinidad and Tobago of 2019, this is emerging as a major issue for those who choose to stand in the gap, against the excesses of persons in power and in uniform. The campaigns against crime, and against alleged corruption are increasingly being mounted on platforms of righteous intolerance for dissent in the face of over-reach. Going after presumed criminals and wrong-doers is often clothed in the garment of language asking us to put it in the context of good versus evil.
In times such as these, with crime and violence occupying a prolonged presence at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of national concerns, there must be no questioning of the tactics, the methods of those whose job it is to beat them back.
We have been told by the professionals, and the social scientists who study the methods, that there will be excesses, but for the greater good. We have to make allowances for that, they advise.
The late Trace Wilson was one who begged to differ. In a conversation more than a decade ago, he related tales of how police officers in Rudy Giuliani’s New York City committed offences, including sexual assault, on persons being pursued in the initiatives which were said to have led to a reduction in crime in the Big Apple.
Last week’s 1 am police raid on homes in the village of St Michael’s in Las Cuevas, is the latest example of how good intentions were despoiled by over-reach.
Residents called the exercise heavy handed. They described the behaviour of the raiding officers as indiscriminate. They surrounded homes at random. They kicked in doors, broke locks and entered. They were unapologetic. They paid no mind to who may have been innocent and who was suspect.
“We need to know why they did this to law-abiding citizens,” one traumatised resident told reporters afterwards. “They just came in, with masks on, holding guns and kicking down doors,” another resident said.
An entire community gets to be stigmatised, because of an incident in which a reputed gang-leader was taken out. In social media responses to the complaints of those innocent villagers, elderly men and women included, you get the reactions which excuse the “Peter pay for Paul” principle.
“Next time please give us ample warning so we could hide our arms and ammunition and drugs and these wanted people,” one response came back. “Announce it on the 7 p.m. news next time, TTPS,” said another. “Put an ad in the paper announcing the exercise,” read a third flippant, callous and insensitive element of mockery.
What they amount to is the erroneous conclusion that anyone and everyone in this village is a suspect, either as a criminal, a criminal sympathiser or a harbourer. With no intelligence guiding their work, the police must be allowed to run rampant through neighbourhoods as they choose, making no distinctions in their search for the bad and the ugly. Every villager, every household becomes fair game, in such a righteous mission aimed at finding the bad eggs.
On hearing the commotion, one elderly villager said he looked through a crack from where he was, inside his house. He saw persons at his own front door. He could make no distinction as to whether this was police or thief. “Police,” he heard a shout. He wasn’t given a chance to unlock the door. They came storming in.
Initial reports from the raids said the police held 22 suspects, and seized two firearms—one identified as a MAC-10 pistol loaded with 20 rounds of ammunition, and a shotgun with nine 12-guage cartridges—and a walkie talkie. There are questions as to the number of those “suspects” who were picked up at the fishing depot, as distinct from having been found in the beds or anywhere else, in those homes which were so unnecessarily vandalised by the government boots.
It seems a fair question, whether and to what extent the results matched the extravagance and the sanctioned brutishness of this mission. It will be useful to find out how many of the 22 presumed “suspects” would have been justifiably taken in that morning.
Standard operating procedures notwithstanding, if indeed this exercise even qualifies, it calls for serious, significant review. Here was an operation meant to get further behind the gangland-style killing of the man they called Sandman, three weeks prior. But the people in this little village on a hill overlooking Las Cuevas Bay, were assaulted one more time by agents of the state.
And they have been further collectively maligned by some in office, equally as by careless, callous commentary.