After looking the other way while multiple regulations were breached under their noses at the funeral of Yasin Abu Bakr, one wonders where the Police Service will now find the moral authority to enforce the law against anyone.
Asked to explain, Deputy Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob told the Express “it wouldn’t have been wise”, and that “certain decisions” were made because “it was felt that it might have made matters worse” had the police attempted to take action.
We beg to disagree.
Wise leadership would have thought through the challenges posed by the funeral of a religious leader in this time of Covid and figured out a way to recognise the need for sensitivity while respecting the law.
It is a pity that DCP Jacob could see only the two extreme responses of the police either applying force to get people to comply, or doing nothing. In the end, they chose the latter, neglecting the range of options in between.
As an organisation that has prided itself for its almost military discipline, we cannot accept, out of hand, that the imam’s family and Jamaat members would not have complied with a reasonable set of instructions that respected the occasion and the law. Even within the time limits of an Islamic funeral, it was possible to have created remote viewing spaces at the Jamaat compound, in conformity within the regulations for gathering size and social distancing.
In addition to the fatal illness itself, possibly the worst aspect of Covid-19 has been the painful reality of those who have had to endure the distress of having their loved ones die alone and then being denied the balm that comes from rituals of grief.
To the thousands of people who have had to comply with the law in attending funerals by virtual means, the sight of the packed crowd at Bakr’s funeral must have been galling as the final impunity for a man known for impunities.
Perhaps DCP Jacob has forgotten the extent to which Bakr, himself a former policeman, had compromised police officers, Customs officers and members of the Defence Force on his way to staging his coup in 1990. It was the willingness of many members of the protective services to facilitate Bakr’s illegal activities or look the other way that carried the country to the brink. And yet, even with this close relationship, he thought nothing of ordering the fire-bombing of police headquarters that killed the young sentry on duty.
A year ago, former commissioner Gary Griffith got into public trouble with the prime minister over selective policing when officers from the Four Roads station seemed to give a free pass to loiterers around a pool in a gated apartment complex, while young men from Sea Lots were being arrested and humiliated when found in breach of the regulations. The cry then was about discriminatory policing.
The fact that DCP Jacob could defend a policy of different strokes for different folks on the grounds of it being the “wise” thing to do attests to leadership challenges in the T&T Police Service.