Sunday 30th July, 2006

Dana Seetahal
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Where is our compassion?

Ever since I saw the movie Oliver Twist and experienced tears burning my eyes when the hungry Oliver asked for some “more” (and was ridiculed for it) I have appreciated the meaning of compassion.

Early in my professional life, I recall visiting a colleague’s chambers and having a discussion with a woman who was sitting in the waiting area. She told me where she lived—somewhere deep in the country—and of her older son a young man, who had been convicted of bestiality (sex with an animal) and was in prison.

She spoke of the ridicule that her family suffered in the village with people pointing at them. She said no one spoke to them and she expressed her concern for her younger son and wondered how he would survive the ostracism (although she did not use this word). I felt immediate compassion.

One of the first murder cases that I had prosecuted involved two brothers. The older brother who was apparently violent, and a bully, had been killed by a younger brother when he could not take the aggression any more.

At the time of the trial, a third brother was hospitalised in St Ann’s suffering from some form of mental illness. The family lived in Coalmine and every day the mother, a frail, old-looking woman, used to attend court.

On the day that her son was convicted for the murder, (the jury would have found manslaughter if the defence counsel had properly done his job) I saw the mother leaving the Hall of Justice.

She was wearing rubber slippers and her clothes were worn. She had on an old ornhi over her prematurely grey hair. She was all alone as she crossed over to Woodford Square on her way to the bus station to wait for a bus for the long trip home.

It is something that I have never forgotten and even as I remember this now, tears come to my eyes.

More recently, I saw a young constable, whom I know to be hardworking and dedicated, though not very experienced. He was on his way to court judging by his wear and the heavy items he carried. As he walked, he was looking straight in front of him and talking to himself. It was clear to me that he was on his way to give evidence and he was trying to give himself confidence. I felt immediate sympathy for this young officer.

The above incidents are not tragedies as for instance are the deaths of young Amy or Sean Luke. They are, however, reflective of everyday situations where human beings who are suffering mental distress are isolated and at the time, have no one who can help them.

In a way, they are reminiscent of the day-to-day life of the physically challenged.

For these we have initial sympathy but after the first rush, few of us are interested in bothering with the of treating with their special needs. Our compassion does not extend that far. Too often, the physically challenged suffer in silence.

That having been said, I want to acknowledge the many people who took the time to respond to last week’s column highlighting the frequent failure to obey the “handicapped parking” designations in public areas. Perhaps, if I share a few extracts from these responses I might stir public conscience?

Ali writes: It is the don’t-care attitude that is so sad. This behaviour permeates all levels of society.

Joe from Maraval says: I am a diabetic and suffer with neuropathy. As a result, some days it becomes almost impossible to make more than a few steps without terrible pain, I have had experiences of not being able to park in the allocated areas in [named grocery] and have brought it to their attention.

Nothing has been done. On one occasion after, I very politely spoke to a young man who was physically able and parked in the designated area. His response was, yuh have a problem? The guard who was there did nothing.

Zena from Texas: My daughter suffered an accident ten years ago in T&T.

I have often witnessed this thoughtless act and it happens in the restrooms too... At least Hi-Lo is trying. We always deplore the fact that T&T is so wheelchair unfriendly. Only a few hotels are accessible.

Robert: I appreciate your writing about these observations. I often point out the same thing to my children in the hope that they might grow up not following these actions.

Geoffrey from St Clair: [You] exposed the problem, but the solution is untenable. You cannot place police on every corner to look out for every infringement. Citizens must want to follow the rules. If the law does not take disability rights seriously, then why should citizens?

Edward/Oscar from Canada: T&T is not ready for the society you envision. The handicapped parking spot here carries a fine of $500 for misuse. Parking without a handicapped permit for even one minute will result in the police issuing a ticket.

Mervyn from Orlando: Once a parking spot is designated handicapped there must be a handicapped sticker visible on the vehicle or the car will be towed and the driver fined.

Fayaz from Canada: This would be a noble issue for Parliament to discuss.

The readers put the case well. We need to develop more compassion and empathy as a society as regards those who are disadvantaged.

Until such time however, Parliament must step in and enforce the protection of the disabled. This should encompass a general appreciation of their specific needs, not just protection of parking spots. The State must intervene.

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