Sunday 2nd March, 2008

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Lingering legacy of July 27, 1990

As its echoes roll on, ever more muted, into the future, the 1990 “attempted coup” continues to distinguish two kinds of Trinidad and Tobago people.

Type One citizens continue to regard the July 27, 1990, events as “unfortunate,” and a deservingly forgettable aberration.

To the others, the events mark an epochal turning point, from which eye-opening lessons should be drawn about the nature of this country, and its negative possibilities.

Long after the smoke died, rubble cleared and the bodies removed and counted, what remained was the emergence of black Muslim prelates into a kind of mainstream respectability.

A news story last week reported Salim Muwakil, a Jamaat-al-Muslimeen “wazir” in 1990, seeking to make peace between gangs in eastside Port-of-Spain.

Surviving Muslimeen rankers are older and presumably more prudent today, when the gunslinging and the gangleading must have passed into younger hands.

It’s the Mucurapo jamaat, however, that demonstrated how private forces could set themselves up and make their way by devising organisation and gaining resources conducive to their aims.

In 1990, everything happened literally under the noses of the security forces. The T&T Regiment soldiers encamped at Mucurapo and the Muslimeen irregulars peered at one another through binoculars.

Each side reassured itself it knew what the other was up to.

The blitzkrieg at Police Headquarters, at the Red House and elsewhere eventually confirmed which side was the better-informed.

Maybe the outcome was too serious to laugh about. But the performance of the police could have been rendered as comedy.

Complacent or distracted, they had failed to notice as the Muslimeen raised, trained and equipped an armed force that, as its first military objective, lethally targeted Police Headquarters.

That brilliant fact remains available for analysis, deduction and prediction.

In the organisation and disposition of violence, a private enterprise had proved audaciously efficient in marshalling information and organisation for addressing means to ends.

Amid pervasive “Trini” slacknesses, efficiencies, it has been proved, are possible of achievement. But the achievement is more likely in the private than in the public sphere.

By last week, downtown Port-of-Spain streets had become recognised as a setting for murders.

On Wednesday evening, a gunman shot Marlon Gocking point-blank in the head, ran east on Queen Street, home free.

How could this happen?

Bystanders asked this aloud, noticing how slow off the mark police and soldiers had been in attempting pursuit of the shooter.

“The law enforcement authorities should be very concerned about the contempt that is being shown to them and the wider society,” Gregory Aboud, president of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association, said of the killing.

The authorities, if not yet the people, used to being held in contempt, are comfortable in the embrace of low self-esteem.

If capacity has expanded, it’s to the benefit only of those working against the authorities.

For purposes of intelligence, the place is more properly-mapped, its potential for activity better explored by the private than by the public sector.

Judging from what they know of the escape routes and the hideouts, the police, soldiers and Sautt could well constitute an occupation force struggling for a foothold in unfamiliar territory.

The media cover crime not by reference to what the police are doing, but what they are saying.

“G-Unit,” a gang whose members bear trademark tattoos, now enjoys a kind of brand legitimacy in reportage that was once associated with, say, the Anti-Kidnapping Squad.

The rest of us are impressed only by how much we don’t know about what is going on.

It proved amazingly easy, last Sunday, to induce a respected Morvant Justice of the Peace into entering a strange car with strange people, and to make him disappear.

The Morvant JP, it ominously turned out, was due to testify for the State in a murder trial.

Justice Anthony Carmona, on February 22, gave voice to exasperation as he watched a murder prosecution collapse in his court.

One prosecution witness had been killed; the other claimed to have been intimidated against testifying.

As two alleged killers walked free, he denounced the Unemployment Relief Programme as a hotbed of crime, and described “delusional” officials as being in a state of denial.

For once, Information Minister Neil Parsanlal was without his supply of pompous words to defend the executive.

Asked to respond to Justice Carmona, the minister told the Guardian he did not understand how the matter related to him.

Officials lack even credible rhetorical answer to critical aggression against the rule of law.

After yet another state witness had been killed, Police Commissioner Trevor Paul actually defended the “justice protection programme,” even though it’s patently seen as failing to keep witnesses alive.

In one courtroom episode last week, it appeared Murphy’s law had easily trumped criminal law; whatever could go wrong simply did.

As a bag allegedly belonging to a man charged with drug possession for trafficking was emptied before the jury, a Guyanese passport fell to the floor.

Court proceedings froze when the name on the passport proved to be that of someone other than the man who had been charged with attempting to smuggle cocaine through Piarco, and who had denied ownership of the bag.

“The prosecution frantically sought further instructions from the DPP’s office,” Newsday reported.

The cause of criminal justice was crying out for such change as would provide more efficiency in discharging matters, all the way from the ostensible crime scene to the court.

Over hours, dead bodies remain untouchable, even on the floor of a bank branch, before district medical officers show up, to officially pronounce the obvious, and authorise removal.

In the sad state of T&T crime and justice, what appears consistently and conspicuously to work are those provisions and those conditions that tend to serve the interests of the outlaws.

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