Professor Ramesh Deosaran
Miami. The first front-page story in Miami that hit me was headlined, Cop caught on video kicking suspect in head. (Miami Herald, May 4). When I saw the video on TV that evening – the kicking by a Hispanic uniformed police officer – it looked evil. The black robbery suspect lay on his back, handcuffed. A resident took out a cellphone picture and rushed it on social media. The public raged against the police only to learn afterwards, on close review of the video, the officer’s boots passed over the suspect’s head, making no contact. And so, a grey area arose.
The number of deadly police shootings of unarmed people in the US has declined since 2015. In 2015, police killed 94 unarmed people, in 2016 that number fell to 51 but rose to 68 in 2017 – according to a Washington Post research report. “Black people have been shot and killed by police at rates significantly higher than their percentage of the US population,” the Post reported. While Black Americans make up about 13 per cent of the population, 23 per cent of those fatally shot by police were black, stated the Post.
My attention keeps hooked on crime ever since I was in Jamaica recently when one incident of gang warfare resulted in seven being killed, including a well-known, notorious gang leader. This was followed by a 69-year-old man violently killing his 39-year-old wife and two children with a machete. Several other incidents of drug and turf-driven gang violence contradicted the Ocho Rios tourist brochures. Between this, the Jamaican opposition party persistently criticise the government for its “ineffective policies,” demanding that Prime Minister Andrew Holness declare his government’s “crime plan.”
Then, back home I began reading our local news. For a moment, I thought I was still in Jamaica. Among the front-page page stories were, “eight killed in one week,” “two killed on one day,” etc, with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar threatening to file a no confidence motion against National Security Minister Edmund Dillon. Not only in Jamaica and Trinidad, but across Caribbean states, crime has become so severely politicised – a trump card in elections – that criminals may feel comforted by the fractured attack against them.
But this is Westminster-type party politics, based on mutual mistrust, reciprocal “death wish” sentiments and where bad mind overpowers compromise. And with the rapid intrusion of “new normals” and fake news, the core values that a society needs for social stability lose legitimacy. It is as if we have to learn to live with chaos and a confused youth population.
The lively debate following Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s mid-year budget review once again revealed the kind of society and politics we have, so much so that I am reminded of three calypsoes by Mighty Sparrow – Corruption, Cowboy Justice and Doom and Gloom. In Corruption, he mocked the fact that corruption here is so widely rooted from captain to cook. In Cowboy Justice, he is fed up with the country’s criminals and murders and lack of punishment, and if left to him, there would be quick arrests, prosecution and justice. In his 1983 Doom and Gloom, he said a social conscience here is dangerous to your health, and if you said politics going wrong, you were called “a prophet of doom and gloom.”
There is now so much more heat than light here, so much more acrimony and disunity, that economic development itself suffers heavy blows from diminished social capital. But this, inevitably, is Westminster politics, at least the abuse of it.
The mental relief we sometimes get comes from the turbulence in other places.
President Donald Trump continues to be busy turning history upside down. His pull-back on the Iran agreement will help trigger immense unease. He now sends back thousands of Haitians (under Temporary Protection Status). Almost 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans now being pursued for return. Hundreds of deportees back to the Caribbean are also rushed.
Little or no room is being left for reprieve of any kind. And with the right wing swings from France to the Scandinavian countries against immigration, well, it is beginning to look as “every country for itself” and “every man for himself" – a nasty, brutish world.