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Tuesday 20 November 2018
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Commentary

Alarm call Pt 1

REGINALD DUMAS

THE following are excerpts from a Newsday article of mine of December 4, 2017. I wrote it just after violent disturbances in and around Beetham, and the public reactions to those disturbances.

“We are past masters of the art of concentrating on effects, not on causes, and on personalities, not on principles. Shouldn’t we instead be asking: ‘If these community upheavals, however localised, take place (and seem to be getting more frequent), why is this so? What can be done?’ Yes, there may be immediately preceding events that trigger them – the arrest of a resident, for example, or the appetite of a cannibalistic pothole – but are there deeper, long-prevailing considerations that underpin those events? If so, has any concerted attempt been made to identify and examine such considerations, and look for solutions?

“Where Beetham is concerned, we are told…that what happened on November 23 must not, will not, be repeated. But how is that to be achieved? Have the fundamental issues in that community been pinpointed, let alone confronted, with the aim of resolution, or at least mitigation?

“The police …want camera footage to single out the ‘perpetrators’. Yes, lawbreakers must be firmly dealt with. But if we are going to ignore causes and not try to locate and correct basic deficiencies, if we think that a heavy hand is the only, or best, answer, we should not be surprised if November 23 recurs.

“(In a November 26 Newsday interview) Sheila Prince, a retired police inspector and head of the Beetham Police Youth Club blamed the police for fraternising with criminal elements in Beetham, thus ‘compromising integrity’. Are these the same police who are to detain and charge ‘perpetrators’? Prince added that officials give large contracts to these elements. So who exactly are the undisciplined and the lawless?

“We always proclaim our guaranteed constitutional rights of equality. But why is it we hardly ever speak of equity, as distinct from equality? About justice and fairness as contrasted with the legal concept of an equality which exists on paper but not necessarily in fact? How many of us consider Beethamites our equals?

“(W)e must lift a dispassionate gaze to the national level. For instance, are lawbreakers to be found only at the lower socio-economic strata of society? If not, are the others pursued with the same zeal as Beetham ‘perpetrators’? Above all, is it wise to be neglectful of the vulnerabilities of a society that is at once fostering both burgeoning inequality, with deepening divisions between classes and races, and dwindling equity? Can we face the probable consequences of that neglect?”

Whatever “the authorities” may, in late November last year, have persuaded themselves to believe, I was unsurprised that protests (though on a much milder scale) did in fact recur, as they did last August. I reiterated my concerns in a Newsday article of August 20, just after Minister Fitzgerald Hinds had received an unwelcome bath in Beetham.

I said this: “As for violent crime, we seem to be fixated on considering it only from one end of the spectrum: law enforcement. Yes, you do have to seize guns and ammunition, and arrest people (who take years to face the courts, which might well be a violation of their human rights).

“But, important and necessary as law enforcement is, it concentrates almost exclusively on effects. Is such an approach, essentially Victorian in its emphasis on punishment, likely to put a long-term dent in violent criminal activity? Or will more and more malefactors be churned out from our factories of social exclusion? Do recent events in the Beetham tell us anything? What might be the underlying causes of certain conduct and worldviews? How much attention have we been paying to these, and doing what we can to mitigate their impact, or even in part eliminate them? And if we are doing anything positive in that regard, to what extent are our policies, programmes and actions coordinated for maximum impact?”

It is Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s recent utterances that have brought me back so soon to this matter. He is strongly supported by Inspector Michael Seales, the President of the Police Social and Welfare Association, who, to my worried astonishment, is reported in the Express of October 30 as saying that gang members have not been frightening ordinary citizens only but police officers also. So the police are afraid of the miscreants we pay them to protect us from? And, as Sheila Prince charged last year, they socialise with those very miscreants? Griffith has his work cut out for him. We all have our work cut out for us. In my next article I shall look at some of the issues confronting Griffith and the country.

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