Bad law, bad reaction


The unseemly catfight between various public and private persons who should all know better may be an expression of frayed nerves after a particularly trying few months of deep uncertainty, fear, loss of freedom, autonomy, income, loss of life, of status, money and of hope, even.

The brouhaha over a Facebook post by an unempathetic young woman has occasioned a backlash of silliness that is, nonetheless, undermining to our society.

Hubris, or excessive pride, is one of the most damaging personality flaws, and it was on ample display last week – the Commssioner of Police, the Minister of Health, the offending girl and her father. They revealed a widespread inordinate level of self-regard that causes a person to assume an air of superiority and overplay their hand. There is a lot of boastfulness and misplaced pride in TT, much of which, fortunately, goes without dramatic fallout, but sometimes there is just too much hot air and the balloon bursts.

Questions of race and class are always under the surface of everything in this country and we are in denial if we do not admit it. We are children of empire and with our mother’s milk we were taught to look up to others who are “better” than us for a multiplicity of reasons.

Once, it was only about the colour of our skins: whiteness was always right, regardless of character. It was simply God’s order and society deemed that we should be judged according to the paleness of our skins. Words were created to describe just how white we each were and how far from shameful slavery.

That was not so long ago and it is still with us. It is the reason that black lives still do not really matter, not even here in TT.

I remember hearing an elderly relative of some sort, when I was a child, discussing the inappropriateness of her niece encouraging the attention of a man darker than her because she should be seeking instead to “lighten the coffee” and better the chances for her children.

It was the first time that I understood the difference between the ethnicities I lived amongst. She counselled that it was better to marry a Putigee (Portuguese and therefore not really of the class of an Englishman or a Frenchman) than to marry an educated black man, and never an Indian, as they were (at that time) the furthest back in the queue.

And as for “Syrians,” they were beyond the pale. In those days they were not one-percenters but often itinerant traders who cycled from door to door selling household goods, cloths and thread, barely able to speak English properly.

The Chinese did not get mentioned, at least, not in that conversation. It is interesting that none of the children in her sphere of influence took her on, all of them marrying the Syrians and Putigee and people of mixed race who looked reliably brown, like them. Not one, though, married a black or Indian person, at least not for another generation.

I would guess that the police who enforce the law really do believe that white people, of whatever ethnicity, are superior because they almost never see them in the service of the public, not as fire or police officers, ambulance staff, state school teachers, garbage collectors, doctors at health centres, as WASA, TTEC or TSTT servicemen. They are definitely inclined to believe them to be less criminal and to have special privileges; hence their prevarication when dealing with them over policing matters. They probably also believe them to be all rich, well connected and probably able to cause them trouble.

Police officers can exercise dicretion but can only enforce laws with rigour if they are absolutely clear, and it would seem that the law on how we behave with regard to the pandemic is not that, which is problematic.

First of all, it is not logical. If I am alone with three-five relatives on a beach outside my house, with no public thoroughfare, who exactly is endangered? The ill-informed young woman did not know that the law is obviously meant to protect us in public places and is sweeping in order to facilitate enforcement.

Of course, no one in this country can own a beach – but not everyone knows that – another presumption of entitlement, on all sides.

The Bayside Towers party confusion is just that, confusion, which turned into a heated debate on race and privilege. Bad laws do not work for anyone.

The Police Commissioner, the best in decades, is brimming with self regard but also is clearly frustrated, and was wrong to openly disparage and challenge the Prime Minister, in a way correctly described as disrespectful to the office. He was wrong, too, in following the very Prime Minister in attacking the media, when how the media reports government matters really depends on the government and it has never really got those relations right. Everyone blaming one another won’t solve these serious matters.


"Bad law, bad reaction"

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