Sunday, October 23, 2005

Georgia has posted a photo of yesterday's Red House ceremony here at Caribbean Free Photo, & images of the march at flickr.

And the T&T newspapers today are full of coverage of the "death march" (I persist in using this slightly hysterical term because what we all need now is to be shocked out of complacency). Ucill Cambridge's lead story in the Express quotes a police estimate of "10,000 to 15,000" marchers, & includes this account of an exchange with Martin Joseph:

When contacted yesterday, National Security Minister Martin Joseph said he could not talk since he was at a constituency meeting in Mayaro. He terminated the phone call before a question could be asked.

Because, as far as Mr. Joseph is concerned, the outrage of 15,000 citizens is an irrelevance.

The Express also runs short interviews by Darren Bahaw with Commodore Anthony Franklin of Communities Mobilising Agsint Crime, Brother Noble Khan of the IRO, Professor Kenneth Ramchand, TTMA president Paul Quesnel, and calypsonian Singing Sandra, all of whom were at the march. On the op-ed pages, Martin Daly rages against the politicians who are refusing to acknowledge their true responsibility for the crisis:

The Prime Minister of our Republic is fully accountable for the murders, bombings and kidnappings rampaging throughout Trinidad and Tobago and turning our lives upside down, no matter what evasive words are used. So is Mr Go-Stay Panday, who is not electable and, by denying us some choice other than the cruel, uncaring, bunch of limp jokers we have in office, Mr Panday is also killing the country.

And Ramesh Deosaran asks the hard question all of us who marched yesterday now have to face: what next?

... it will eventually take the Cabinet, the Ministry of National Security, the Police Service Commission, Commissioner of Police, all constitutionally empowered agencies, to get the job done....

Will the death march and signatures help get this desired result which I believe is the main aim of the Keith Noel 136 Committee. In other words, you can march up and down the street from now to Christmas, you can collect 1.2 million signatures, all these marches and signatures will amount to nothing if these bodies do not do their respective jobs properly and expeditiously.

If the Police and even the Commissioner of Police are not doing their jobs to public satisfaction, how can the public say so in their presence and get effective action? The real issue is therefore this: How can you get these authorised bodies to do their work and account for it publicly now?

Today's Guardian editorial (no permanent link) makes a similar point, more bluntly:

... marches by themselves, however well supported, will not reduce crime.

A first-time visitor, surveying the crowd and the oral and visual messages yesterday, could gain a sense that some fairly obvious thing to defeat crime is being done neither by the authorities, nor by the Parliament. Such a visitor would not, however, have learned what that obvious thing is.

In his address to Parliament last month, President Max Richards lent his prestige to the conviction that Parliament need only take action, which he did not specify, to make a difference with crime.

The belief is apparently widely-shared that tough new laws are needed to put criminals on the run, as President Richards put it.

Placards held by marchers yesterday called for brisk, no-nonsense approaches expressed in "Start making sense," and "Stop kicksing in Parliament." But even those marchers who called for the prompt hanging of murderers must be aware of the practical obstacles in the way of implementing the death penalty.

Before the Keith Noel Committee, with its many supporters, can become a movement for change, expressing the "new culture of leadership" called for by some T-shirts, it has to meet a responsibility to clarify not only what it opposes, but also what it proposes.

The Guardian is right; if yesterday's march is to be the beginning of something rather than the end, if the Keith Noel Committee is to have any lasting impact, it must move quickly to focus citizen anger on some goal more clearly defined than "do something". That means accepting that the Manning government time & again has proven itself unwilling to listen to the criticisms & suggestions of the public, partly because of Mr. Manning's particular delusion of infallibility, partly because of a constitutional system insidiously designed to eliminate actual representation from representative government. It means accepting that the UNC under Mr. Panday did & likely would do no better, so a UNC where Mr. Panday is still calling the shots is under current circumstances a force for harm.

It also means realising that our current crisis goes beyond "locking up the criminals" or enforcing the death penalty (to which I am inexorably opposed), & needs to be fought on two fronts. First, immediate measures to restore public safety: fundamental reform of the police service, of the prison system, of the judicial system; real intelligence work to infiltrate drug & gang networks & destroy them (the information is out there, we all hear the stories, people know the names--why are we afraid of acting?); & immediate action to destroy the legitimacy that our venal politicians have granted to crime kingpins by treating them as "community leaders", hiring them as enforcers at election time, accepting donations from them, and giving them positions in the URP & CEPEP hierarchy, which amounts to public subsidy of criminals. It means giving all these measures priority over new cricket stadiums & downtown high-rises & a new prime ministerial residence.

The second front of this battle is the state of our society & social infrastructure forty years after independence: vast inequalities in an ostensibly booming economy, failing education and public health systems, & the feeling among the general populace that there's nothing "we" can do about these problems because the power is in the hands of the government--which, once elected, forgets about representing citizens until the time comes again for election rhetoric.

None of these ideas is original, all of them have been argued more eloquently by other commentators, & many of them are succinctly expressed in the FITUN flyer I quoted yesterday. But instead of forthrightly dealing with these problems, the Manning government engages in personal aggrandisement and pappyshow projects (like Vision 2020), throws hundreds of millions away on extremely expensive & thus far ineffectual "crime-fighting" equipment and monuments to Mr. Manning's self-esteem, & insults anyone who dares criticise or disagree.

Stephen Cadiz said yesterday he hoped the "death march" would finally make Mr. Manning sit up & take notice. I know, most of us know, he won't. So what next? On the one hand, the widespread publication of a clear, detailed programme of practical steps to deal with all of the above: immediate reform of & action by the security services, massive, meaningful, long-term social investment (anyone who says in 2005 that we can't afford it is lying), &, fundamentally, major constitutional reform to give Trinidad & Tobago, finally, some kind of real representative democracy.

On the other hand, since the current generation of PNM & UNC politicians has proven to us that they simply don't care to "do something", a radical campaign to either force Mr. Manning & his cronies (& for all intents & purposes Mr. Panday is one of Mr. Manning's cronies) to do what they don't want to do, or eliminate them for good. And for good. Under present circumstances, that probably means a campaign of civil disobedience. Two modest proposals: from the businessmen, a pact to withhold all direct & indirect tax revenues from the government; from the trade unions & the ordinary man on the street, a general shut-down of the country. Hold the government to ransom, just as most citizens feel held to ransom. With no violence, & no tolerance for anyone who would make this out to be an anti-PNM campaign. The UNC is complicit, & all are involved.

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