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Murder in Trinidad & Tobago 2017: The Response of the Politicians to The New Normal

This is an update of my paper titled: “An Analysis of the Murder Rate of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) 1990-2016”

The number of murders for 2017 is tentatively put at 494 for 2017. This is the third highest number of murders per year for the period 1990 to 2017. Number 1 is 2008 with 547, 2009 with 506 is second and 2017 with 494 is in third place with 2010 in fourth place with 473. What is noteworthy in 2017 is that it’s a pinnacle attained in an escalation of murder from 2013 to 2017 a five-year period. In fact, from 2008 to 2017 there was a shallow unsustainable dip in murders per year for the period in the years 2010 and 2011. From 2012 the upwards spiral commenced with the rate of the spiral quickening even further in 2016 to 2017.

What is clearly apparent for the period 2008 to 2017 is the failure of the politicians and the security agencies of T&T to impact the reality on the ground towards deescalating the spiral of especially gun violence on the ground. It’s now manifestly apparent that the political power relations of the state, the power relations embracing the state security agencies and the politicians of the state and the internal power relations of the security agencies of the state ensure the inability of these agencies to engage with the reality on the ground towards impacting the murder spiral.

Great emphasis is being placed on the T&T police service but the terrain of possible change to this institution is defined and limited by its power relations with the politicians and its internal power relations. What is then possible on this terrain will not impact the reality on the ground to the extent to achieve what is sought and expected by the populace, an expectation in its diversity which is also constituted by the politics of race to control the state.

The fact that key and strategic institutions of the state that impact the terrain of crime and violence continue in 2018 to define themselves by apparatuses and mechanisms of power invented to serve the colonial order results in operational worldviews which enable and empower crime remains a non-issue and of no concern is a lesson in itself. That the police are there for social control and customs to collect revenue ensure that in the era of transnational organised crime in the Caribbean T&T is a gangsta’s paradise! Both operational worldviews are part of the colonial institutional legacy that we desperately hold on to trying to breathe life into a rotting cadaver hence the bloodletting in T&T. These operational colonial legacies ensure that the police don’t proactively seek out and dismantle organised and transnational organised crime operations. They search, seize and arrest sum total most times parts thereof. They are permanently in reactive mode in accordance with the colonial model of social control policing where the colonial ruling class which has a race basis is exempt from policing. The police in this colonial mode simply cannot engage with organised crime over long periods vitally necessary to dismantle organised crime groups. Gangsta’s get a free ride. How many of the gangs we are told we have in T&T have been dismantled? How many trafficking organisations have been dismantled? The issue is much more fundamental than police corruption. The internal power relations of the police are constituted by the colonial apparatuses and mechanisms of power. These power relations accede to the demand of the politicians for a politicised police service focused on social control whilst the politicians accept the colonial mechanisms of power of the police service. Politicians and the police service are then trapped in a catch 22 as the paramountcy of social control through policing for politicians obliges them to accept the police service for what it is and be risk averse to fundamental and far reaching police reform. Whilst the power relations of the police service demand stability and business as usual as being vital to career path preservation which demands the preservation of the colonial mechanisms of power and power relations. In addition, career path preservation is rooted in the maintenance of social control by policing which demands the application of the colonial mechanisms of power. When those enmeshed in the power relations, the politicians and the executive of the police service, are faced with the politics of escalating crime waves the catch 22 hardens as the path to grappling with the reality becomes even more precarious because of the political cost feared by all is intensified by the very nature of the politics of race and capturing the state in T&T. The salient question then is the ability of the politicians and the police executive enmeshed in these hegemonic power relations to gaze upon and understand the intrinsic nature of the threats posed and then to critically assess and act upon their deficiencies? Threat mitigation demands constant organic change but the actions so far taken regardless of political regime and police executive is an attempt to rescue the status quo thereby preserving business as usual. This results in threat denial not mitigation!

There is then an objective and the strategy has been applied to attain the objective. The reality is, the objective is not the safety of the masses in the streets the objective is career preservation. The politicians have invested heavily in the police service of T&T to ensure the objective is attained and in so doing have become transfixed by their gaze upon the police service. For it’s a gaze borne out of dependency which constituted the belief that the police service is the premier state security agency necessary to attaining the objective of career preservation. This conviction has redounded to the benefit of successive police executives since 1962 in their quest for career preservation but the price paid is the inability of both the politicians and the police executive to be agents of change vitally strategically necessary to ensure the police service constantly evolves to grapple with the threats posed by a rapidly evolving and globalised terrain of crime. And to the detriment of the state agencies of Customs & Excise and Immigration. Will the politicians appoint a commissioner and a deputy commissioner of police who are not trusted participants of the power relations that obtain between politicians and the police executive?

Customs encased within the colonial cocoon can never adequately engage with the strategically necessary task of border security which demands long term engagement with organised crime to dismantle crime groups. And any attempt to graft this task onto the colonial apparatus will result in failure as it creates a terrain that enables organised crime. The colonial mechanism of power determines that the primary importance of Customs & Excise is revenue collection. Since 1962 the focus has remained the same as the politicians have a marked preference for all tasks of policing to have the police service in the lead role including in areas where they have no power under law as is the case with Customs & Excise bonded areas and immigration. The use of the special powers of Customs & Excise for the express purpose of border security is then sacrificed to the perpetuation of the power relations which enmesh the police service and the politicians to the detriment of border security. It’s then practically unfathomable for politicians and the police executive to have a militarised arm of Customs & Excise whose primary task is to deal with illicit imports such as guns and ammunition in the spaces specifically and solely under the control of Customs & Excise. As this development presents a challenge to the power relations that have locked the politicians and the police executive in an embrace of power. Immigration remains tightly wrapped in the colonial cocoon and in a present state of operational capacity and capability that renders it irrelevant to the terrain of crime in T&T. The same has then to be done for with any attempt to graft onto the collapsed colonial cocoon will result in failure and a boon to organised crime. Immigration then remains a state security agency that is consigned to the periphery of border control rendered lame, ineffective and consigned to a time warp in the face of an assault of a wave of illicit migrants to T&T where we have lost control to determine who is a fit, able and a desirous person to enter and reside in T&T.

The reality is entirely different for civilian covert agencies charged with the task of state security. These agencies are viewed by all politicians as grave threats in the hands of their political opponents and powerful temptations in their hands. As a result, these agencies are totally politicised, enmeshed in power relations where ruling politicians tirelessly seek to exert hegemony over these agencies. Staff appointments are driven by powerful political considerations premised on loyalty. With a change of regime, the staff is gutted and given the politics of race in T&T staff excised and appointed reflects the race basis of politics in T&T. These agencies are enmeshed in power relations with politicians where the objective of the agency is to toe the line, to avert political witch hunting for fear of the political traitors and agents on board and to affirm relentlessly the political line of the political overlord regardless of its grounding in reality. The power relations between the politicians and the executive of these agencies have as its objectives: subservience to the political overlord, affirmation of the political discourse of the political overlord and their career path preservation at least during the term of office of the present political overlord. For with a change of party in power your career path can suddenly die. The power relations between the politicians and the executive of these agencies plus their internal power relations ensure that efforts to effectively execute the mandate handed to these agencies by law become lost in the rush of power relations. The power relations with the politicians are not seeking nor demanding effective operational conditions and the production of operational knowledge that impacts specific realities what they want are subservient, safe bitches.

What is required from the politicians is the passage and proclamation into law of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) law of relevance to the crime terrain of T&T. An effective RICO law is strategically necessary to engage in long term engagements towards dismantling organised crime groups. A gang law without RICO is simply boxing with your strongest hand and foot incapacitated.

Those who utilise taxpayer’s money to write supposedly expert reports for politicians in the public domain as the latest in a long line on the T&T police service. Please note that reports and their recommendations for change written in a power relations vacuum soon end up collecting dust on a shelf. Potently illustrated by the position that the post of commissioner of police should become an elected post based on universal adult suffrage thereby creating another elected power pole other than the Prime Minister with control over a paramilitary force. Which will overturn the entire body of power relations between the politicians and the executive of the police service. How can one realistically expect politicians to embrace recommendations which are supposedly necessary but assault the hegemonic power relations between the politicians and the executive of the police service. Do you expect the executive of the police service to publicly embrace said recommendations? One cannot insist that recommendations are necessary, vital and strategic when formulated in a power relations vacuum. These are recommendations for La La Land! Fantasyland! Solutions are the domain of politicians and the executives of state security agencies not the “experts” who are excluded from the power relations that their “solutions” address.

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