Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎

WHAT POLICE CAN DO by Gerry Kangalee

posted 31 May 2020, 08:23 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 31 May 2020, 08:49 ]
Once the people are aggrieved, and justice is being denied, they will revolt.
Michael “Brother Scobie" Joseph

Having time on my hands these days, I was looking through the Sunday Guardian of May 24th, when I came across a story which says that Police Commissioner Gary “In Yuh Face” Griffith said that those engaging in any public protest made without requisite permission would be arrested under Section 109 of the Summary Offences Act.

Gerry Kangalee
This colonial legislation, was enacted in the wake of the first general strike in T&T in 1919 has been amended thirty times since; shamefully sixteen times by governments of independent Trinidad and Tobago.

If you are so inclined, let us look, not for the first time, at what this oppressive legislation says.

In this day and age political administrations instead of dumping these colonial laws are quite comfortable in increasing the repressiveness of these laws. Isn’t it time that we make the Summary Offences Act irrelevant?

The suspicion is growing that the economic and political elites are sniffing the air and smelling that business as usual no longer applies; that we are, once again, entering a period of rebellion, resistance and insurrection, which has been a mark of Caribbean history for hundreds of years.

Their problem is that, given the collapse of capitalist civilisation on a global scale, the way forward is not clear. The ruling elites are in a state of confusion. The contradictions in their policy prescriptions make this clear. The conflicts within ruling class circles are intensifying.

The authority of the State to maintain a level of order and to mediate and resolve conflicts among the cliques, sections and clips of the privileged elites is breaking down. While they growl, snarl and snap at one other over whose turn it is to loot public funds and how that is to be achieved, what unites them is that the working people and the poor must be kept firmly in our place.

Pre-emancipation they did this through the whip and other instruments of torture; post-emancipation they are doing it through the courts and what Engels would have described as special bodies of armed men, prisons etc.

This is where the police come in. Special bodies of armed men! These special bodies of armed men are in the spotlight these days because of the revolts taking place in the USA as a reaction to modern lynching of black men by the police.

But is it so different in T&T? According to David Trotman in his book Crime in Trinidad “in 1848, ten years after emancipation, Lord Harris, the British colonial governor of Trinidad 'reported that the lower class was still complaining about the unfair application of the law if transgressed by a colored or black man, and their lack of confidence in the system and the impartiality of the law had shaken their energy'.”

Trotman goes on to say that in nineteenth century Trinidad “One’s chances before the courts depended in large measure on one’s class, color and racial origin. The bulk of defendants were, of course, from the working class and were predominantly black and East Indian.” Sounds kind ah familiar. 

Anyway, In T&T policing was never meant to deal with crime. It was and is all about keeping order. Justice be damned! The law is by and large meant to protect property and property holders. Order, from the point of view of the ruling elites, is to ensure social stability so that exploitation of labour may take place as unhindered as the class struggle allows.

Justice is a class concept. What is just for the employer is unjust for the worker. Different class interests see justice through different eyes. A capitalist would see a strike as being unjust because it hurts
Violent Beetham protests anger CoP | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper
his interest (his profit). A worker may see a strike as being just because it may bring him what he considers a living wage. One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

Justice encompasses much more than that which is deemed lawful. Justice is not necessarily obtained in the courts and that which was deemed unlawful in one period may become lawful in another. Slavery was lawful, but dare we say, then, that it was just? Notions of justice are historically conditioned.

One hundred and seventy years ago, the barefoot masses grasped this truth that the chattering classes are still trying to obscure and confuffle with their incessant old talk about separation of powers, accountability, transparency, justice and democracy. It is just about entrenching the dominance of those who prey on working people and the poor and gorge themselves on the public purse.

Now, we have Garrulous Gary threatening the masses with arrest for exercising their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Probably seeing himself as the descendant of Captain Baker of Canboulay Uprising fame, he seems determined that the masses must be kept in their place.

There is a difference between rights and freedoms. A freedom is the absence of a legally enforceable duty to refrain from some action. Freedom of expression is different from a right to express oneself.

A right is some legally enforceable claim, backed through the ability of the state (fines, injunctions, imprisonment, etc.) to impose its will, that one legal subject has against another because of some interference caused or threatened by that other. While we talk of freedom of expression, the law puts all kinds of restrictions on our ability to do so and transforms these freedoms into rights, which are meant to circumscribe and channel these freedoms into legally acceptable behaviour.

Without the ability to impose its will, to apply sanctions, the courts could pronounce till kingdom come and it would make no difference. The key is the power of the state, in the final analysis to ensure its will is implemented. The essence of state power, therefore, is armed force. That is where the police come in! There is no contradiction between the inability of the police to keep crime under control and its increasing ability to engage in armed violence against citizens. The function of the police is not to solve crime. It is to keep order. Let us get that through our skulls. We know what police can do!