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Trinidad & Tobago: More Questions on State of Emergency

As the State of Emergency continues in Trinidad and Tobago – and the government's communication efforts about it continue to be muddled at best (Is it limited or national? Is there a solid strategy in place or not?) – local bloggers are voicing their opinions, confusion and frustration online.

KnowTnT.com makes the point that:

There's no such thing as ‘limited’ within the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago regarding the State of Emergency – and oddly, there isn't a version of the Constitution readily found online that has the State of Emergency parts in it.

The post goes on to reiterate that much of the online discussion of the issue is happening, as was reported here, “in the semi-privacy of Facebook”, and categorizes the responses to the State of Emergency into two broad categories: “The Happy People”, who are “trusting the government to do what is necessary and right to deal with crime in Trinidad and Tobago” and “The Unhappy People”:

There are those that do not like that under the State of Emergency, rights of citizens are for all intents and purposes null and void. There are others who found that the words of the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, and the Prime Minister, were… lacking in providing a sense that they knew what they were doing. And still others wonder at the efficacy of it all.

The blogger's personal take on the situation is somewhere in the middle:

When the Police can't do their jobs without risk of putting the public at risk, a State of Emergency can be an asset. Now they don't have to get warrants or worry about what the magistrates will say – they have free reign and used wisely they might accomplish something more than locking up the thugs that have the guns and small amounts of drugs – which is what they have accomplished so far. Maybe they plan to bring down a few of the thugs that wear whiter collars. If in 2 weeks they don't manage to get at least 2 of them, this whole thing has been a waste.

But there's the issue, too, of magistrates being frustrated by poor police work resulting in case dismissals. The State of Emergency won't help that unless the Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, has teams running around with the police and quizzing them with flash cards on assuring that cases aren't thrown out. There's a big flaw.

And when this is all over, do I think right now that anything will be better? For a while. But the conditions will breed the same criminality… the State of Emergency so far has been treating symptoms, not the Disease.

A few bloggers are discussing last night's television interview with Attorney General Anand Ramlogan; Plain Talk analyses the exchange practically frame by frame, here, saying:

By 4:58 and with arms flailing the normally sedate Kalipersad ‘dissed’ the success of the first night of the government's effort and rattled off figures in a condescending way designed to provoke, causing Ramlogan's face to contort between smirk and smile and showing his discomfort with what was taking place.

The remaining five odd minutes were filled with Ramlogan trying to make the government look better than it should considering the paltry results of the effort thus far, doing his best to make the seizure of six guns and the arrest of twenty two petty thugs sound a whole lot more than they were in reality. Ramlogan's second agenda seemed to be to revise history to accommodate for the glaring inconsistencies in the appointment of the Acting Commissioner of Police, and he walked with a letter to prove that the government was willing to do everything they could to make their mistakes fit their version of the truth.

By 8:21 Dominic was asking probing questions on the veracity of the AG's prop, but by now the storm had passed and no one was paying any real attention which lulled us into believing the worst was behind us, preparing none of us for Kalipersad's now famous parting jab ‘please don't be rude,’ which was supremely ironic as this was a public demonstration of rudeness journalistic style.

Having lost what amounted to the most revealing issue in the whole interview, that the government made a mess of the handling of the entire State of Emergency and are caught up in a web of if not outright lies and deceit then absolute creative trickery to make their shaky ground solid, Kalipersad tied the fiasco together with a neat little bow and allowed the AG to make his final point..

…while sweet trini's urban folk tales prefers to keep an eye on the bigger picture:

the prime minister issues a limited state of emergency that not so limited (sans presidential approval) and the acting commissioner of police sign a curfew order before actually appointed a.c.p. all while police commissioner gibbs and deputy ewaski out of the country without proper knowledge of the commission, the former detained for illegal entry into another country…as a pardner say on fasbook: the red house should be on the list of crime “hotspots” [thus far targeting predominantly black areas considered lower class] as tha's where most crimes against this country occur.

but i have long maintained: trinbagonians will take chain up, bobol and mamguy, and revolution will not come until they ban carnival; we riot when they threaten dance+drum. they say the state of emergency is to take down (violent) crime and i for that but how, exactly, this supposed to wuk? we supposed to believe, with no longterm plan from the powers that be, that criminals not smart enough to take a 2weeks vacation and come back robbing+shooting + burning+looting come mid-september? when smaller criminals who cyah afford vacation get ketch doing their daily hustle, with the lack of opportunity our young men face we supposed to believe it doh have a nex’ crew already jostlng to take their place? and a nex’ crew rolling up to replace them? we supposed to believe little black boys on the block importing the drugs+weapons? laundering money on a streetcorner in neverdirty, morvant?

those behind the smuggling of drugs+weapons that fuel local crime are those behind our politics and industry, close enough and boldface enough to look we in we eye when they wining, groping hands deep in our taxpaying pockets, backed by our administration. dialogue is necessary…

Nicholas Laughlin's blog etc. echoes this perspective in a post titled “The right to question”:

I have no legal training whatsoever, but I understand this: democracy requires negotiating a balance between individual rights and needs and a community’s common good. This balance is expressed in written laws and unwritten conventions, in which every citizen has a vital interest. In a healthy democracy, citizens recognise and assert this interest, and any change in that balance between individual rights and the common good should be accompanied by vigorous and informed debate. A healthy democracy requires dissent.

It also requires that citizens ask questions. So here are some of mine.

Why is the attorney general — a very smart man and clearly also a smartman, as all lawyers perhaps must be — actively misleading the public about the extent to which the “fundamental rights and freedoms” recognised in section 4 of the constitution have been derogated by the Emergency Powers Regulations?

Why did the government declare the state of emergency in the absence of the commissioner of police and his deputy, considering that the Emergency Regulations give the commissioner significant and augmented powers of discretion over citizens’ rights?

Why — if the objective of the state of the emergency is to give the police temporary special powers to round up illegal arms and disrupt gang activity — were the Emergency Powers Regulations not drafted more narrowly so as to impinge on as few basic rights as possible? What does a ban on public meetings “held for the purpose of the transaction of matters of public interest or for the discussion of such matters” have to do with rooting out crime? Or a ban on “any document … likely … to cause disaffection or discontent among persons”? Many works of literature make me feel disaffected or discontented. Are novels to be confiscated? The regulations are drafted with sufficient breadth that the authorities may forbid almost all forms of expression. Do circumstances really justify such broad powers?

He ends the post by saying:

I feel dreadfully and profoundly unsafe knowing that so many of my basic civil rights have been derogated, with no certainty about when they will be restored.

These rights only exist because of a hard-won consensus on human nature and our moral obligations to each other that has taken centuries to thrash out — They can continue to exist only if citizens are vigilant, informed, and unafraid to exercise their duty to ask questions and express dissent to the governments they elect to serve them.

Twitter, under the hashtag #SoETT, is also full of uncertainty:

@Hansisaproblem: Yo….. Details not adding up and corresponding, you people need to think and sort out what you saying before you say it. #SOETT

@HaydnDunn: if police and soldiers don't tackle white-collar crime this State of Emergency situation will be a total failure!!! #SoETT

@SanMan_ish: Anand making it sound as if Mr. Big from one of the traditional HotSpots… why allyuh doh go search all d containers pon d port! #SoETT

@ActivismTT sums up the situation like this:

@ActivismTT: Boasting about a reduction in crime during a State of Emergency is like gloating about losing weight during a famine. #SoETT #nonsense

When the State of Emergency is finally lifted, netizens will be looking for answers.

Thumbnail image by Flickr user izatrini_com (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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