This is one of the letters which I have written to Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.
Dear Dr. Rowley
Congratulations on your 47th month as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Sir, the focus on guns and drugs is commendable however we continue to allow traffic violations and indiscipline on the roads. Some of the indiscipline comes from the fact that people who “bought” their driver’s permit are unlikely to be able to read and write.
May I suggest a Public Awareness campaign of 15 second radio and television advertisements done in standard English and focussing on the rules contained in the regulations handbook.
This is one of the letters which I have written to Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.
Dear Dr. Rowley
Congratulations on your 38th Month as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
I sincerely congratulate you on the appointment of a Commissioner of Police however the goodwill generated by this appointment is being quickly eroded and I wish to make the following unsolicited recommendations.
That the Commissioner of Police take a less combative style when communicating with citizens.
That the Commissioner refrain from denigrating his predecessor because the knock on effect is that he is critiquing his own office.
That there should be a greater focus on traffic management so that we operate in a less chaotic context. (Reference the broken window syndrome)
That the Commissioner should reduce the focus on himself and place it more on the team of trained police who support him
I sincerely hope that you will consider these suggestions.
This interview with Dr. Rowley and his constituents aggravated a deep wound in that area. What I saw and heard was a man from within the constituency reliving the pain of the shooting death of his mother WPC Bernadette James and asking for some assurance that the shooting death of the 14 year old female by a Police Officer would be investigated. Twice he mentioned that he was 7 years old when his mother was allegedly accidentally killed on the rifle range on a training exercise in Chaguaramas. He personalized the shootings for the Prime Minister by pointing out that the Prime Minister’s godson was shot on another occasion. This brought the issue of police shootings very close to the Prime Minister and made me ask the question: What can be done?
The optimum approach would be collaboration between the Government and the Opposition but with the recent arrest of a former Attorney General current Opposition Senator, collaboration seems highly unlikely. In 2015 under the Leadership of then Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago was listed as an adaptation partner in the Cure Violence programme which is having global success but as usual, when either the UNC or the PNM wrest power from each other, they simply discontinue initiatives and start over. The Cure Violence model to prevent violence is currently being implemented in 10 countries across more than 25 cities and 60 communities. Programs are expanding into new communities in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Latin America, as well as in the Middle East, including Syria. Seems to me that since Trinidad and Tobago has some experience with the programme, we could stretch across the aisle in Parliament, discuss the benefits that could be derived and work towards implementation. Read more about the Cure Violence model here.
The Cure Violence Programme came to my attention via a TED talk by Epidemiologist, Dr. Gary Slutkin who “applied lessons learned from more than a decade fighting epidemics in Africa and Asia to the creation of a public health model to reduce violence through behaviour change and disease control methods. He is an Ashoka Fellow, a Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a senior advisor to the World Health Organization and the 2009 Winner of the Search for a Common Ground Award”.
A second area crying for attention is the thousands of people who have been impacted by deaths by shooting over the past 5 years. It is reported that we have had 2,000 deaths by shooting and if we assume that each death impacted 10 people, then we perhaps have 20,000 people suffering some kind of trauma associated with gun violence. Unless there is some meaningful intervention, it is likely that this trauma will lead to more violence.
Crime in Trinidad and Tobago is now at epidemic level and the solution lies in a collaborative approach. It is time to depoliticize crime in the interest of the citizens of our country.
A photograph by Maria Nunes stirred emotions in me that I thought I had quelled. I cry for Laventille when I remember the beauty of the people and the ambition and the sense of striving I grew up with. The callous may say, “Nostalgia!” But it was real. The memories are blurred, but the sense of being, living, knowing is as real as the moonlit sky with music in the background. It is as real as hanging over the pan stand and allowing the music to envelop your being ‘til the tenor pan rings in your heart … or stepping away and propping on a wall a little distance away, but close enough to feel every note. The panyard gave us hope! We saw young men and boys who were “otherwise engaged” outside of the panyard performing at an exceptional standard and we respected them for their talent. Eventually some of them represented the country and therefore the community on the world stage. They “lifted our noses” as we used to say.
The Despers panyard was a communal space where we all felt safe. Visitors were protected and you believed that the Statue of the Virgin Mary atop the spire protected you from every evil. For the 10 years I functioned as the Public Affairs Manager at Witco, going up the hill to lime was normal but then small incidents became bigger and bringing it to the attention of the Police was a waste of time.
How can a band with one of the longest sponsorship arrangements be homeless today – bouncing from vacant lot to vacant lot in the city of Port of Spain? How can a community which has elected the PNM solidly since 1956 be allowed to become so unsafe that it can no longer be home to its pride and joy? The children of Laventille have chased the band away from its own home and PNM Members of Parliament presided over this travesty. Had the Members of Parliament found ways for meaningful collaboration, maybe by now Despers would have been handed the keys to their new home. Maybe, we would have had a functional, custom built pan theatre which is acoustically perfect for our national instrument. Maybe, we would have developed a blueprint for Pan Theaters throughout the country and indeed the world. Instead Despers continues to squat in their third (or is it fourth) location around the city. Or is it that I am just nostalgic? Is Despers now an anachronism? Does the band still still connect with the community?
I think not. Despers is as important as every other steelband in this country and it is time for us as a people to find a way to include steelband in our development.
Brace yourself for heightened aggression from the police! That’s the message I received from the recent television interview with Commissioner of Police (CoP) Gary Griffith about the alleged Police killing of five young men in Laventille. To paraphrase this very powerful citizen – anyone who objects to his approach either has not been impacted by crime or benefits from the criminal elements. Additionally, this leader resorted to sarcasm and ridicule to respond to legitimate concerns being raised by the interviewer. In a direct jab at his predecessor’s failure to impact the level of crime, the CoP questioned: has it really worked well for the last few years? In a direct ridicule of the grandmother of one of the slain victims who said that the boys held their hands up, the CoP described her as “Super Granny flying through the air”. Super Gary is confident that he has 95% of the population backing him so feels emboldened to insult citizens.
If I were his boss, I would muzzle him for the next 90 days and only allow the Communications Officer to speak to the Media. My first reason for muzzling him is that we have not really seen the impact of his gun talk as yet. As I write, we are counting the number of murders committed for the weekend. Commissioner Gary needs to give his plans time to work before boasting about how he will peg back the criminals because the evidence is that so far, he has not.
My second reason for muzzling him is that he has to be taught what to say. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is the saying: “not all talk good tuh talk”. His boast that he will fire anyone caught in wrongdoing simply confirms his ignorance of process and procedure. He cannot do so without following a specific procedure, but the Police Association will teach him that lesson. You may say, “That is not what he meant,” but a true leader would have responded from a position of knowledge. That kind of activity is best dealt with by your actions and not your statement of intent.
My third reason for muzzling him is that as a person in a position of leadership, sarcasm cannot be your “go to” approach. Sarcasm as a literary device is often used when intended to mock or insult. The Commissioner of Police should not be intending to mock or insult any member of the public, particularly the media and, in a media interview. His response “Oh Jesus Lord Fadder…” was simply out of place for a leader.
If the CoP’s boss takes my advice, he would have Gary work tirelessly on finding out exactly what happened with the killing of five youths in Laventille and provide an account to John Public. That would demonstrate his commitment to being accountable. His second task would be to identify a collaborative approach for members of the public to work with the police on providing the information they so desperately need and, thirdly I would make the process of promotion transparent.
And while Gary is on lock-down, his boss needs to remind him of the old Apache saying: “It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand”
Is it no surprise that Minister Dillon has been removed? The Prime Minister has chosen to sacrifice one of the persons who brought home his political victory in preference for an opposition player. PM Rowley is either a masterful collaborator or the rocks he studies have gone to his head. Here are some excerpts from a Gary Griffith Press Release carried onTV6 on June 17, 2016:
The recent confirmation that the Armoured Personal Carriers have been scrapped by Minister Dillon, again emphasizes that he continues to play politics with National Security, with his sole function being to scrap, disband and dismantle everything that was of value in National Security, just because it was established by the previous Administration, regardless if it was instrumental in reducing crime or based on the direct request by the Protective Services.
This illogical decision goes in line with his previous unfounded comment that our country is not at risk to terrorist activities, and had to be immediately contradicted by the Prime Minister, and rightfully so.
Minister Dillon has not established one policy, but instead his sole actions have been to only shut down, dismantle or cancel every asset pleaded for by the Protective Services.
This latest chapter of Minister Dillon’s agenda “ of shut down and dismantle”, rips into the heart of showing blatant disregard and disrespect for our Protective Services, as it was they who strongly recommended that APCs be acquired, as they are being asked to go into volatile areas, where semi-automatic weapons with high caliber rounds can rip into any regular vehicle and easily kill our Police Officers and soldiers in a second, but Minister Dillon has the audacity to say that these vehicles would not be appropriate, so he is right and every other country that has been using this to protect their troops and our own Army are all wrong.
These are harsh criticisms and a bitter pill for Retired Major General Edmund Dillon to swallow especially since it is being administered by a mere captain.
Within the first week of his appointment as Commissioner of Police, I am concerned; primarily because of the kind of power he now has, and there is very little in his past which assures me that the management side of the task is really being considered. The new CoP has already signalled that he has “78 policies”ready for implementation. That’s commendable but one must remember Peter Drucker who said:“culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Why is that statement important? You can have policies till it oozes out with your sweat, but unless the new CoP is able to engage the hearts and minds of the people he is leading, nothing will change. His leadership style so far has not been seen as collaborative. His army training is based on compliance and I have experienced the arrogance of his power plays. Unless he is an absolutely “transformed” Gary, the “cockroaches” both within the TTPS and on the streets will eat his strategies for breakfast.Dr. Rowley courted the highest levels of the military and the police to be on his election slate. He chose Brig. Gen. Ancil Antoine, Retired Major General Edmund Dillon and retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Glenda Jennings-Smith and he already had former police/lawyer and experienced MP, Fitzgerald Hinds. Their collective experience with law enforcement and the military is more than 100 years. Despite this fire power, crime continues unabated.The fact that these four experienced persons made no headway is instructive. Either they don’t know how to collaborate, or they don’t know how to manage, or both, or something else. But for our country’s sake the Captain must outperform the Major General.