Sunday, January 21, 2018

Polio or no polio...

Theodore Lewis logo18

Mark Fraser

 The Prime Minister has assured us that the present criminal carnage that came in with the new year will cease for Carnival. The Play Whe mark for Dead Man is the number four, and the Prime Minister is assuring that if you play four on Car­nival day, you will lose. 

On one hand, I am inclined to agree with Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar that Carnival may offer a respite for the undertakers in white. This is because at Carnival, we bring out the police in full. Indeed, it is a period when the police seem to be at their most creative. For example, they devise innovative traffic regulations and routes that ensure the free flow of vehicles, in spite of the very heavy volume of commuters to the main centres. You can get in and out of Port of Spain with remarkable ease. 

In recent years, we have grown accustomed to after-Carnival stock-taking, in which a “clean” festival is proclaimed due to vigilant policing. After Carnival 2011, then police commissioner Dwayne Gibbs said that “overall security for the Carnival sea­son was a success”. Gibbs said that compared to 2010, there was a 48 per cent decrease in crime. His minister of National Security John San­dy concurred, saying the decline in Carnival crime “reflects well on the collaborative and well-co-ordinated approach taken by the law-enforcement professionals during the pre-Carnival activities and throughout Carnival”. 

But Gibbs was aware that life went on after Carnival, and he promised that “the initiatives which we employed during the Carnival season will not end as Carnival has end­ed. We will continue to meet with all stakeholders involved in crime prevention, anti-crime operations and initiatives, and build upon the success of Carnival 2011 to ensure the safety and security of the citizens”. 

For Carnival 2013, the minister of National Security was Jack Warner. He revealed that there was only one Carnival-related murder, and that “the entire country had experienced a mere 42 serious crimes for Carnival—a drop from 64 offences in 2011 and 74 for 2012. He praised the work of security forces, saying their efforts were “unsurpassed and unparalleled in terms of...implemen­ta­­tion.” 

By December, we were on our third minister of National Security for the year. Jack was out, distrac­ted by personal ambition. So we have had Jack Warner, Emmanuel George and, now, Gary Griffith. The number of murders for 2013 was 407.

Why is it that two critical people in the security apparatus in recent times, Dwayne Gibbs and Jack War­ner, saw it fit to intimate that our policing intensity at Carnival is the stan­dard which should be replicated during the remainder of the year? Why do we have one model of poli­cing for Carnival and a second, more ineffective one for after? Is it because we have more visitors at that time? Is this something that is externally driven?

The notion that Carnival is a time of violent possibility is associa­ted with an earlier period when steel­bands paraded the streets on Carnival days and when those who were feuding during the year settled scores through pitched battles. 


Carnival is still filled with violence, particularly stabbings and other fights, and certainly assaults on women. There are people who take guns to fetes. For Carnival 2012, the US Embassy here offered its visiting citizens advice on how to negotiate Carnival safely. The bulletin offered 22 tips on what US citizens should avoid or be aware of during the festivities. The embassy stated it is a period of high alcohol consumption and that there is typically an increase in crimes such as assault, bur­glaries pick-pocketing, robberies and rapes. But it goes on to say that it is concurrently a time of merriment for both locals and foreigners.

The truth is that violent crime today involving murder has nothing to do with steelbands or Carnival bands. Crime today revolves around drug distribution and its attendant gang activity. Gangsters stay away from steelbands because a panyard would make them static targets. 

Beyond police efforts, there is the invention of the all-inclusive fete, which charges a high entry premi­-

um and offers tight security. 

It is possible, indeed, that given the secular trend, we may see a drop in murders during the festival period. But I find it to be disingenuous on the part of the Prime Minister to frame the conversation on our disastrous crime problem in terms of short-term Carnival assurances rather than in terms of longer-lasting, more permanent solutions. The Prime Minister here is exploiting our baser instincts instead of mo­ving us towards something grander —the notion of rising. In his song “The Carnival is Over”, Kitchener, ever brilliant, described the post-Carnival pathos, the return to a rea­lity of dreadness on Ash Wed­nes­day morning. 

Carnival is a proven form of national anaesthesia, a sort of narcotic, putting us into a collective stupor, potent enough to cause us not to worry about a little daily murder, often in the heart of town. It is a time of temporary forgetting. As Kitchener says in his classic “Rainora­ma”, “Polio or no polio, man we want we mas”. We must have it. But every shut-eye is not sleep. People come back to their senses after Carnival, some with unwanted babies, others with incurable diseases. And this time around, most, with the overriding sense of an administration reeking with incompetence, as they read of the savagery in the daily papers, firm up their bur­glar-proofing and pray. What we need from the Government is a vision for our safety and security that extends beyond Carnival, but what we are being offered is the same mud, the same “posie”.

• Theodore Lewis is emeritus 

professor, University of 

Minnesota, USA.