Friday, December 15, 2017

Post-Dana field day for tabloid prophets of doom

Lennox Grant logo54

Mark Fraser

 Beholden to an offbeat discipline, I allow myself only the rarest indulgence of anything that sounds like “I told you so.” Here goes: in March 2013, I argued in this space that “Investigation gets a bad name”.

Investigation, that column suggested, had come to be associated with White Body Suits, familiar first responders at murder scenes. Their spectral appearance implied some higher power being invoked, to the end of putting the empirical pieces together, and making a “case”, capable of meeting the prosecution-worthy standards of the DPP.

Some 80 per cent of the bloody crimes officiated over in such a priestly manner by the White Body Suits never, however, become “cases” requiring some alleged culprit to answer. Investigations are mostly expected to go nowhere. Or the DPP’s office becomes identified as the place where investigations go to die. 

In an eye-opening survey, Ian Lambie last week detailed in Newsday investigations referred to the DPP by the Integrity Commission and the Financial Intelligence Unit. Quietly, he queried “the status of those matters sent to the DPP”.

Nevertheless, persistent faith in its sacramental properties inspired demands for “independent investigation” of the broad-brush intimations of wrongdoing by then Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell. It would be the last public affairs matter to claim the attention of Dana Seetahal. She signed off from this world with the headline “Investigate what exactly?”

Since her killing, I have been moved to wonder at the T&T boilerplate of hand-wringing and hair-tearing. Feeling is high that T&T is reliving what the Black Stalin, in the late 1980s, had called its “darkest hour”. For me, once again, the story lies not in the degree of “darkness”, but in the extent to which T&T today, in its post-Dana phase, has been luridly characterised.

Either “anarchy” has arrived or, in other alarums, it’s coming fast. Preaching a doctrine of T&T Apocalypse Now, or Near, tabloid jeremiads foretell the prevailing of the gates of hell. It’s also being confidently and influentially asserted that a “gangster society” has emerged, and is flourishing beyond the reach of government.

Attitude is profiled as arising from “suffocating depression (and) weariness of bone and spirit”. The present-day T&T zeitgeist of dread is thus interpreted: “Our country has been rotting…our Garden of Eden will soon become a living hell”.

Were these travel advisories posted by Port of Spain-based diplomats, no tourists should consider visiting here, a place, around last Carnival, hailed as one of the happiest on earth. Advisories are also indirectly addressed to people living here, or those who have options such as offered by US-dollar accounts, and green card-type access to foreign residency.

Suddenly, in the post-Dana period, T&T is advertised as somewhere to avoid. God, it’s now revealed, long the faithful Trini, has at last been moved to renounce His citizenship.

Extremism of expression in T&T, discouraging even the Trini God, strikes me as the disabling factor typically at work here. Always, and inside this country, you can expect T&T to be painted in only the most primary of colours.

It takes Denmark-resident writer and word coiner, Lennox Raphael, to advocate the making of T&T “solutionaries”. That is, I suppose, neither revolutionaries nor reactionaries, but those who could make a difference in getting positive things done.

“I don’t believe we are gone thru,” he urges. “Nihilism, from whatever angle, is not the solution.”

It’s not the kind of advisory much heard in a T&T given to highest-decibel expression of doom. It is only nihilism by another name, which finds translation in the terminal condition of “gone thru”.

That T&T has “gone thru” comes over as the conventional wisdom of the post-Dana times. Still, expectation remained unbelievably high that, in ten to 12 days, someone should have been arrested for her epoch-making murder. 

On Thursday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar renewed vows that “every resource possible will be made available for the investigations into this atrocious act”. The Prime Minister’s own boilerplate combined “investigation” with other trouble terms. “We are determined,” she said, “that whoever is responsible feels the full weight of the criminal justice system.”

It is for the Prime Minister, a senior-counsel lawyer, to voice confidence in the “criminal justice system”, a sorely troubled complex of services amid official T&T. Investigations that go nowhere, or never form the basis of prosecutions, are a salient part of it. The courts and the judges constitute another part.

The system remains impervious to improving influence. It cannot take shame. With T&T in the role of subordinate helper, the US criminal justice system investigated, convicted, and jailed T&T Regiment soldiers among other killers of Balo Maharaj. Much the same was achieved Stateside with the Americans busted in a Piarco Airport racket from around 2000.

In this High Court, however, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh, ruling against their extradition, addressed more sympathetic concern for the welfare of Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, than for the reputation and effectiveness of the T&T criminal justice system. Like countless others, the local Galbaransingh and Ferguson cases likely remain under some carpet inside the DPP’s office. 

Is T&T somehow worse off for how and when Dana Seetahal died? Life goes on. Violent death too.