Friday, December 15, 2017

What Dana’s death means

 If the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal is what it took to wake you up to our situation here, then something is wrong with you.

If a little boy being raped to death in a swimming pool at a party wasn’t a wake-up call then, Dana’s murder can’t wake you up to anything. You have been in denial for a long time and are just using your moral panic over this latest killing to soothe your general inertia.

Or maybe you are a member of the cocooned and protected classes who only got hysterical when you realised crime has moved out from “Behind De Bridge” and the distant edges of the East/West corridor in the Malabars and La Horquettas of your imagination and is sitting comfortably in gated developments. 

Dana Seetahal’s gruesome and shocking death is a marker. It will become part of a macabre and grisly list of checkpoints that heralded our descent, while we sat shell-shocked and panicked, waiting for someone else—not us—to take back our power. It will join markers like the Scott Drug Report; the 1990 coup and the subsequent court ruling in favour of the Muslimeen; it will join the rise of the Muslimeen as a group that was consistently awarded government contracts as part of every sitting government’s secret crime initiative; it will join the Crowne Plaza agreement; the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman kidnapping and murder and every other kidnapping, the illegal SoE; Section 34; Emailgate and a very long list of markers that all point to us descending into narco-state fourth world hell.

You hear it on the lips of citizens all the time, “Here getting like Mexico”, “Here getting like Colombia”. We not getting there folks. We reach. That is what Dana’s death means. Final destination point. When a state prosecutor is murdered in cold blood like that, in a country that is already awash in drugs, arms and human trafficking and has a corrupt and compromised police service and government, know that we really and truly reach. We not heading to hell anymore. It is here. It takes only one high-profile murder like that to happen and go unsolved and you know we have arrived. Trinidad now has two: Selwyn Richardson in the 90s and now Dana Seetahal.

This is not to minimise or negate the murders and senseless killings of so many thousands in the last decades. But, let’s face it. As a well off member of the legal profession, it is assumed that Ms Seetahal would be safer and more protected. Her  assassination in an upscale neighbourhood was meant to send a message. 

We woke up Sunday morning knowing in a very concrete way that a message was being sent to the legal profession, journalists, columnists, activists, anyone bold enough to question the criminal and corruption status quo. Toe the blasted line...or this will be you.

With the assassination of Dana, we are very aware that persons with strong independent voices are under attack. Dana, to my knowledge, never verbally lashed out at any entity, political or otherwise. But, she was a rare thing, a lawyer who took elitist, legal jargon and made it accessible to the lay person. I didn’t know Dana personally. I knew her through her media commentary. Dana helped me to understand this country’s legal system, without me ever having to meet her or pay her a red cent. 

Few lawyers or intellectuals here have been as lucid, accessible and relevant as she was. That’s what made Dana true silk. She had a fearsome legal mind, and instead of keeping it to herself and her clients for handsome fees, she made it available to all of us. Dana represented hope and all that could be good about us as a society.

This hit will be a success not just because Dana Seetahal has been silenced; but because the wider public will silence itself; retreat further indoors; put more useless security systems in place. All the while not understanding that in growing quiet and retreating indoors, that’s how we gave criminals control of this place. They have fed on and continue to feed on our fear and insecurities. Our very predictable response to violence, from enslavement to now, has never been overt; it has been passive aggression. So we will lead trapped lives and break more laws in an unconscious lashing out at all that is wrong around us: more child abuse, more road rage, more petty crimes and more silences and looking the other way when corruption happens because, suppose we end up like Dana?

I have no faith that the police are going to really solve this crime. The first official response to Ms Seetahal’s murder was the AG. At 2 a.m. he had a lucid statement prepared of how friendly he and Dana were, and how in the latest scandal involving him, she was actually in his corner. It came across as, “I sorry Dana dead, but lemme take a selfie.” A clear attempt at image management of his own foibles in the midst of what was clearly a national crisis and moment of trauma for others. 

Then sometime after 2 p.m. the PM roused herself fully to issue a bland cut and paste response from the Government. Nothing to offer the victim’s family, or the shellshocked country. And then, by Sunday night, they were back in media and PR mode. Whole TV stations commandeered. Panels convened. Police news conferences, all over a background of National Security ads saying “Serious Crime is Down” despite the fact that we have 29 more murders in 2014 than we had in the corresponding period for 2013.

I expect that three or four bodies of murder victims will be discovered soon. Just like with the Selwyn Richardson murder. And whether we know it or not, those bodies would have belonged to Dana’s killers. It’s part of how a narco state works. And the sooner we start noticing the patterns, the sooner we can either grow accustomed or fight back.

I’ve made the choice to keep fighting back. Dana’s assassination had me contemplative and sober on Sunday, because I recognised immediately the threat to free speech and independent thinking this is for journalists, columnists, activists and bloggers like myself. But I’m not going to stop questioning this place and writing about the things that upset me. Dana’s assassination is real. In fact, too real. We are in dangerous times. But silence and withdrawal has never been nor will ever be the cure.

For those wondering if we reach or where we going. This is it. This is it. This is it. She’s been hit...and Trinidad spread out on a wall bawling for the country it didn’t realise it sat by and watched go.

• Rhoda Bharath is a writer and researcher in Cultural Studies at the UWI, St Augustine