Saturday, January 20, 2018

What do we do now?

My colleague, Prof Theodore Lewis, lamenting the defiling murder of Dana Seetahal in his article on Tuesday, concluded this way: “What are we as a society now going to do about this situation? Do we have the resolve and the intelligence to know what course of action to take to bring the perpetrators to justice? What this murder provokes in me is anger. We should all be angry at this. It has to be solved.”

So he is angry but he does not know what to do. So am I, and nor do I. And he sounds hopeless, so he resorts to preaching; note the “should” and “has to” in his text. Would anger and preaching, I ask myself, bring the solution? Would they release a collective energy that drives us to find the intelligence and the leads that would lead to the capture of the perpetrators? I doubt it, and I would bet he does, too.

But his recourse to them speaks eloquently to the impotence of the society before the unchecked devastation of crime, especially murder —in the case of Seetahal, a murder that more and more looks like a cold, dispassionate execution by a stranger. I, too, feel this impotence. Week­­­ly, I read and listen to accounts of the most heinous murders in Trinidad and experience the worst feelings— anger, outrage, alarm, impotence, sadness.

The last two are perhaps the worst. I am a great believer in law and order, but I know that if a stranger is paid to take me out, my defen­ces—which are comparatively feeble and, ultimately, are neighbourliness and adherence by the citizenry to the law—would crumble before their attack. I am pragmatic enough to realise that I would be impotent in the face of such a violent design.

And I am sad that notwithstanding our economic wealth as a small nation, we have not been able to detect and thwart violent criminal intent more often, or advance the better values of the past, or reduce the disaffection of certain individuals and groups to manageable levels, or man­age the distribution of our wealth more evenhandedly, or enhance our enlightenment about social issues via research-based know­­ledge and development of our rational faculty.

We are all victims of this state of affairs, including the perpetrators of violence. But what do those of us who disapprove of murder and find it abhorrent do? What do those of us who have educated our emotions and trained our self-restraint against it do? Do we arm ourselves and prepare to fight? Do we build high walls around our homes? Do we arm our homes with cutting-edge electronic eyes and sensors? Do we acquire armoured vehicles and body­guards? Do we pray harder and rely on the intervention of the gods?

Even if some of us could afford or win these kinds of protection, would they be a guarantee against murder?

People with these protections have been known to perish at the hands of the dedicated assassin, even some of the faithful who have been slaughtered in the holy places.

Ultimately, if the wicked resolutely come for us, they will have their way; there is no fool-proof defence against this kind of defilement. But we can make it difficult for them by having defences of various kinds, three of which are personal alertness and carefulness, pro­tection of body and property, and effective systems of law and order.

In a freedom-based civilisation, the last-named defence is perhaps the most critical. However ineffectual our Police Service and judiciary are in some of their structures, functions and practices, we cannot but rely on them to protect us from evil. One of their functions is to stand between the law-abiding and non-law-abiding. The law-abiding expect them to arrest offenders, especially the big ones, give them a fair trial and put them away to save us from more harm. We expect them to regularly patrol our streets and to try cases speedily. We expect them to stand firmly against impunity.

I do not intend here to tell them —either police or judiciary—how to do their jobs. Quite simply, I do not have the expertise to do so. But I do want them to know that I continue to believe in their importance and in their ability to improve. Successive gov­ernments have also shown that they share this belief, given the vast sums of money allocated to their func­tions over the various tenures. But the law-abiding need more confi­dence, which will come with more detections, arrests, prosecutions and jailings—especially of the Messrs Big.

Prof Lewis says the Dana Seetahal murder has to be solved, and I imagine the right-thinking among us agree. Perhaps he should renew his faith in the police, for the acting Commissioner, Stephen Williams has assured us that they so far have the kind of intelligence and leads that will result in the capture of the perpetrators.

I look forward to that result because that is the best thing to do in the circumstances. If the police can’t find them, who can? If they can’t, how can we sustain our hope of safety and freedom? Isn’t this effort to find the killers—the mobilisation of a big search-and-detection party and the offer of millions of dollars for information that leads to capture and conviction—meant to preserve our freedom?

I grieve for Dana. What a tragic loss! A police triumph would assuage this grief. A bit.