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Where do we go from here?

By Raoul Pantin

 Ten days later and I am still shocked, appalled, horrified and outraged by the brutal assassination of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal five minutes or so into the first hour of Sunday, May 4—and the equally shocking and outrageous confirmation that in this country now there are skilled, cold-blooded murderers  who are available for hire and who will “hit’’ anybody for the right price.

So what we have now is a Mafia-style Murder For Hire Inc.

We really reach!

“It means,” a good friend said to me hours after the news broke on that devastating Sunday morning  “that you have to shut the f- up! Or you’ll pay the price for talking your mind!”

The implication being that in her weekly Express columns, Ms Seetahal had perhaps been too outspoken, had perhaps offended someone badly enough to want to have her killed.

And this coming just the day after the world celebrated, or marked, Freedom of the Press Day —which, as a journalist working in Trinidad and Tobago for nearly 52 years, I duly saluted on May 3. 

For certain I have no intention of shutting up.

But you can’t help but ask yourself—where do we go from here?

The scepticism with which you greeted the news late last week that the police had four suspects in custody was confirmed the following day when senior police officers denied this entirely.

For all the promises initially being made by law enforcement authorities to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice, you wonder about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

For I couldn’t understand acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams at a follow-up press briefing that fateful Sunday saying that the police hadn’t categorised this murder as a “hit”. 

National Security Minister Gary Griffith was quoted in the Express the next morning saying exactly what I heard him say in a television interview that Sunday evening: this was a “well-orchestrated hit”.

But on the TV6 Morning Edition programme on the Monday he pulled back, saying the police hadn’t really classified it as a “hit”... 

Well, I think a child could deduce that it most certainly wasn’t  a robbery. Or a kidnap attempt. It was, plain and simple, an assassination. 

Let’s start out by calling a spade a spade.

The question remains of course: who ordered that “hit”? And who actually carried it out? 

This is not the first blatant assassination of a well-known public figure in this country. It happened in 1995 to former senior government minister Selwyn Richardson as he was getting out of his car, having arrived at his Cascade home. He was gunned down by two “hit men’’—a crime never solved by the police though there have been reliable reports that the two assassins were themselves “bumped off’’ a few days afterwards, presumably so they would never be able to tell their story.

In which event the killers of Ms Seetahal will probably need to watch their backs.

There’s also the assassination of attorney Wesley Debideen as he was sitting in his car at Grand Bazaar shopping mall in Valsayn in August last year—a murder than has never been solved by the police.

Again I say Ms Seetahal’s murder was a shocking event,  not only because of the manner of its execution or the high profile person involved, but also because of the clear implications—“hit men’’ are available for hire in Trinidad and Tobago. And, clearly, they have no fear of the police.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith appeared on at least two TV stations’ news programmes that Sunday evening to reassure us all that the police were working assiduously to bring “the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible.”

Oh, if only we could really believe that. 

For the police detection rate for ordinary killings is so abysmal that, as someone recently pointed out, you have to be either very stupid or very incompetent as a murderer to get caught in this country.

By Monday, May 5—the day after Ms Seetahal was murdered—the murder toll for this year stood at 160, up from 125 over the same period the previous year. And of those 160 murders, every one of which is an affront to civilised life in this country, how many have been or will be solved by the police?

Naturally, this killing has also triggered real concern among other lawyers and even members of the judiciary, all of whom understandably  now see themselves as potential targets. 

Senior Magistrate Lucina Cardenas-Ragoonanan probably echoed the sentiments of more than one member of the judiciary when she said in the aftermath of Ms Seetahal’s killing: “I said to my husband...I do not feel to go to work (this) morning....I feel that...maybe it is me next. I am scared. I am scared and I do not know if it is that this particular incident is something isolated but it is not... you know. It has hit the heart of justice and (the) administration (of justice) in this country.”

This is reminiscent of the observation by the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt, which noted that following the freeing of the insurgents, criminals appearing in courts had a new “swagger” about them. They felt newly emboldened, showing no fear of magistrates or judges or even the police.

“The Commission finds,” that report stated, “that after the JaM (Jamaat al Muslimeen) were freed, actual and potential criminals internalised a belief that since the JAM could commit the most heinous crimes and be acquitted they too could follow the example and go unpunished.” 

In the words of the Cypher calypso quoted by the Commission:  “If the priest could play, who is we?”

But I hope that every single law-abiding citizen of this country clearly understands that the brazen assassination of Ms Seetahal is an attack on us all, especially if the criminal justice system is negatively affected.

 It is not merely outspoken people who are threatened by this boldfaced and cowardly act... It is every one of us. And we either rise to the challenge or settle for being picked off, like flies, one by one!

Rest in peace, Ms Seetahal. Your valuable contributions, at so many levels, to your country will not be forgotten. Hopefully, also in keeping with one of your passions in life, neither will the urgency of the need to bring the perpetrators of this foul deed to justice.

Mark my word!

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