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Will they remember Akiel Chambers?

By Martin Daly

 Like many other citizens I do not believe any of our Governments have taken violent crime seriously.  The country has been forced to grow used to the body counts and the periodic spin about the murder rate going down and other alleged crime fighting successes.

Other columnists have incisively analysed the blame game and the hollow utterances alternatively blaming “parents” and the Government of the day.  I put parents in quotes because it is questionable whether sufficient attention has been paid to the transient, revolving adult relationships, which set up the cycle of abuse suffered by children.

What is left of public sensitivity has however been disturbed by the recent killings of several children.  Predictably the Government has put the issue into cold storage by appointing a Task Force, just a few weeks before the decades old problems of prison conditions was referred to a Committee.

In an exercise of political skill the Government has named seventeen persons to the Task Force.  The nominees all have the requisite experience and learning.  However by appointing so many of them, the Government was no doubt seeking to ensure there was no one left outside the Task Force tent who would be free to offer any critical comment, particularly on the lack of political will and action to lead the society in a different direction and encourage a new social infrastructure.

Will these persons remember Akiel Chambers?  Will they understand what his “unsolved” murder represents and how it underlines the indifference of our authorities to promoting objective justice?  Is throwing a lifeless body more acceptable if it is thrown in a swimming pool and not a cesspit?

I will not recite the facts of Akiel’s murder following a well to do children’s party.  Those facts are well known.  I want this week to record some incidents, one of which I disclosed only once before—as a speaker at the conclusion of a march.

The purpose of describing these incidents is to underline the impunity factor that has undermined the criminal justice system. I do not believe in lynch mobs.  In the course of our careers as competent attorneys we have to put securing due process ahead of personal popularity.  Nevertheless, too many killings take place by unmasked assailants, in broad daylight and in circumstances that should plainly propel police investigation in a certain direction.

So it is Carnival Monday, some years ago, and I am on the corner of St Vincent Street and Independence Square. My steelband is behind another band waiting to turn left onto South Quay. Someone I do not know stops me and expresses concern. “Mr Daly, be careful, the man involved in the Akiel Chambers case is in the red section in the band in front.”

Later that day, another person I knew slightly asked me: “What are we going to do about this thing?” He named the same person referred to below in the panyard incident and asked whether I had seen the person named playing mas.

In a later year, on my way out of a popular panyard, I was hailed out by name. This happens and it is usually friendly.  On this occasion, to the consternation of the two persons with me, the person identified himself and said: “What you are doing is wrong. You are not God.”

The consternation of my companions was immediate because they recognised the name from its repeated mention in the second of the coroner’s inquests into the death of Akiel Chambers.  I felt no consternation. If I were capable of feeling such consternation I would not write these columns.

I detached myself and carried on my way, ignoring what became shouting: “What you are doing is wrong. You are not God.”

What the worthies on the Task Force must appreciate is that Trinbago is a place where it is regularly said when a major incident takes place that: “Nothing will come of it.”

I am satisfied that this sentiment is not intended as an encouragement to abandon due process.  It is an expression of the frustration that hardly ever any arrests and prosecutions take place.  Due process is frequently not triggered.  Connections, whether by birth, batch, graduating class and other associations, head off due process.

Akiel Chambers is the poster boy crying against fudging and incompetent investigation and the failure, where necessary, to interrogate suspects.  His unsolved murder broadcasts to the world aninequality of treatment of our children before the law.

Thank you Nelson Mandela for showing us the way to try to love everyone.  Sadly here in Trinidad and Tobago we have no leaders with a modicum of the moral authority to have angry people act on messages of tolerance.  Had you come out of jail and said the ANC would do as it pleases because the oppressor whites had done it too we might not be celebrating your life today.

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