Gun with the wind

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE - Tony Deyal Tony Deyal was last seen talk­ing about a Trini po­lice­man who re­cently ar­rested a dis­abled man for park­ing in a hand­i­capped zone be­cause the draw­ing showed only wheel­chairs could be parked there, not cars.

TO­DAY IS Repub­lic Day in Trinidad and Tobago. When I think of the past, ‘Po­lice and Thief’ was the game of my boy­hood. Life and con­cepts were sim­ple then. The po­lice were sup­posed to catch the thieves. When I went to school in Portof-Spain, the game was ‘Res­cue’ and you had to free your cap­tive col­leagues.

Like the west­ern and gang­ster or ‘mob’ movies of the time, our uni­verse was twodi­men­sional, a du­al­ity of op­po­sites, black or white, good or evil, hot or cold, Coke or Pepsi. In a west­ern, a ban­danna and a black hat de­noted a bad guy, es­sen­tially a back-shoot­ing, thiev­ing crook and low-down varmint; a white hat was the good guy, and with a badge, the Sher­iff, who came to clean up Dodge, not the truck, but the city. The re­ally good guys left town when they had com­pleted their clean-up and went on to help oth­ers.

The Jack Reacher nov­els to­day are like the Lone Ranger with­out Tonto and no sil­ver horse to ride out of town with a “Hi yo, Sil­ver, away!” We also played Stick ‘Em Up and had our ‘cap’ guns and Winch­ester 73 toy ri­fles, but the line be­tween the ban­dits and the Sher­iff’s men was clearly marked. Ba­si­cally, it was Po­lice and Thief with guns. Good ver­sus evil all the way through.

One of our other favourite games was the ‘Knife Fight’, a sta­ple and high point of ev­ery cow­boy movie made in those days. The good cow­boy would be at­tacked by the sav­age, knife-wield­ing In­dian, and un­less the pro­duc­ers wanted a death to be avenged later by the star, the cow­boy won. We loved it.


Dur­ing school breaks, rulers in hand, we had our own du­els in the sun. My op­po­nent and I cir­cled, knives held in front of us, then we at­tacked each other. He would grab my wrist and I his, then we rolled on the ground see­ing who would get in the first stab. Vi­o­lent? Yes. But there was a code, not just of the West, but of the so­ci­ety. Face to face, man to man.

It is true that men went home drunk, es­pe­cially on a Fri­day even­ing. Some beat their wives, some left their wives for other women, some women left their hus­bands for other men. There were fights with bro­ken bot­tles, cut­lasses and the oc­ca­sional knives. Some even killed, but the guns were gen­er­ally silent, ex­cept in the for­est, where peo­ple like my grand­fa­ther went hunt­ing.

The po­lice would charge you for ‘tow­ing’ (hav­ing some­one on the han­dle­bar of your bike) or rid­ing with­out lights. Most times, they eased you up for a small fee, or if you were a shop­keeper, they came in, took their bribes in cash, kind, or both, and went about their usual pur­suits, but not nec­es­sar­ily of crim­i­nals.

We knew where to find them, both po­lice and thieves, the law­men and the mob or gangs. They were in the cine­mas – Edgar G. Robin­son and James Cag­ney, Scar­face and Al Capone – but the bad guys were also in the hills sur­round­ing Port-of-Spain and had names like Des­per­a­does, Marabun­tas and Rene­gades. They were in Laven­tille and La Cou Harpe, or in Brick­field in Water­loo, on the Cof­fee (Street) or Em­ba­cadere (pro­nounced ‘Back­a­day’) in San Fer­nando, or even where I lived in my teens, Pey­ton Place in Si­paria.

Ja­maica, Guyana, Bar­ba­dos all had these crime cup­boards and zones where the po­lice and thieves had a good re­la­tion­ship go­ing while keep­ing a mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful dis­tance. They were all re­cruited from among the same peo­ple, mainly young men who had not gone to, or re­mained, in sec­ondary school and had school-leav­ing cer­tifi­cates or friends and fam­ily in the ‘force’.

Ini­tially, Bar­ba­di­ans formed the core of the ser­vice. They were English be­fore the other coun­tries, so that when any par­tic­u­lar skill was needed in any other Caribbean coun­try, it was re­cruited from Bar­ba­dos. Angli­can priests, po­lice, teach­ers and sugar boil­ers all came ini­tially from there. They were sup­posed to set the ex­am­ple and high moral tone for their lo­cal suc­ces­sors.


When a Bajan po­lice­man was caught steal­ing in a Fred­er­ick Street Store in the 1950s, it was the sub­ject of a pop­u­lar ca­lypso, “It was the thiefing Bajan po­lice­man that they find in Bo­nanza store.” I sup­pose it was in Bo­nanza that East met West and we lost our in­no­cence. The po­lice had crossed and scram­bled the line.

His­to­rian Dr. Joyce Toney (The Con­tem­po­rary Caribbean) says that the 1970s and 1980s wit­nessed many changes in the re­gion and the pe­riod could be con­sid­ered the be­gin­ning of con­tem­po­rary Caribbean pol­i­tics. In Trinidad and Tobago, some peo­ple be­lieve that the arm­ing of the po­lice to com­bat the Black Power threat of 1970 and the oil boom soon af­ter were causes and si­mul­ta­ne­ous cat­a­lysts, def­i­nitely not co­in­ci­den­tal, for the es­ca­la­tion of crime and the in­creas­ing im­por­ta­tion of guns, drugs and pros­ti­tutes. When the for­eign banks were all lo­calised, there was a rapid in­crease in white-col­lar crime.

The pres­ence of the Amer­i­can bases dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the ‘Yan­kee Dol­lar’ syn­drome that was said to in­fect ev­ery­one, the life­style re­flected in signs like ‘Sea­men and Sea­women Wel­come’, and even its own Gaza Strip, com­bined to cre­ate a sturdy and will­ing plat­form in Port-ofS­pain for the new wave of crime and crim­i­nals.

What has emerged is a so­ci­ety in which there are too many nu­ances, traps and un­cer­tainty for a sim­ple game of Po­lice and Thief. In­creas­ingly, it is rob­bery with vi­o­lence and not the child­ish Stick ’Em Up. What is even worse, af­ter 54 years of In­de­pen­dence and 40 years of be­ing a repub­lic, there is ab­so­lutely no hope of ‘Res­cue’.


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