When does il­le­gal be­come crim­i­nal?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Rick Wayne

For count­less years we’ve been toss­ing words at each other, ver­bally and oth­er­wise, some­times friendly, in­fre­quently not so pal­sy­walsy. So it came as no great sur­prise when at Mon­day’s se­nate sit­ting the pres­i­dent sought clar­i­fi­ca­tion on more than one oc­ca­sion for what had been ut­tered with faces as straight as only the best poker play­ers can man­age.

I has­ten to add that there was ev­ery chance what I saw on my TV screen was in­dica­tive of the pos­si­bil­ity the queried words had been spo­ken by blank­faced se­na­tors per­ma­nently out to lunch (see “It Started With Rochamel” in this is­sue).

Nev­er­the­less I was some­what taken aback when my old friend the se­nate prez stopped Se­na­tor Montoute in his tracks rapid to ad­mon­ish him for per­sis­tently fol­low­ing up his ref­er­ences to “be­lated guar­an­tees” with the ad­jec­tive “il­le­gal.”

Said the prez, the par­tic­u­lar word, as used by Se­na­tor Montoute and his col­leagues made him queasy. For a start, he added, there were no sanc­tions at­tached to the ref­er­enced “il­le­gal­i­ties.” More­over, the word im­plied some­one had com­mit­ted a crime.

He’d feel a whole lot more at ease, the se­nate pres­i­dent said, if se­na­tors would in­stead talk about ac­tions “not in keep­ing to the law.” Which brought to my own mis­chievous mind the popular pref­er­ence for the “N-Word” over “nig­gah,” and “cus­to­dial en­gi­neer” over “jan­i­tor.”

There are also the phrases “he or she passed” or “kicked the bucket,” which many con­sider far more po­lite than the un­var­nished “died.”

I am at this point re­minded of what Nor­man Mailer wrote in a re­view of one of his pal James Bald­win’s more beloved books: “The trou­ble with Jimmy is he can’t re­sist per­fum­ing the word ‘shit.’ If only he’d ac­cept that even shit has its own in­tegrity.” Is it any won­der Nor­man Mailer (de­ceased) re­mains my fa­vorite writer?

But to re­turn to the word-ap­pre­cia­tive Pres­i­dent of the Saint Lu­cia Se­nate. I still can­not fig­ure out why on Mon­day the word “il­le­gal” caused him pause. After all, there were the def­i­ni­tions of the word, pro­vided both by reg­u­lar and law dic­tionar­ies.

One of my bet­ter re­garded lex­i­cons de­fines “il­le­gal” thus: “Not law­ful; against the law; for­bid­den.” Now let’s look up “crime.” This is how The Amer­i­can Col­lege spells it out: “A wrong act that is against the law; a vi­o­la­tion of law; a wrong act . . .” syn­ony­mous with “of­fense, tres­pass.”

So now, Mr. Pres­i­dent, why does the word “il­le­gal” bother you when ap­plied to ac­tions that con­tra­vene Sec­tion 41 of the Fi­nance (Ad­min­is­tra­tion) Act? Oh, no need to re­mind me that right or wrong the Pres­i­dent of the Se­nate al­ways has the fi­nal word on ev­ery­thing sen­a­to­rial.

To para­phrase a fa­mous cit­i­zen of Won­der­land: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, nei­ther no more nor less!”

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