19 Jun 2008

Bullies in uniform

I found this Express Editorial noteworthy:

No lawful effort should be spared to apprehend the gang of men who so callously murdered Regiment Corporal Ancil Wallace and his best friend, Noel Charles, at the christening party of the son of the former, the relationship so close that Charles was baby Jaydon's godfather. And while it was predictable that there would be citizens asking why the subsequent army show of force in Richplain, Diego Martin, is not the norm whenever a murder happens anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago, the realistic answer is that every murder is not the same, nobody in their right mind expecting the same response to the gang-on-gang killings in East Port of Spain and its environs.

Having got past that, let us now look at the official responses. Firstly, the explanation by National Security Minister Martin Joseph is acceptable only in so far as it goes in that the police were in Richplain simply as a legal cover for the soldiers who must have been straining at the leash to get at the men who not only cocked their gun at one of their fellows but who, in so doing, arrogantly "snooked" their noses at the military since they must have known not only who was the man they shot in cold blood, but also in whose unarmed company he was at the time.

Secondly, Mr Joseph may well be right in saying that Acting Chief of Defence Staff Col Roland Maunday had not, at the time of his giving the statement, received any reports of Defence Force brutality, but that does not mean that none occurred, even if that amounted to no more than some damage to property and bullying, of which the imposition of a soldiers' "curfew" was one manifestation.

Whatever the civilian empathy with the soldiers' rage, one of the overriding principles that must guide a soldier's peacetime actions-precisely because the State, acting on citizens' behalf, gives them the authority to bear and use arms-must be an iron discipline that has to be applied whatever the circumstances, a soldier being nothing more than a gun-toting gangster if he rides roughshod over unarmed, law-abiding people simply because he has a gun.

Over and above all this, however, is the terrible truth that the aftermath of Sunday's dual "Diego" slayings tells about the state of this land. To be sure there have been citizens' protests about aberrant military behaviour on one side. On the other side, however, have been expressions of relief from citizens whose lawful movements have had to be constrained because of bullying behaviour of gun-toting "little boys" eager enough to maim and murder.

It is a depreciation of the quality of life that has been going on for so long and in so many areas that it would be wishful thinking to believe that even this ongoing drama will amount to the catalyst for change necessary to pull us back from the precipice.