14 Dec 2008

A duncey story

HEAR something often enough and it becomes the truth, think about it long enough and it becomes a credo.

So when I joined the media 12 years ago there was no reason to doubt that policemen were corrupt, that the Service was the reason why criminals were getting away with murder and why drugs made miles away in Colombia was causing my mother tears whenever addicts stole her stuff. And why most of all, lawmen were above the law.

But the truth is often lost in the clutter and sometimes we find solace in a lie that serves our own interest.

I no longer believe, or want to believe all policemen are corrupt or at least corruptible, that those who wear the uniform are cloaked devils. I've met enough good officers to know otherwise. Even so, though, a reporter with years on the crime beat cannot afford to be naive.

I hope, for example, that the policewoman who went to the strip club in a marked police vehicle to get a lap dance on her birthday is in the minority; that the group of drunk policemen at the same strip club "in solidarity" with one of their own charged with robbery is in the minority; that the policeman who calls the drug block in Longdenville whenever a raid is planned is in the minority; that the policeman who tells a murder witness he was too far to see because the killer is his friend is in the minority.

More deadly than these rotten apples, though, are the indifferent ones who live by the credo of "I ain't see" and "if I see, I done forget". And here's why.

It all happened one night back in 2002. As happens every so often, the police were trying to rebuild their public image with a series of town meetings. On this night, they were in Valencia, East Trinidad. It went on for hours with every speaker talking about police abusing their powers and the Police Service reps trying to assure the public that they were trying their best: "Report these officers and we will deal with them."

Afterwards, with my head full of these thoughts, I made my way travelling by taxi to Chaguanas which was one stop away from home. I arrived at Chaguanas at an hour at which you have to look for a familiar car to raise your odds of getting home safely.

I was lucky to find Dougla. I got into the front seat alongside him with three nondescript passengers in the back.

By now, I'm tired; just want to get home. Roadblock at Montrose Junction but Dougla says don't worry because the officers are allowing him the pass through since he is working PH.

As the car slows down at the junction, the uniformed officer waves him on.

A mile or two down the road, Dougla pulls into Enterprise Street to drop off a passenger and we are on our way. My tired head begins to droop until the car comes to a sudden stop. I look up to see a policeman on Dougla's side pointing a pistol at his head, another officer at my side pulling me out of the car. Okay, let me comply, the young constable with the gun seems 'antsy' and I don't want to get copper.

So, tired and still dressed in workday clothes of long sleeved shirt and soft pants with a work bag, I spread wide on the car's bonnet for the frisk. As the officer decides to search my pockets, I decide no, I will empty it myself. There is a difference of opinion and then an elbow crashes into my back and I splatter onto the windscreen. "Who the &*%$ yuh think yuh is? We is the &^%$ police and yuh ain't hear to let the man search you?" Even inside the pain, I note the originality of the cussing and think that maybe the officer should copyright the combinations of cuss.

Up to this point I'm just another poor civilian, unprotected by the badge, cowering at the feet of the law, praying that the iron fist does not come down.

Then suddenly one question gives me some rights. One of the officers asks my name and when I reply 'Darryl Heeralal', another shouts the "newsman!" and I say "yes". The cussing stops and the cussing policeman who had just delivered the elbow to my back suddenly walks off. I follow demanding: "So what? Now you find out I am a newsman, the cussing stop? What happen? You can't hit no more elbows?"

But, even now, I was not angry. I expect police to behave this way. The anger comes later. On the advice of my brother who is also a policeman and for whom I hold no professional brief, we go to the Chaguanas Police Station. There, a constable decides to take the report but when he realises I'm "making an allegation" against a fellow policeman, he hands it over to a corporal.

The corporal says my report must wait until he is finished smoking his cigarette. Must've been a special brand because it took all of two hours. Then, after he sits down to take the report, another hour of fidgeting because "the mosquitoes are biting". No justice for me here tonight so I leave. Still not angry. That would come later when I learn that the corporal had written in the diary that I had refused to give a report and had left the station.

The corporal, one of those hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys. Later the big bad police who let a press badge shut him up sent a message that he will put me on the internet and is still elbowing innocent people as Police Complaints will tell you.

But I still hope that maybe, just maybe I am hearing too many police corruption stories and that is why I believe it is the truth.

P.S: This has been my story.

Daryl Heeralal