Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Tony Deyal | Police and grief

Published:Saturday | September 19, 2020 | 12:09 AM

Ultrasphinx, the time traveller from the 80th century, had captured Lois Lane, and to get her out of a state of suspended animation, Superman had to answer what is, historically, the unanswerable question, or paradox of all paradoxes: What happens when the unstoppable force (Superman) meets the immovable object (Ultrasphinx)? This classic contradiction comes from a third-century-BC Chinese book in which a man was trying to sell a spear and a shield. He claimed that the spear could puncture any shield and that the shield would repel any spear. However, when asked what would happen if his spear struck the shield, he could not answer. Instead of being caught between a rock and a hard place, he was wedged between a sword, a shield, and a conundrum.

While there are other variations, like, “If God is all-powerful, surely, He can create a stone that He cannot lift?” the basic contention that Superman had to solve to save his sweetheart is that you cannot have one with the other at the same place and at the same time. This is expressed as, “The irresistible force and immovable object cannot occur on the same plane,” not even the massive Airbus 380 or, worse yet, ‘robot taxis’ in Jamaica, ‘PH’ (private hire) vehicles in Trinidad, minibuses in Guyana, or ZRs in Barbados. Superman saved his sweetheart by telling Ultrasphinx that the answer was, “They both surrender.”

This would make sense anywhere else but in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), where the irresistible force of the recently re-elected prime minister, Keith Rowley, is on a head-to-head collision with the immovable object, Gary Griffith, minister of national security under the 2010-2015 Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration. Mr Griffith, his credentials being considered superior to other candidates’, was the choice of PM Rowley’s government to fill the vacant post of commissioner of police. At this time of COVID-19 with the gates closed and entrances blocked, it is not plane or even plain sailing.

When I was a schoolboy, we had a version of hide and seek called ‘police and thief’. Interestingly, all of us fought to be ‘police’ and not ‘thief’. It was only when we recognised that both groups were becoming increasingly indistinguishable that we switched to a similar game called ‘rescue’ but without the ambiguity of roles. Now, at my advanced age, having retreated from both board and bored games, I am finally experiencing one that does not require any thought or offer any semblance of an intellectual challenge. It is simply an ongoing preoccupation, played out for the amusement of Caribbean people, that simultaneously confounds, confuses, amazes, and amuses. It is called ‘Police and Chief’.

NOT EASY TO FIRE

In Trinidad, hiring, firing, and all matters of discipline including the appointment of the police commissioner are in the hands of an independent body, the Police Service Commission. Public servants, the teaching service, and the judiciary also have their own commissions that were set up to protect ordinary people from their governments and are considered mechanisms for citizens to express their own views on matters important to them and their country. I remember late Prime Minister George Chambers (1981-1986), when faced with constant complaints about the low productivity and very poor attitudes of public servants, repeating, “As prime minister of this country, I cannot fire any public servant, not even a messenger.” The irony is that the same public servants were among the voters who fired him.

If firing a messenger is impossible even for a prime minister, consider trying to get rid of a recalcitrant commissioner of police (CoP). Over the past week or so, the Caribbean media have been featuring the confrontation between the two top Trini officials. They butted heads publicly after the prime minister chided the commissioner on the need to apply government’s COVID-19 regulations equitably to all sectors of the society. Commissioner Griffith retaliated with his accusation that Rowley was making the police “the fall guy” for its unclear and inadequate public-health regulations, which do not cover private properties, and insisted that he would not take any action merely to satisfy public or political pressure.

In the meantime, every day brings more chat than dialogue, more heat than light, exceeding in volume and intensity any sense or sign of logic and decorum. Had Superman and Ultrasphinx behaved the same way, Lois Lane might have been replaced by Maxima, Misty, Lana Lang, or even Mooki the Mermaid. The T&T Prime Minister’s Office, in a recent news release, stated that Griffith was “summoned” to a meeting by Rowley, but Griffith insisted that the prime minister’s people had got it wrong, claiming he was “invited” and not “summoned”. This so added to his anger and complaints that we quickly had a case of ‘Police and Beefs’. Now a newspaper claims that Griffith is “in a jam”. This is definitely not the sweet, soft food made by cooking fruit with sugar and is so secret that the writer did not spread it except to say that the Government will send a written complaint about Griffith to the PSC. Meanwhile, the jamming has got even worse with rumours that Griffith had resigned or copped out or was fired and copped it. Despite the pressure, it is clear that Griffith has not given up the fight. In Rowley’s case, his nightmare is that while dealing with his jam-packed schedule, his CoP runneth over.

CHIHUAHUA KILLED ROTTWEILER

Unfortunately, the fighting and shadow boxing are not diminishing. The battles for turf, credibility, the last word, the first punch, or the final solution are like two dogs in a battle to the death for territory, females, dominance, superiority, or just pure fun because they can. The prime minister’s nickname in Parliament and on the hustings as a platform speaker, based on his size and ceaseless, unstoppable aggression, was ‘Rottweiler’. Gary Griffith, though trained at Sandhurst, the British Military Academy, is of smaller stature and is known as ‘Uncle Gary’ or ‘GG’. Despite his constant readiness to shoot off and explode his verbal artillery at the slightest perceived provocation, Griffith was praised only a few weeks ago by the PSC for his management skills.

The situation, which, in its ongoing deterioration and unduly prolonged antagonism, I think of as ‘Police and Grief’, is like the story of a man who walked into a bar one day and asked very quietly, “Does anyone here own that Rottweiler outside?” “Yeah, I do!” said a huge, bearded, and angry biker. “What about it?” The man hesitantly explained, “Well, I think my chihuahua just killed him.” The biker replied, disbelievingly, “What the heck are you talkin’ about? How in hell could your little runt kill my big Rottweiler?” “Well,” responded the man, “it seems he got stuck in your dog’s throat!”

Tony Deyal was last seen asking, what do you get when you cross a Rottweiler with a hyena? I don’t know, but I recommend you join in if it laughs. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.