'Dismantling of garrisons' is an unworkable concept
The Editor, Sir:
There has been another call for garrisons to be 'dismantled'. This time from Martin Henry in a piece titled 'Smash those walls now'. I am surprised, as Mr Henry ranks high on my shortlist of thinking writers. I am going to take the liberty to advise the prime minister that the next person who makes this demand should be given the job to carry out this task.
This type of arrangement is not entirely new. Hundreds of years ago, when the Roman Empire had started to disintegrate, citizens were concerned for their safety and entered into costly arrangements with military men to protect them. The origins of our arrangement may be a little different but it found traction because, more than anything else, people need to feel safe.
As a political tool, this garrison arrangement is very attractive. Persons, sufficient in number to secure a safe majority in a constituency, are corralled on small reservations and provided with some of the basics for existence. The main provision being some cubicles in which to live and the non-payment of utility bills.
Capacity for violence
The person with the greatest capacity for violence becomes the don. His role is to ensure that everyone does the right thing, and that is to vote for the 'right' person and attend party gatherings. CXC results will confirm that education is not a priority as, for that person's entire life, the only literary requirement is that he/she be able to make an X every election day. And even that is sometimes done for the person. There is no need for the police as the don is more reliable. So the police are deprived, destabilised and demoralised. This, along with a lengthy Suppression of Crimes Act, has given us the force we have today.
There can be no doubt that this arrangement is a prescription for underdevelopment and everything else that goes with it - crime, ignorance, poverty and parasitic behaviour. Only the party benefits. The problem is, anything - good or bad - that is practised long enough, or often enough, becomes absorbed into the culture. When physical structures, norms and conventions are built to support this system it is not possible for someone to just get up one morning and exorcise that aspect of our existence.
Mr Henry mentioned pre-election assurances by the primer minister, the negative effects of the garrison arrangement and what he thinks should be done. Nowhere in the article does he mention what the people in these areas really want. There is a misconception held by many that emancipation day was a day of rejoicing for all slaves. Not so. Many were worried about an existence without any 'Maasa'. They could not envisage a life in which they would be responsible for their own affairs. Television interviews will not yield the truth. Only participant observation will help one to understand the mindset of people - deprived of a proper education, skills and the ability to think or associate with persons of questionable political allegiance, for their entire lives. They cannot see themselves in any other situation and their fear of the unknown is not new.
Mr Henry makes recommendations. He suggests security guarantees, 'pacifying' the gunmen and 'beefing' up the security forces. Over the past month, epithets - which cannot be repeated in polite company - have been widely used to describe the police and their activities. The almost daily slaughtering of citizens under questionable circumstances, the selling of arms and ammunition our taxes paid for to protect us, to criminals who plan to kill us. Are you sure this is what we should be 'beefing' up, Mr Henry? He thinks the police should be given a free hand to accomplish 'pacification'. The people despise and distrust the police, sir! They have already made their own security arrangements since the State has failed to do so for at least the last 40 years. Now, the police are just irrelevant irritants that the State has given licence to use them for target practice.
The 'dismantling of garrisons' is an unworkable concept and should be removed entirely from scholarly and educational discussion, or used only with severe qualifications. Give the people a rounded, relevant education and a swift, sure justice system that works for them and the garrisons will dismantle themselves.
I am etc.,