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Saturday 24 March 2018

Serpico, Snowden or you?

I USED to hold New York City of the 70s and 80s as a hopeful metaphor for Trinidad because New York City turned around.

But it’s not. New York City could flush itself of corrupt elements with an infusion of fresh recruits from the greater population of New York state or any of the 47 contiguous states; TT can’t.

If a Giuliani fired all of the corrupt elements from our police force, from where would the fresh-honest come? And where would the fired-corrupt go?

As big-city as our problems are, we are citizens of a tiny two- island nation who have tolerated crime and corruption for so long that its cancer has spread deep within the very institutions we entrust to stop it.

These institutions can no more excise it than you or I can self- operate.

Which explains why — despite sincere efforts by any minister — all the police cars, helicopters, drones, guns and gunboats will not make a difference.

New York is instructive in one respect: The true story of Frank Serpico who stood up to the corrupt NYC police department in the 1970s and succeeded in bringing down an entire network of corrupt police officers.

Watch Al Pacino in the 1970s movie Serpico to get a sense of what our good police officers may be up against.

Serpico’s story is relevant to us as it shows that the “bad guys” are not only out there in the hills wearing baseball hats and toting guns in low-hanging jeans, but also among us — at all levels — wearing suits, uniforms, maybe even robes.

If true, this would explain why changing governments has been an ineffective strategy to turn the tide. Regardless of the government of the day, there are enough sheep-clothed wolves among our protectors to ensure that no big fish ever gets caught. In addition, any local Serpico (or Seetahal) will have it a lot harder as s/he will be a lot easier to intimidate because any Trinidadian is no more than two degrees separated from any other and there’s not likely to be any external, untainted agency powerful enough to act independently to help.

Who knows how many local Serpicos have already been assassinated. The message to any would-be whistle-blower is clear. You even try to open your mouth and you or someone you love will die — horribly. Perhaps it will take another American-inspired hero to help us turn the tide: a local John Snowden. A local Snowden (let’s call him Boysie) would be someone with access to much of the incriminating information, with the courage and smarts to capture evidence. And like the real Snowden, Boysie would have to high-tail it out of Dodge to reveal all of the information from a safe “foreign” location.

But even here the chances are not good unless the crimes being exposed break US laws.

Much of what is written in the papers is cynical and points to “evil” people who are in a few bad areas of government causing all of our problems. We look for the big government moves that will solve our problems.

I subscribe neither to the problem being bad people/government nor to the solution being big government moves like laptops, gunboats, helicopters, or a new CoP.

Our problems are endemic and lie deeply rooted within our culture and us, and it is the accumulated collective effect of the little things we say and do, or don’t say and don’t do, that are responsible for the way Trinidad shows up to the world and to us.

Like the late MJ song Man in the Mirror, it’s hard to take a look at yourself and say I’m going to make that change. But that’s where it has to begin and persist. Gandhi said it also: “Be the change you wish to see…”

If we think that sick days are a holiday entitlement, steal from our employer, stab colleagues in the back, are quick to take constructive criticism personally, are unwilling to change, quick to blame others, secretly want others to fail, spread baseless mauvais langue, look to government for a big job or entitlement, don’t mentor young people etc, then we are the problem, not gangs in “bad” areas or any “wutless” current government.

We will undoubtedly need local Serpico-, Snowden-type heroes and they may well be women, but I also believe that we should all look in the mirror if we want to see who else is contributing to the problem we’re in.

The cancer is now deep within us and good leaders are not enough. We now need heroes, big and small. The big ones will risk their lives, and the small ones like you and me can stop parroting mauvais langue and start helping to transform bad behaviour into good.


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