Time to take back control
September 14, 2011
Some days ago I witnessed two youths, who, if 18 and legal adults, were certainly new to this state of being, exit the very public Reid Street side of Washington Lane, dressed in matching red three-quarter length cargo pants, plain white T-shirts and red bandannas worn around their necks in boldly obvious manner. One bore a paper bag, shaped like a bottle in his clutches and at the very top of which was visible a slight hint of the bottleneck, coloured the distinctive Heineken green.
As the criminal equivalent of Bert and Ernie rounded the corner they encountered a Police car, stationary in the north lane with its hazard lights flashing a common sight on this section of road. Once they had seen this obstacle the boys entered the nearest shop and emerged only one or two minutes later, perhaps ejected by shop employees. The beer had either been abandoned or concealed, and the bandannas were no longer around the necks. However, these had only been demoted to hanging out of the back pocket, and were still representing whatever callous organisation perfectly well.
They continued eastward, passing the Police car, the morbidly (and I do not exaggerate) rotund driver of which did not stir until her passenger, another officer, returned from whatever business he had just completed. I am assuming, based on the temporary nature of the parking, that this was personal business. I use “temporary” loosely, the car was stationary for some good minutes. Once the second officer had returned to the passenger’s seat, they drove off, westwards.
Let me attempt to balance my indignation, which must be veering towards self-righteousness. Perhaps the driving officer had not seen that the boy had a beer on the street. The other officer could not have, for he was woefully absent. What, then, could, or should they have done? It is no crime to wear clothing, even if its purpose is to advertise one’s membership of a criminal gang. But consider this what is the point of sacrificing basic civil liberties to make our police force functionally omnipotent if they are not going to use their powers to make life difficult for such people? Was this not the logic behind their ridiculous empowerment, that these boys and other people like them need not, in fact, be doing anything blatantly criminal to be harassed by the Police? I can think of one man, whose name escapes me, who was reported in your newspaper as being arrested and subsequently convicted for possession of cannabis following precisely such an unwarranted search (pardon the pun).
And equally, before I direct allegations of ineffectuality at these Police officers, Reid Street is one-way and thus I cannot say with certainty that they did not go around the block and attempt to find some evidence of misbehaviour, or at least show these cocky lads that authority does, in fact, take more than theoretical umbrage with their lifestyle. And yet, the officers’ languid manner, and the probable nature of their business, dishearteningly pointed towards apathy and inaction.
What we have is a situation where the wages of sin is power, and the meek shall lose the earth to the strong. Members of the organisation we have entrusted with our well-being do not seem to care enough, or lack the resources to tackle the problem, or worse, abuse their incredible authority in order to park where there is no space left, or supply prisoners with drugs. While, no doubt, individual Police officers are guilty of more and worse, it is only these two which I know with certainty to have gone on. Meanwhile, gang members walk proudly and boldly, an attitude born of the effective impunity which they enjoy. The private citizen, the “civilian”, if you will, has shut his eyes and blocked his ears to the problem we all know this, indeed, we discuss it. But there must be action now, and this is no empty phrase. There must be action now. Now.
Why are witnesses reluctant to report murderers? This is so because witnesses know that if they are found out, the murderer’s gang will stick up for their convicted comrade, probably violently. The witnesses’ communities will not do the same. They are not willing to put themselves at risk to show that “civilians” will not quietly accept this state of affairs. Of course, those who read this letter would immediately decry what they might see as vigilantism. They would claim that one cannot fight fire with fire, that to do so would compromise one’s morals, make one as bad as one’s enemies. I would say to such people that they are no better than their enemies anyway. Who is to say so? Various metaphysical assertions have done nothing to prove that there will eventually be retribution that these people cannot escape, or that they are “bad” on any level other than our own. One’s enemies are either under control, or one is under their thumb.
And if empathetic morals, popularly branded the Golden Rule, are so superior, then why have they no effect in the face of brute force? How can someone be inclined to do unto others as he would have done unto him, when there is no fear that he will have done unto him what he does unto others? He can terrify the public, knowing that the public has no inclination, or ability, to cause him any terror.
Before, sir, you find all of this too theoretical, I would like to remind you that there are real-world examples. For instance, in Syria, Bashar Assad has already murdered more than 2,600 private citizens in an attempt to crush their rebellion. Has this worked? No with each death the people have less to lose. Syrians appear time and again at demonstrations, knowing perfectly well that such crowds are sprayed with bullets, the targets of which are arbitrary. Cameras are used to capture faces, and revenge may come well after the fact. It is well within the realm of possibility that one who attends could be shot, or blown up, or gassed. Such victims will enjoy none of the freedom for which they protest if Assad is defeated. However, their neighbours will. Their children will. And it is only this that makes the whole endeavour worthwhile: to show those cowards who arm themselves with machines to make themselves strong that the people will not be cowed.
We, the “civilians” of Bermuda, are all too easily cowed. We are sheep at the mercy of the wolves. One day, we will seriously rue the consequences. And we must not think that it will not happen to us, that our national character is generally too good to produce enough criminals, or criminals who are too ruthless, to control. This population need produce only a few ruthless men, if unopposed, and these could control us all. One might argue that they already do.
We must begin by being brave enough to try to put these men in jail, before the situation spirals out of control and we really are left with no choice but to fight firearms with firearms. We must also be more conscientious do not decry a murder on Monday and then pay a gangster to smoke weed on Friday. If you like it so much, grow your own. If you enjoy heroin or cocaine, or women for hire, or illegal gambling, know that your amusement funds the trouble; accept that there is at least some blood on your hands. Even if you come to a conscious conclusion that you do not care, you cannot deny that you are part of the problem.
I personally knew one of this year’s shooting victims. I have in the past partaken of illegal amusements, of the sort that helped pay for the gun and the rounds which killed him. I understand that no matter how circuitous the path from my money to his death, I must take my share of the blame. The people of Bermuda must accept that the problem will not fix itself. The Police cannot fix it, even if every officer were utterly angelic and utterly committed to the cause, and the Service had billions of dollars at its disposal. America’s War on Drugs has demonstrated this all too well. It is the community itself that must take active steps not to tolerate the elements of the community which it finds distasteful.
Sincerely, if ardently,