Post 450.

WE should all condemn the police’s use of tear gas.

This painful poison has long been marketed as a technology to control what are considered riots and unruly crowds. It’s been used against workers’ strikes, pro-democracy uprisings during the Arab Spring, those resisting apartheid in South Africa, Indians fighting for independence from the British empire, Ethiopians in their struggle against Italian imperialism, migrant families, Black Lives Matter marchers, Palestinians and anti-war protests.

Its history is opportunistic, authoritarian and extremist. Its origins are colonial, racist and inhumane. It’s a disturbing moment in our contemporary history when we in TT can say it has again been used against us too.

Who authorised purchase of what Amnesty International lists as “part of the international trade in tools of torture”? There’s a constant stream of securitisation and surveillance experts and companies, along with FBI agents and warmongering Republicans, rolling through TT hawking their wares, facilitated by the business class opening doors to governments and police.

That’s just how the use of tear gas was first popularised, like other weapons which stockpile when war ends and are sold to governments for use against citizens, so manufacturers keep making money.

How much was spent on these weapons? What was their justification? When were they purchased? Isn’t this exactly why there are growing calls across the hemisphere to defund the police and for greater transparency regarding police spending?

The country couldn’t get the PM to provide answers to the Police Service Commission debacle, and such lack of accountability remains an unforgotten scandal. We should certainly demand a government position against tear gas until we get one. If it’s in the police’s arsenal, won’t they think they can legitimately use it? When and against whom?

Shockingly, the police used tear gas in a major artery of Port of Spain, affecting harmless families and children driving around the Savannah. There are actually protocols regarding its use – you don’t shoot canisters over crowds; canisters shouldn’t land in random compounds; wind direction matters.

It makes one think that semi-trained boys just want an excuse to play with their combat toys, riot gear, drones, Tasers and hazardous weapons. Last year, police warned me they had Tasers if students and young women protesting killings of women didn’t follow covid physical-distancing rules.

Then, as now, there was no threat of uncontainable or destructive violence, no property at risk, and no justification for such action by human rights principles.

Indeed, even while tear gas has been sold for use against ordinary people everywhere, for decades it’s been banned from warfare under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. There is a reason for this. It’s an indiscriminate and terrifying chemical. It doesn’t spare the non-violent or innocent.

Inevitably, it is used, not in response to danger, but to “incapacitate and punish” people expressing a right to peacefully challenge governments, injustice and state power.

As an instrument of state terror, it exacts submission through confusion, fear and pain. It escalates, rather than quiets, animosity toward police, creating the conditions for its own justification. It also produces toxic atmospheric waste.

On Sunday, we witnessed an unconscionable slippage between legitimate and illegitimate force because of a turn to the methods, materials and mentalities of hyper-militarised policing.

Anyone who has ever attended a protest has seen such risk in heavy-handed, machine-gun-toting men. As I have written before, in Manning’s dystopian days of the blimp, I watched a maxi of overly-outfitted guys in riot gear regularly offload at civil society gatherings where they appeared to be the greatest threat to peace.

What’s next? Tanks and amoured personnel carriers (APCs) on the streets?

The government cannot wash its hands of this. Policy direction for policing comes from the Cabinet through the Ministry of National Security. And no head of the TTPS who defends such tactics should ever be Commissioner of Police.

One may disagree with anti-vaxxers, with protests occurring without police permission, with gatherings that can irresponsibly increase the covid infection rates, with poor civic leadership that fails to properly manage marchers’ risk, with religious resistance to public health interest and science, and with refusal to disperse when police ask nicely.

But, as they say, be careful about your silence when riot police come for those you think should have stayed home or behaved themselves or had permission or been more orderly or held more sensible views.

Tomorrow, when it is our peaceful gathering, shouts of injustice or legitimate anger, police will have a precedent for wielding chemical weapons against me and you.

Post 438.

AMONG our political elites, man, woman and dog attacking man, woman and dog.

It’s remarkable to see how gender and womanhood have been being flung in this fight. Let’s start with Dr Rowley.

“The way she loves the accolade of being the first woman prime minister, one would think that she would behave properly and with a modicum of respect for the first female President, her superior,” he lambasted, invoking the Opposition Leader and the President’s womanhood as definitive of their public identities, roles and relationship.

For Persad-Bissessar, this gendered accolade was always a double-edged sword.

Rowley could have said the Opposition leader was being disrespectful or any of his usual litany of insults.

However, he highlighted her sex and the sex of the President as a disciplinary tactic. It is one thing to fail as a politician and a next to fail as a woman, and to be the first woman in the nation to do so.

The PM deliberately tapped into debasement of females who don’t know how to behave with deference and propriety in public. When schoolboys fight, we shake our heads. When schoolgirls fight, we bawl that all broughtupcy in the world has collapsed.

When two public officials, one already “inferior,” are pitted against each other and their sex is made the basis of comparison, it’s a gendered weapon in a war of words.

PNM PRO Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing called the Opposition Leader “an embarrassment to women,” again invoking her womanhood and expanding the wielding of gender by referencing all other women in the nation, who may have been foolishly considering an issue of how today we have no Commissioner of Police, for the first time in our history, and missed the relevance of femininity to the public call for answers.

The PM’s “imps, pimps and chimps” line again brought both gender and sexuality into political mud-slinging. Pimps are usually (but not only) men who (sometimes violently) force women to have sex for their profit. But what does prostitution have to do with 19 parliamentarians? Who is or are the whores? Aspersions of licentiousness and immorality land implicitly.

In his latest salvo, the PM described the Opposition Leader as an “abusive man,” continuing, “It’s like some of them fellas outside there…if I can’t get you I go mash it up. If I can’t get you I go kill you. I will mark your face with a knife…I go throw acid on you. That is what you are seeing there.”

This was a move from womanhood in disrepute to the kind of violent and depraved manhood that brought historic crowds to the streets in protest just earlier this year. This was highly cynical from a man who has blamed women for their choice of men, without apology.

It was also highly consistent in its blame on the population and women, and a warning against choosing someone who will kill you, stab you and throw acid on you, politically speaking.

It’s like we are all, or perhaps just us women, witnessing a woman being battered for being a woman, rather than pressured because of a brouhaha. The violence of the analogy was desperate, even for Dr Rowley.

The reference to “domestic” abuse is again deliberate, for this is the domain of women and one we are called on to protect. In such times, the solidarity of women against degeneracy and abuse is necessary to save us all.

It makes sense, then, for him to urge women to “stand up and support their female counterparts instead of bringing each other down,” like Persad-Bissessar.

We all know that women who bring each other down are “our own worst enemy.” The PM even brought up her failure to protect young girls from child marriage, throwing in the whole kitchen sink. But what does that have to do with the CoP?

Finally, Nizam Mohammed described the President, who is not a mother and was not appointed because of her representation of or identification with mothering or reproductive issues, as expected to connect with the public in a “motherly and exalted” fashion.

Idealisation of “good motherhood” here is bizarre to say the least.

I’m not defending the Opposition Leader or the UNC. There’s atrociousness on all sides. Rather, I’m observing how sex, gender (often femininity), and sexuality are being politically mobilised.

Such logic, like much of what I have highlighted, reveals the labels and stereotypes still targeted at and governing women in political life.

Post 359.

A gender-based violence (GBV) unit is being established by the TTPS. Expectations are high and likely beyond what police response can provide, because real solutions require that policing be integrated with legal amendments, social services, NGO partnerships, data-driven strategies, community buy-in, and cultural change.

Hope is that the unit can coordinate TTPS approaches to intimate partner violence, domestic violence and sexual violence in order to, among other goals, reduce the number of women killed.

Only about 7% of women report intimate partner violence (IPV) to the police. Of those that report experiencing partner violence in their lifetime, about 25% do not report. If the TTPS implements measures to make reporting easier, kinder and safer, such as through taking reports from victims at their homes rather than at a station, those numbers could increase. What happens then?

The whole system, from hotlines to victim and witness support services to shelters to the magistrate and family courts, will have to be prepared for a surge in demand when women believe that reporting could lead to real protection and conviction. We won’t be sure if increased numbers reflect a rise in violence or a decrease in fear and silence, but forecasting these scenarios by the GBV unit is necessary.

It’s the same with orders of protection. If around 10 000 are sought every year, what happens when better policing means they become easier to secure and more likely to be enforced through better record keeping of women’s reports, timely serving of summons, lethality assessments, and other follow up?

There were 579 breaches of protection orders in five years, 174 breaches in 2019 alone. If these men are going to end up in jail, and they should – for breaching a protection order is a deliberate crime, are we prepared to provide mandatory counselling for perpetrators, to implement a restorative approach, and to find ways of making these repeat offenders less likely to get back out of jail and kill? Women report fear for their lives when perpetrators are released, particularly when women are not informed by the prison system. Better policing is also going to require forecasting implications in relation to perpetrators.

The GBV Unit can do a number of things: continue to clarify the law for all police officers, not just those with oversight of GBV or DV crimes; continue to educate all police about established protocols with regard to domestic violence reports; recognize that police may be friendly with perpetrators, may be perpetrators and may discourage reporting; and include outreach to migrant women so they know that they can safely report GBV crimes, which are a violation of their human rights, without fear of deportation or greater vulnerability to traffickers.

The unit can also establish a case study approach to better understand how to reduce men’s killing of women who have applied for orders of protection, and make sure the Domestic Violence Register is being actively engaged. It should work closely with the Child Protection Unit, Victim and Witness Support Unit, and Family Court to share rather than duplicate data. It’s also possible that DV reports can anticipate child sexual abuse reports, and the Unit will need to understand the intersection of different forms of GBV in this way.

CAPA doesn’t currently make perpetrator data easily accessible. As we continue to emphasise understanding and ending perpetration, and not only telling women to recognize “red flags”, sex-disaggregated data that supports this advocacy is also necessary.

The Unit should not start from scratch. The Coalition Against Domestic Violence has already been working with TTUTA to develop and implement the school programme, “Education for Empathy and Equality”. The Sexual Culture of Justice project is producing a toolkit for the Police Academy with protocols for training new police officers on issues of LGBTI bias and gender based violence. It also highlights the particular vulnerability of transgender persons, which is part of the problem of under-reporting.

Caricom recently published procedures for collecting data on domestic violence which may eliminate some obstacles to filling out report forms. CAFRA has been undertaking gender sensitization with police for decades, and the Network of Rural Women Producers has been working with youth and police in the police youth clubs, using the UN He For She Campaign and the Foundations Programme, to promote gender equality.

A civil society advisory committee to provide guidance and ensure accountability is key. The Unit has the opportunity to get things right before getting them wrong. Women’s lives are at stake. Fear and outrage demand urgency.