Post 342.

It seems an ability to identify true love will best protect women from murder. It doesn’t matter that women don’t smother or chop themselves, and that the only one responsible for their death, as a result of partner violence, is the man himself.

His responsibility for his own actions is irrelevant. It appears nowhere in the story. We focus on Mary the battered woman, and conversation becomes about her, her choices and her mistakes. In this case, her failure at one thing at which women should be best, which is love.

As Jackson Katz outlines, John kills Mary gets represented as Mary was killed by John. Mary becomes the subject and poor John becomes a passive character with no power who was merely responding to Mary’s provocation or trying to restore a lost sense of order and control or couldn’t help himself when he felt sad and angry or was the victim of Mary’s disrespect when she exercised her right to find a better man.

Then, it simply becomes Mary was killed (because of some mysterious sequence of events for which she holds responsibility). John as the problem, along with the other Johns who cause so much harm and fear that thousands of protection orders are sought each year, becomes invisible entirely. So do the social beliefs and state failures that produce them in the first place. Finally, in the public eye, Mary becomes remembered as an abused woman who got and kept herself in this situation when she should have known better.

John, who killed Mary, escapes analysis and blame. Did he have a history of violence? He did stop her or promise to change when she tried to leave? Did he refuse advice and help? Did he stalk and harass? Did he coldly choose violence and homicide when he didn’t get his way? Why did John feel any right to so dominate another person? Did he also dominate other men or was this a sense of power he only wanted to wield over women?

Shouldn’t John have avoided getting into a relationship or left when he became violent, knowing he was putting a woman and mother he supposedly loved at risk? John chose to show his ultimate control over Mary by killing her. Is it considered a right of manhood to kill those women who men cannot control? These and other questions about domination and violence, and even masculinity, require critical spotlight on John.

Yet, public talk about women’s murder misses this mark. On Monday, an Express piece titled, “Where is Susan’s killer?’, interviewed Susan Ramphal’s brother. He described his sister, mother of a seven-year-old girl at the time of her death, as “unable to identify true love”. Ramphal was being compared to Neisha Cyleane Sanker.

Neisha Sankar, only 20 years old when she had her son, had been preyed on as a teenager by a violent man fifteen years older who became her husband and killer. The Express story on Neisha Sankar, on September 6, 2019, had drawn the quote and headline from her eulogy: “She couldn’t identify true love”. Also drawing from the eulogy, Guardian’s headline added, “Let Cyleane’s life be a lesson”.

A lesson to whom? To Mary or to John? Should some men exercise greater care and responsibility in their relationships? Should all men collectively change the masculine ideals that produce such deaths worldwide? Whose choices and behavior are meant to improve? Our daughters or controlling men? Is the lesson that men are violent, and like the National Security Minister laments, there is nothing we can do?

In a third story, the Express headline, “Fatal Love”, documented the Florida killing of twenty-year-old Kiara Alleyne, mother of a one-year-old girl, at the hands of her partner and baby’s father. She too was trying to leave. Was it Mary’s love that was fatal? Or was it John’s? And, if it was ultimately John’s, is such homicidal behaviour really love at all?

From the press to the Prime Minister who infamously said, “I am not in your bed­room, I am not in your choice of men“, we must stop blaming both women and love for men’s murder of women.

Women die for loving, for standing up for themselves, for staying, for leaving, and for just being. One out of five women in Trinidad and Tobago report one experience of non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Ironically, this is predominantly male violence from men they didn’t even choose.

Make John visible and accountable when women’s murder makes news.

 

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Post 341.

The impact of devastation in the Bahamas gets more disturbing as the days wear on. I’ve moved from fear for our Caribbean neighbours while watching the storm crawl over the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama to horror and sadness at what’s left of people’s lives.

Hope lies in all the immediate assistance with supplies for survival, but reading back to Dominica, Barbuda and Puerto Rico suggests that recovery will take far longer than our attention may sustain.

This is one of the challenges of disaster recovery, despite road maps for long-term response. All the Caribbean countries decimated by hurricanes in the past three years have families who remain living under tarpaulin, areas with long-term loss of electricity, risks from water contamination, and aid dependence. Grenada recovered from Ivan in 2004, but sits in the Caribbean Sea just as vulnerable as it was then.

Whole economies are reduced to zero GDP virtually overnight. New lives are made on loss more endured than overcome, particularly for those unable to migrate. And, Caribbean nations are falling under unimaginably catastrophic storms one by one.

Even resilience systems may not sufficiently help in the face of unprecedented storm surges that do worse damage than category 5 winds. In some countries, there may be too few safe places for everyone to shelter, and even if more people survive because of better information, structural construction, evacuation and preparedness, where would they go when their homes and communities are destroyed?

At a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees, the viability of the region is questionable. The region will become increasingly unlivable, and more ungovernable as suffering fuels insecurity and crime.

This is partly what happened in Venezuela which experienced huge declines in rainfall which starved hydroelectric power generators, leading to industry and agriculture collapse, blackouts, malnutrition, insecurity and exodus by millions.

On the other hand, in our lifetimes, we can expect heavy rainfall in Trinidad to flood everything between the Northern and Central Ranges.

In the Caribbean, there are already increases in air and water temperatures, daily intensity of rainfall, droughts, hurricanes and rising sea levels. All are expected to become more severe with hurricane wind speeds alone projected to increase by 2-11 per cent and mean sea level rise projected to be up by 1.4 metres (Taylor and Clarke et al. 2018).

We will pass an increase of 1.5 degrees given that no world patterns of consuming fossil fuels and producing carbon dioxide have changed. TT, Guyana and Suriname’s dependence on oil and gas contributes to such projected demise.

After these hurricanes, we’ve scrambled to share immediate relief. Longer term, activists have been pushing for a better response to climate change’s distinct harms to women and children, the disabled, elderly and migrants, but there will be a time when some of our region’s islands will simply produce refugees. What is our plan for this reality?

It’s more than investing in micro-electric grids, home-based water filtration systems and resilient homes. There isn’t a single serious plan across the anglophone region for the kind of projected conditions that Bahamian Angelique Nixon, in Guyana’s Stabroek News, rightly calls “apocalypse now”: a terror which we hope will just pass us by at this time every year.

TT’s Vision 2030 reads like a fairytale, almost a pretence that none of this matters for housing settlements, agricultural planning, mangrove protection, carbon neutrality or governance. Looking for a realistic strategy regarding climate change across Caricom is just as worrying as the destruction of Dominica, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, and to a lesser extent Cuba and Jamaica, becomes heart-breaking.

Nonetheless, for immediate assistance, Angelique Nixon is co-ordinating “a Relief Drive for The Bahamas supporting three women-led grassroots organisations on the ground – Lend A Hand Bahamas (https://www.lendahandbahamas.org/ & Facebook #lendahand242), Equality Bahamas (Facebook @equality242), and Human Rights Bahamas (Facebook @gbhra242).

“The core organisers here in Trinidad are UWI Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, and the Emancipation Support Committee TT.

“Please donate relief items, such as adult and baby hygiene products, including soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, female sanitary items, adult and baby diapers, women’s underwear, baby formula and food, cleansing wipes, and non-perishable foods, which can be dropped off at any of those organisations’ headquarters.” Contact her via Whatsapp at 868-732-3543.

Long-term, however, think of supporting schools with books and supplies in a year’s time when recovery is less on media’s radar, and by strengthening Caribbean outrage and action against this predicted future.

Post 330.

There are women in every neighbourhood in Trinidad and Tobago who have terminated a pregnancy at least once. From here, our support to current efforts to decriminalize abortion in Jamaica should be clear.

In T and T, women can risk jail and pay for a private medical procedure. If they cannot pay or because poverty, age, lack of information and partner violence prevented them from being supported enough in this life decision, they could end up in hospital with various harms caused from unsafe options, as more than two thousand woman do here every year.

Illegal terminations can also result in long-term risks to reproductive health. They can be so unsafe that they result in women’s death.

The World Health Organisation estimates that twenty-two thousand abortions are performed in Jamaica every year. Additionally, the Partnership for Women’s Health and Well-being highlights that, “Complications arising from unsafe abortion are among the top 10 causes of maternal mortality in Jamaica, especially among teenagers”.

Banning abortion has never stopped the practice. However, it endangers women. It is a human rights violation which mothers negotiate without recourse to a public health policy that meets their needs.

Illegality also discriminates against poor women, whose right to equal medical treatment, privacy, integrity of the person, and access to sexual and reproductive health services is threatened by a combination of economic and social injustice, and arbitrary and archaic law.

Although women across religion, race, class, educational level and relationship status seek terminations by the tens of thousands under conditions not of their own choosing, poor and young women remain most vulnerable. In the Caribbean. 70% of all unsafe abortions are carried out on women below 30 years old and women 15-49 years old have the highest rate of unsafe abortions globally.

Prevalence of partner and non-partner violence in women’s lives is high, and pregnant women and mothers are at highest risk. Women do not always ‘choose’ to get pregnant when surviving conditions of physical and sexual violence, including forced sex, and such violence may leave them further unable to cope with children.

We fail to provide effective, national sex education. We let women ketch with employers who won’t hire them in case they get pregnant. We turn our heads at self-employed women who have no access to paid maternity leave. We blame poor women for having children they cannot cope with and for terminating pregnancies because they cannot cope. Is this an approach grounded in care, justice and respect?

Women often know they are making the best decision they can at the time, yet criminalization keeps them in fear, shame and silence when they most our need compassion, support and courage. In Jamaica, a woman can be sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to terminate a pregnancy, and accomplices or facilitators up to three years.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the Offences Against the Person Act similarly makes abortion illegal except in cases of risk to the health and life of a woman. In both countries, many doctors are unwilling to take the risk of interpreting the law, also leaving women vulnerable to doctors’ personal biases.

Jamaican Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn has bravely presented a Motion to the Parliament proposing de-criminalisation of abortion and its replacement by a civil law setting out conditions under which women would be able to access legal and safe termination of pregnancies. The call is to create a Woman’s Right to Pregnancy Act that allows a woman, after appropriate counselling, the right of termination within the first three months of pregnancy and thereafter, if necessary, to preserve her life.

This is necessary because it is just. At 12 weeks, a foetus is four inches long and weighs one ounce. It has all its organs, but none are functioning. It is not able to function fully independently outside the womb until 23 weeks. Aborting an embryo up to 12 weeks is not murdering a baby. In Jamaica, committed Christians have been speaking out in recognition of this call to recognize a mother as a human being with an inalienable right to decide what happens to her body.

This amendment could follow Barbados and Guyana where abortion was decriminalized in 1983 and 1995. Belize, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also expanded exceptions that allow for abortion. Jamaican parliamentarians and social justice advocates are to be congratulated for putting this issue on the legislative agenda.

Trinidad and Tobago can show solidarity with such leadership on behalf of women and families. Meanwhile, we watch Jamaica, expectantly.

 

Post 328.

What if?

What if women, so tired of seeing other women and girls threatened, controlled, harassed, abused and killed, took vigilante justice into their own hands? Every man who harmed and killed their partner was now at risk of being violently injured by a gang of ordinary, angry women with pipes, poui, batons, broomsticks, bilnas and more.

Women who couldn’t stop the partners of their daughters, sisters, mothers and friends would find this gang of women and they would enact the kind of punishment which sends a message to all that women will no longer be passive in the face of such impunity. What if the gang of women began to grow as more joined and any violent man became vulnerable to being beaten by masked women secretly connected across the country in defense of those so failed by our justice system?

Any man abusing his partner or any other woman could be found out and dealt with immediately, violently and collectively. Would those men begin to feel afraid? Would violence against women decrease as such punishment acts as prevention? Would women across communities begin to feel as if they were empowered to make such violence end?

What if women began to do this, would it really be so bad? How would they be judged in the court of public opinion, amongst those who resist violence of any kind as a solution, amongst those for whom morality is defined by law, amongst those who have dreamed of just this scenario many times, amongst those inspired by these women to pick up a pot spoon or an iron pan to stop the next lash? And, when it comes to this gang’s judgment to kill perpetrators of violence against women, what decision would you support?

What if? This is the provocative question put to the audience at UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts play, Baddesse, directed by Brendon La Caille, and featuring a powerful cast of young actors.

There were many things I appreciated about the play. The cast of young women played assertive and complex characters, showing themselves as both experiencing violence and refusing passivity to it, yet conflicted by its many contradictions. Indeed, the relationships and negotiations amongst the young and badass women, of different ethnicities, were some of the play’s richest material.

Yet, the production was much more, creating several settings in which violence is discussed, enacted and resisted. We are taken into the bedroom of a politician and his wife, herself an women’s rights advocate, psychologist and battered woman. We are taken on set where the glamourous host, who represents the character of a flamboyant gay man in a way stereotypical of Caribbean theatre, addresses this issue, bringing the audience into the conversation.

We are shown commercials, created for the production, that show how violence becomes normalized as part of consumption of popular culture. We are taken into the safe house of the women’s gang, whose leader is called ‘Black Widow’, and where we get intimate insight into the difficulty of embarking on this dangerous path – out of trauma, frustration and anger, despite the fact that she is a police officer.

The play constantly draws in the audience through use of the theatre space and through direct engagement with audience members. You don’t know if to cry, sometimes despite yourself you want to laugh and mostly you watch the production heart-broken that this is where male violence has led women – to desperate self-defense when there seems to be nowhere else to turn.

In Trinidad and Tobago, 30% of women reported physical and/or sexual IPV in their lifetime and 6% in the last 12 months, 19% reported lifetime non-partner sexual violence, 11% reported economic partner violence, and 35% reported emotional violence in their lifetime with 12% reporting emotional violence in the last twelve months. The 2018 Women’s Health Survey also found that approximately 11,000 women are likely to still be in abusive relationships. Conviction rates following reports is grossly low.

Where is justice in such a society? Indeed, this is what stands out in the play’s well-researched script. Black Widow herself grew up witnessing and experiencing violence. The final scene, played using Arts in Action’s long-established ‘hot seat’ facilitation approach, features an abuser confessing to the trauma of his own father’s violence. Where so many abusers were once victims, their killing cautions even the most angry about vigilantism.

Go see the play. Strong women. Serious questions. It runs April 12-14 at Cheesman Bldg on Gordon Street, St. Augustine.

Post 325.

YOUNG PEOPLE were the most joyous part of Saturday’s International Women’s Day march. Many were university students bringing their friends, their homemade posters, their radiant energy, and their sense of participating in their moment in history.

The goal was always to provide a space in our nation for younger generations to experience the safety and inclusiveness, yet fearless politics, of a global feminist movement long challenging violence, gendered divisions of labour, homophobia, and domination of women and nature. It was to carry a legacy, begun in San Fernando in 1958, just long enough and lovingly enough to hand it on.

It was to provide an example of wide public representation, creative expression, diverse concerns, and intimacy with the dreams and labour of home-grown Caribbean feminisms. It was to bring young women and men together at a time when we already know men can be feminist. Finally, it was to remind about the humbling lessons of cross-class solidarity, for we march without registration, without ropes, and always mindful of women workers’ realities. Just bring your message and come.

Riffling through our visual archives, young people’s posters show them far ahead of the ruling generation of obsolete men and complicit women, together holding back on their promise of equal and inclusive citizenship, and holding onto an old order that upcoming ages have already transcended.

In the decades of the IWD march, the issues have expanded from a focus on girls and women’s rights to include those of transgender persons – those who dis-identify with the dominant expectations of masculinity and femininity or the identities of male and female or the category of heterosexual.

Sounds like they just want to be human, observed my eight-year-old, something a parliament of representatives isn’t brave enough to see. Meanwhile, we too must keep learning to challenge our privileges in our leadership, improving our accountability to people with disabilities, First Nations’ Peoples and refugees.

Caribbean feminism was always the region’s most radical struggle to recognise us as human beings, however we choose to live and love as families, neighbours and citizens consenting and contributing to a greater good. And, some moments, it seems like that message rings clear.

Though today only a few hundred, in a decade there may be thousands marching. Just enough to open the corridors of power in our homes, schools, corporate boardrooms and Cabinet.

Nurtured amongst those who have come of age in TT’s most progressive big tent where Soroptomists march with ASJA Ladies who march with the National Union of Government and Federated Workers’ Women’s Executive Council who march with Womantra who march with CAISO who march with the Breastfeeding Association of TT who march with the UWI Guild of Students who march with the Silver Lining Foundation who march with the Single Mothers’ Association of TT who march with TTUTA, all carrying flags that call for gender justice.

The full list of organisations is much longer, showing a feminist movement that endures despite the precariousness of NGO survival. The Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, Women Working for Social Progress, the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Conflict Women, Mamatoto, the CEDAW Committee of TT, the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, the Family Planning Association of TT, the Association of Female Executives of TT, and more were all there.

These long-established women’s organisations held on through the decades to see another generation, that doesn’t even know their history or their name, spring fresh, certain and strong.

Women’s inter-generational mentoring of civic challenge to all the harms of patriarchal power, and radical impatience for a world already possible can be seen in those youthful posters.

There are many reasons to march. To protest or to add public power to public outcry. To build a movement. To inspire those who didn’t know they were imaginable and their dreams realisable.

To make our numbers a source of strength for when we return to everyday struggle. To simply take up public space. To find that woven into the labour, despair, risk, exhaustion and hard lessons are also community, hope, successes and joy.

When students come, on their own, it is a sign of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. They marched for better for themselves and each other, for better without violence or silence, fear or favour. The struggle continues. Next year, we will be here so they grow stronger.

 

 

Post 322.

Sunday’s semi-finals provided annual bliss of sweet pan. As night fell, I rolled up on the dusty asphalt of the track, loving the tradition of rich and poor rubbing shoulders.

This is always my favorite place to be. As the bands move toward the savannah, all and sundry stand up close and in between the pans, holding on and swaying in suspension of tensions of sex, race, class and creed just for those minutes of high mas, and watching the players practice like anointed spirits that descend back into ordinary life once the last note is played.

You could close your eyes and safely get lost right there, for around you others also seem lifted by sounds of iron and steel dissecting and combining and jumping up into the air.

Wandering toward the stage, I meandered through children and babies playing amidst families and friends drinking, eating, talking and leaning back against muted sounds of soca from food vendors, for this wasn’t a fete in here, with its distorted bass and its bawling DJs, this was social space for communities of pan players and lovers to congregate over finer points of music.

To see the police walk through, maybe twenty strong and parting the crowd the way Two Face Crew once – a long time ago – used to, showed an approach at odds with its own cultural context.

People are happy for policing that makes society safe, but that effort doesn’t always have to appear more badjohn than the bandits. There’s an embeddedness in the local rather than a separation from people, that if conveyed, would make police presence more welcomed, and more respected.

I thought about how much more accepted police would appear if they walked through dispersed in smaller groups, acknowledging those around them, rather than seeming at odds with or distrustful of informal cultures of togetherness.

Seeing them, these blue-uniformed women and men who are indeed our own, I didn’t feel safer, I felt criminalized and infantilized, like the relaxed intergenerational joy I had been experiencing was sternly told to keep within bounds of good behavior. I felt like when old school teachers walk into a classroom of talkative students and hush descends as they menacingly take out a hard ruler, and you get frighten even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

Threats are everywhere and police have their job to do, but policing isn’t just swagger, it’s engagement with multiple representations and strategies. It requires an assessment of the present and an understanding of the past.

During Carnival, there are tensions around policing itself for completely valid historical reasons. It was police, in keeping order, who kept oppression in place, and Carnival revitalizes significant memory about why such force should be resisted. At the same time, levels of gun crimes, murders and feelings of insecurity also provide valid reasons for police visibility. Still, the whole country doesn’t need to be intimidated as if it is a criminal gang.

We’d all have felt their presence, and all have appreciated that could mean deterrence of crime and quick response when required, but we would have felt this way even without such a mass show of strong-arm force. There’s skill in asserting the professional authority that connects to what publics expect and what makes people feel reassured without overkill.

In my decades on the track, I’ve seen how spaces of public safety and artistic connection, and family feeling and national togetherness do exist. These are a resource for policing which should be embraced, rather than dismissed.

Part of pan bliss is the collective energy of people pushing steel bands on stage in a powerful metaphor for the idea of taking care of our own, and putting a hand in with beloved and stranger alike to press ahead, in pace with sweetness, ambitious camaraderie, and excitedly beating hearts.

As I crossed with All Stars, the phalanx of police appeared again, burly with stern faces, set jaws, helmets and big guns, to hurry us off stage, for such togetherness has to be kept on time and in order by the threat of a lil rough up for not listening quick enough.

I would have exited just as quickly if such anti-riot assemblage was replaced by nice ladies in bright t-shirts, without guns in competition for power with all that steel. As the band began, I looked on thinking about what Carnival taught us long ago. There’s fear and there’s love, and no power can govern legitimately through the first alone.

 

 

 

 

Post 319.

The Break the Silence Campaign, familiar to most because of its blue teddy bear symbol, enters its tenth year in 2019. Focusing on raising awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and incest, providing training about these as issues of gender-based violence, and building communities around empowerment of children as part of prevention, the campaign has indeed seen silences broken.

There’s more reporting now than before, confusing our understanding about whether the rates have risen, or just the reporting, but confirming our position that too many children continue to be harmed.

There have been 11, 787 reports of children in need of care and protection since proclamation of the Children’s Authority. Over 2016-2017, there were 4, 232 reports of child abuse and maltreatment, averaging 353 reports per month. In relation into sexual abuse, girls are harmed at four times the rates of boys, but the rates of neglect and physical abuse are nearly the same, and in fact slightly higher for boys than girls.

At the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) meeting yesterday, researchers highlighted childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, as a significant denominator among perpetrators.

Perpetrators also spoke about lacking healthy, involved and connected father figures. This doesn’t mean blaming women-headed households, which are managing the balance of both being freed from toxic masculinities while being burdened with unequal responsibilities.

It also doesn’t mean that it takes fathers to be fatherly figures or influential role models. It takes men in boys’ lives who care, enable them to feel accepted, and loved “like a son” so that boys don’t get used to “always walking around with hurt feelings as a young boy”.

CAFRA’s data is part of larger project to shift  cultural norms in order to end gender-based violence as it affects men, women, boys, girls, and especially those from marginalized groups defined by disability or sexual/gender orientation. This makes sense once you understand how striking the data is, and how complex explanations for it and solutions to it have to be.

In 2016, 3, 312 reports were made to the national domestic violence hotline, 150 to Rape Crisis Society, and 1, 141 to the TTPS. Why do hurt people feel safer to seek comfort from a stranger on the end of a phone than to reach out to the relevant authorities?

How were those lives lived after that call? Did the violence in that caller’s life end, and did it end with a perpetrator’s conviction for the crime of violence or with counseling as a path to accountability? Was there healing? Was there greater safety in our islands with as much as 1, 240 breaches of protection orders between 2009 and 2017? What happened to the children?

In the eighteen months between January 2016 and September 2017, ninety-nine women were murdered, but 857 men. As we think about the rates of boys and men murdering other boys and men in our society, who connects such killing to what we describe as domestic violence, or the ways that power is wielded in families that lead to experiences of trauma, harm and a will to hurt.

Even more significant, who has made the connection between child sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse in boys’ lives, and their later actions that cause trauma, harm and death?

Currently, there is no national, state-led approach to prevention, prosecution and healing – including something as simple and necessary as age-appropriate curricula for primary schools that aim to change a culture that normalizes gender-based violence and forms of family abuse.

The Break the Silence Campaign is one example of a national focus on ending child sexual abuse and incest – which is so horrendous that it’s unbelievable we tolerate it enough as a society for it to exist. Any society that values family life above all else should have zero cases to report . What we have is a society that prioritizes fear, respectability, religiosity, discipline and silencing above children’s rights while children live amidst threat and vulnerability.

A decade on, the BTS campaign needs private sector and community infusion of support and investment so that it can continue to press against such silencing and violence for another ten years.

If we make the connections between child sexual abuse and incest, later domestic violence, and wider male violence and killing, we may prevent crimes before criminals are created. For the TTPS and its allies, this should be a priority, for it’s the more humane solution to the desperation of a shoot to kill policy.