Having based my column last week on the events of May 1973, surrounding the murder of Attorney General Rawle, I was challenged last weekend by a gentleman (though not so gently), inquiring if “dat is all yo’ could write about”?
I begin the continuation promised this week, by stressing that for more reasons than one, it was an important phase in the political development of our country. The murder itself of such an important officer of the state was an event unprecedented in the history of our country and perhaps the entire Eastern Caribbean. The connection of the primary accused to one of the local “Black Power” organizations also gave an added slant to the situation.
It is also useful to remember that the government of the day was not the Labour Party, which had displayed early repressive tendencies during its 1967-72 tenure, but the Alliance government of Joshua’s PPP and Premier James Mitchell. Joshua was believed to be more sympathetic to “Black Power” given his anti-colonial background, and in fact the earliest proponents of anti-colonialism, nationalism, and black consciousness, the Educational Forum of the People, led by Dr Kenneth John, Eddie Griffith and Kerwyn Morris, is believed to have played an important role in organizing the alliance between Joshua and Mitchell.
However, the reaction of the Alliance government was hardly different from what one would have expected from a Labour government. True, it represented a national security challenge and since the events in Trinidad and Tobago in 1970, all Caribbean governments were on tenterhooks where “Black Power” was concerned. And the murder of an Attorney General is a very serious matter. It explains why Trinidad sent tracker dogs to help the local police in the hunt. Unfortunately a senior police officer shot the dog, and was immortalized in the calypso, “Who shoot the Puppy?”.
Though no State of Emergency was declared, the police were let loose to do as they pleased, make arbitrary arrests and to detain several young men associated with the Black Power movement, including the late calypsonian Black Messenger. Most of those so held were beaten while in custody so there were violations of human rights and the law of the land.
One of the positive spinoffs of the Black Power movement was a great interest in the African continent especially in developments in southern Africa where there was apartheid and white minority rule. We had therefore planned, before the Rawle episode, to have the first African Liberation Day rally in “the Ghetto” but the police arbitrarily informed us that no such gathering would be permitted, another blatant infringement of our rights. They also, during the hunt for Junior “Spirit” Cottle, destroyed drums, seized literature and other items belonging to our organization, BLAC.
The “wuss behaviour” was saved for Sunday, May 27, after the police claimed that they had information that the wanted Cottle was in “the Ghetto” area where he resided. They unleashed a barrage of tear gas cannisters on the area, affecting young and old, child and granny alike. Never before had such an attack been seen in our country, as if the residents of the area had no rights as citizens. Apparently, the police information had proven to be accurate as Cottle was apprehended after being shot in the neck. I had the unenviable task of negotiating his surrender and handing him over to the police. Then began a whole new world for me involving the law, the lives of young men and the Courts. (Legal Horrors: Final episode next week)
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.