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Nizam had a point

Posted: April 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

The past couple of weeks have seen the pillorying of Nizam Mohammed, erstwhile chair of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Commission, culminating in the revocation of his appointment by our nation’s President George Maxwell Richards. Mr Mohammed was effectively fired for saying there were too many black people in the high echelons of the Police Service; he made the statement before a parliamentary Joint Select Committee on March 25, 2011 (this Trinidad Express editorial nicely sums up the whole case and its upshot).

The outcry following Mohammed’s statement about the imbalance was loud and ugly. He was called a racist, even though as he himself reminded the public he had been on the side of Black Power insurgents and long supported racial equality. Now the hue and cry has drowned out his protestations of unbiasedness. There are many factors at play–Mohammed made an ill-advised move earlier in his appointment in a confrontation with two police officers and lost a lot of credibility thereafter, and there was subsequently a national petition to have him removed from office–but surely the bigger picture is that he is right about the imbalance in the Police Service and that it ought to be addressed.

“The relationship between group composition and performance in general is clearly complicated, but from a strictly decision-making perspective, both sides of the debate regarding diversity effects are compatible with the hypothesis that groups often benefit from racial heterogeneity. The extent to which racial diversity facilitates information exchange and problem solving certainly indicates advantages for heterogeneous groups, especially for complex decisions. But even interpersonal conflict— often mentioned as the principal negative result of diversity—may be useful when a group’s primary goal is not boosting morale but rather good and thorough decision making.

[…]

Although equal access and the attempt to remedy historical injustices are important, and many would say noble considerations, the present findings provide evidence for another, often overlooked justification for promoting diversity: In many circumstances, racially diverse groups may be more thorough and competent than homogeneous ones.”

—”On Racial Diversity and Group Decision Making: Identifying Multiple Effects of Racial Composition on Jury Deliberations”

Samuel R Sommers, Tufts University, 2005, Journal of Sociology and Psychology. Source: http://ase.tufts.edu/psychology/documents/pubssommersonracialdiversity.pdf

Anybody who has ever had to manage a group of any size would tell you a diverse group brings different things to the table than a homogenous group.

Members of a homogenous group, such as the upper ranks of the Police Service largely is, think similarly on problems in many cases. Shared ethnicity in Trinidad and Tobago means that, class notwithstanding, the roots and leaves will be similar among the officers. One cannot effectively police a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious society with only black police when more than half the society is not black. (Although, as one Facebook denizen recently implied, voicing an opinion shared by many, if you got rid of all the black people in Trinidad and Tobago crime would vanish, so, by that logic, if all the criminals are black then maybe all the police should be black, too.)

Whether or not we would admit it, racialism is strong and vibrant in our country. Pretending that “all ah we is one famalayyyy”, in the immortal words of Lord Nelson, will not make the problem go away. We all know the stereotypes:- White people are rich and snobbish; Syrian and Lebanese people are corrupt and incestuous; Indians are stingy and racist; black people are lazy and criminals; Chinese are cheap and have small penises/sideways vaginas. All ah we might be one famalayyyy but I wouldn’t want to be there when the gloves come off after that reunion dinner.

Policing is not merely solving crime. It is preventing criminal activity and relating to a community. How can the police do that when they, at the very least, can’t well understand more than half the society? When they fear, despise or resent the “other”?

Making the Police Service more racially balanced, at all levels, is not the job of the Parliament, it is true. But whoever has responsibility for it now is not doing his job. Perhaps we ought to mandate quotas to ensure more equitable representation of all races in the public service–and put measures in place to protect civil servants from the racial purging that takes place every time a different government comes into power.


11 Comments on “Nizam had a point”

  1. 1 Wayne Williams said at 1:21 am on April 6th, 2011:

    I must say I strongly disagree. The imbalance maybe artificial since I have not seen a percentage breakdown of entries to top level position over time. To make it simple, if one group dominated entries into the service over the last 20 years then it would be expected they would be a the top now, based on experience and seniority. To randomly promote individuals based on race to correct this “imbalance” would not be logical. The real focus should be how to encourage more east indians into the police force, thus correcting the imbalance at the top in time. Therefore if he had mainly focused on the entries of individuals into the service no one could have questioned his motives.

    However, my issue with Mr. Mohammed is one of focus, of all the major issues facing the police service that needs to be corrected, the one that gains his attention is this one. This tells me what issues are dominating his thoughts. Note however I would not have asked for his resignation, since I believe that this is the agenda of others as well. I appreciate his honesty and at least we know what is on his mind.

  2. 2 Jumbie said at 2:02 am on April 6th, 2011:

    Without doubt Nizam was correct in fact – namely that there are “too many black persons” in the upper ranks of the police service.

    However, you conveniently ignore the following statement he made. Namely, that he was willing (with the help of Parliament – but this is a non-issue for the most part which I will get to) to correct the ethnic imbalance.

    In so stating, Nizam took upon himself a role that was outside his statutory duties. To say that this is seditious (as some people were postulating) may be going to far… However, it certainly put to doubt ANY decision the PSC would make in future regarding promotions or appointments.

    Were any Indian promoted or appointed, one would HAVE to consider Nizam’s position and wonder whether it was indeed on merit/qualifications, or on ethnic balancing. Same for any black person so NOT promoted. This is an untenable state of affairs that cannot possibly be tolerated.

    While Nizam said that he would do his ethnic balancing with the help of Parliament, this really is a non-issue, since Parliament cannot act outside the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, without relevant changes in statutory legislation being made. The PM rightly took herself and her Cabinet out of the issue.

    As for mandating quotas to ensure an equitable distribution, this is something I see as insulting, (I am Indian) since it reflects poorly on the (Black) hard-working men and women who would no doubt be bypassed in order to facilitate this idea. Decades of hard work and commitment to see a newcomer ride over them? I don’t think so. Discrimination is discrimination, even if one argues it is positive.

  3. 3 Scientist D said at 2:54 am on April 6th, 2011:

    I agree that we have serious relationship problems in our country. lots of sub-surface anguish and other issues. The former Chairman’s error was to
    1 Presume he had the power to correct what he saw was an imbalance
    2 Presume that Pariaiment had a role in helping him
    3 Saying out loud what had been bouncing though his brain
    4 Expecting that the population would blithely agree and move on
    5 Supposing that there is no consequence to what is seen as hateful/divisive speech
    6 Forgetting that he was not among his clique, but in the public space.

    In any event, we do owe him a debt of gratitude as proffered by IK. Thanks for letting us see what you think and sharing the “game plan”. There is now an even greater need for some of these appointments to be given public scrutiny BEFORE they are made.

  4. 4 lise said at 7:28 am on April 6th, 2011:

    I am not suggesting unfair promotion as you posit. I am saying there is a racial imbalance and it needs to be corrected. I didn’t actually make any comment about whether Mr Mohammed’s dismissal was right or wrong, and I did mention Parliament and Government both should stay out of the everyday workings of the public service–including the police service commission.

  5. 5 lise said at 7:32 am on April 6th, 2011:

    But my question to you is: is it racist to notice and comment on such an obvious imbalance? Fifty-nine high ups and only a handful, literally, of non-black officers. Our deeply ingrained racism in this country (although we love to pretend otherwise) has got to be addressed. Nizam’s real mistake was saying what was on everybody’s mind but nobody wants to say out loud.

  6. 6 Gab said at 9:19 am on April 6th, 2011:

    actually lisa, i hear all the criticisms of nizam, but i also think that the afro-creole defined nation is not open to honest feedback about afro-trinidadian hegemony….thus as soon as indians raise ‘race’ (a discussion which they openly engage within their communities), everyone starts again talking about how ‘all of we are one’…nizam made a series of political mistakes, but the larger questions of institutionalised exclusion – in addition to individual choices – was swept under a lot of dotish talk…talk that really disappointed me about the lack of syrians selling doubles and other trivialising nonsense…i myself kept out of the whole thing for fear of being branded something i am not for saying, well, you know, indians have experienced discrimination at the institutional level and exclusion at the national level, and the results of that history are not okay today…yes – that history of power imbalance in the state and nation does exist (as it does for non-whites in the US – where there is similar animosity to critiques of ethnic power imbalance) and therefore there are different perceptions of it depending on the community you are a part of …after saying in public that i thought kamla made history as a woman – and an indian woman – and having sensible people say that i was excluding non-indians, bringing up race, being racial! etc…i’ve learned – as an indian – to be careful about when i let people know that, like others, indians take their ethnicity with them to their participation in larger communities and hybrid cultural spaces…and sometimes historic ethnic inequality in the way the nation has been shaped needs to be the responsibility of all to address….nizam was wrong on many counts…but so were many of the responses to him…its interesting to see you write this as someone like me certainly could not have!

  7. 7 Trinidad & Tobago: Equal Representation · Global Voices said at 2:11 pm on April 6th, 2011:

    […] he is right about the imbalance in the Police Service and that it ought to be addressed.”: Lisa Allen-Agostini suggests that the former head of the Police Service Commission may have had a point. […]

  8. 8 Le Ciel et La Terre | Revue de presse | Trinidad & Tobago: Equal Representation said at 2:20 pm on April 6th, 2011:

    […] he is right about the imbalance in the Police Service and that it ought to be addressed.”: Lisa Allen-Agostini suggests that the former head of the Police Service Commission may have had a point. This post is […]

  9. 9 Trinidad & Tobago: Equal Representation @ Current Affairs said at 5:37 pm on April 6th, 2011:

    […] he is right about the imbalance in the Police Service and that it ought to be addressed.”: Lisa Allen-Agostini suggests that the former head of the Police Service Commission may have had a […]

  10. 10 SweetBread said at 10:21 pm on April 7th, 2011:

    I have to agree with the first commenter that there are many more pertinent issues Nizam could have addressed regarding the police force. I also do not think that we have a serious problem of racism in this country considering for one thing our high percentage of mixed peoples. I think that there are many prejudices held by different groups and that most of these are the result of colonialism.
    And is Gab saying that Indian people have suffered the same discrimination under the hands of Africans in this country in a similar fashion to white supremacist oppression in the US of non-whites? If so, i really cannot believe that comparison is being made.

  11. 11 Adrian said at 4:49 pm on April 28th, 2011:

    As a civil servant, I cannot help but see Nizam’s statement as a political offensive. It is impossible to rise through the ranks of government for so many years without understanding the political significance of words outside one’s provenance. In the civil service, heads roll because names are uttered in the wrong order on a list. Are we truly expected to believe that this was a naïve, openhearted attempt to move the country forward?

    I support affirmative action for Indians within the police force if necessary, but I am extremely cynical with regard to Nizam, and his agenda. This is clearly an issue that Trinidadians need to continue discussing; but I don’t have a problem with Nizam’s removal.

    Sometimes political errors can be more damaging, to country as well as career, than factual ones.


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