Poverty, Prejudice, and Police

Why unequal treatment remains prevalent in our society

Andrew Sage
6 min readSep 15, 2020
Photo by Jonathan Kho on Unsplash

Recently, at least five homeless people were issued fines by the TTPS for failing to wear masks in public. Not long after the story broke, social media was rightfully incensed by the callous treatment of the least fortunate in our society.

This isn’t the first police-related incident in recent times that has had the internet aflame. For the past few days, the nationwide discussion has centred the unequal treatment of the “Bayside partygoers” and the “Sea Lots zessers”.

When the police raided the party in Sea Lots, people were lined up, arrested, and filmed. Their pictures and apology were publicized for the whole nation. Meanwhile, the pool party in the affluent Bayside Towers gated community, while also dealt with by the police, resulted in only a dispersal. No guns were drawn and no pictures were taken.

Many have rightfully pointed out the role that race, colour, and class played in both incidents. While Commissioner Gary Griffith may see no issue in dismissing such inequality, it’s a discussion that must be had.

Race, Colour, & Class

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

Colonialism, father of capitalism, birthed many of our present issues. The societal order of plantation-era Trinidad still affects our society today.

As we all know, since the beginning of the enslavement of Africans in the 16th century, our ancestors were subject to inhumane treatment and conditions, with pseudoscience being formed to justify it all. The social construct of races was used to create clear divisions in a highly hierarchical system, with white Europeans at the top and Indigenous Americans and Africans at the very bottom. Thus, the racial hierarchy.

One of the consequences of colonialism was the “racial mixing” between European colonizers and enslaved Africans. Those mixed children were afforded privileges their darker-skinned peers could not attain: legal status, land, and education. That divide between the “free coloureds” and “blacks” was further promoted by colonial settlers, who reinforced black inferiority and white supremacy, ingraining the notion of higher worth relating to lighter skin. With the arrival of the Indian indentured labourers and their own caste divides, further enforced by a deliberated pseudo-segregation from Afro-Trinidadians by the colonial masters, the colour hierarchy was advanced even further.

When the Syrian and Lebanese community arrived in Trinidad in the early 20th century, while xenophobia did leave them with some disadvantages, their proximity to whiteness and clannish attitude has allowed them to maintain a position of wealth, privilege, and control over our politics and our workplaces. In some cases, they have even exceeded the affluence of the former colonists.

Though their community is small, their monopoly over the property and affairs of our nation is vast. Their relation to property allows them free reign and immense control over our lives. This is because, under capitalism, there exist two main classes: the rulers and the ruled. Those who live off their ownership of capital and those who must sell their labour to live.

Truth is, we were never emancipated from the plantation mentality and classes that we inherited from the colonizers. Class hierarchy, aided by colourism and racism, continues today. It is evident that one’s access to wealth, resources, and connections is heavily impacted by one’s colour and race. And in a system with inherent inequality, there can be no justice.

Not without a fundamental transformation of the social order.

The Role of the Police

Photo by ev on Unsplash

The police, as a natural function of the State, will always protect and serve the interests of the rulers over the ruled. Errico Malatesta, an Italian political theorist of the 19th century, correctly defined the State as:

The sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary, military and financial institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the power to make laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force.

The institution of policing has an unbroken history of protecting and upholding the ruling class. Whether through slave patrols or through working-class suppression, the police have existed to maintain the capitalist social order, so that those in power can do their business with the least amount of disruption.

In Trinidad, the “beat first, arrest after” Police Force was first established by the Spaniards to prosecute and apprehend vagabonds, runaway slaves, and those who hid fugitives. After the conquest of Trinidad by the English, though the Police Force was racially diverse, its role was expanded after emancipation to regulate the newly freed coloured men and women.

As time marched on, the role of the Police Force continued to expand, allowing for greater surveillance and control of the working class. After the Police Service Act was enacted in the mid-20th century, the name was changed from Police Force to Police Service, yet the TTPS continued to be militarized in response to rising crime, a consequence of the social order the institution protects. Crime threatens the pockets of the elite; poverty and homelessness don’t.

We’ll continue to see incidents of police mistreatment of the poor and protection of the rich until our system fundamentally changes, from its very root.

We’re not going to see change through voting. While we supposedly choose who rules today and who rules tomorrow, the real rulers are undisturbed. They pacify us with petty elections, shuffles and scuffles between parties, but they know where their power lies.

What incentive do politicians have to grant us what we want when the 1% will always have them in their pockets? Our only leverage is our collective power and our ability to take it from them.

The solution is not to usurp the role of the rulers.

Even if it is possible (in theory) for everyone to become a ruler or a boss, that does not make the power and authority that bosses and rulers have over society any more legitimate.

The solution is to end the distinction altogether.

As David Correia and Tyler Wall describe in Police: A Field Guide:

*Private property is distinct from personal property.

The only realistic solution to a reality in which terror, violence, and death is an inevitability to the functionality of a system is abolition. When we build our own grassroots movement, we can go beyond the system. Through direct action, mutual aid, liberty and autonomy, we build now the world of tomorrow. We cannot subsist on mere petitions. We must take back the power we have given them to make our own choices.

Abolish it all.

We can do better.

You can follow Saint Andrew on Twitter @_saintdrew and subscribe on Youtube where I share my thoughts, opinions, and art. You can also buy me a coffee.

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“To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so…

To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorised, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished.

It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolised, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed;

Then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed;

And, to crown it all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.”

— Pierre Joseph Proudhon



Andrew Sage

I’m a writer of words, an artist of arts, and a thinker of thoughts. Founder of Saint Who and Andrewism. Follow me on Twitter @_saintdrew.