December 07, 2003
By Raffique Shah
FOR an editor or journalist or columnist, it's a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't. Writing about the seemingly uncontrollable crime epidemic that has gripped this country, I mean. Not long ago, when the front pages of all newspapers were plastered with graphic photographs and reports of the previous day's carnage, many prominent citizens and politicians in government accused us of sensationalising crime, glorifying criminals. Lately, because it has been so prevalent that it's tucked into inside pages, we are being accused of covering up the grim realities of just how bad the situation is.
It's the predicament of those of us charged with disseminating news, be it good news or bad news. As is normal, the murders of two wealthy citizens stole the headlines for a few days last week, even against this grim landscape of nightly murders that have come to be treated as routine. The two victims come from a class in the society that has barricaded itself behind "gated communities", phalanxes of security guards and electronic devices, and, of course, licensed firearms. Indeed, in the case of Christopher Aleong, it seems that he managed to fire some rounds at his assailants.
But we cannot all "live in jail", behind fences and walls, and expect that these will protect us from mindless bandits who are only after easy dollars. At some point, we need to leave these sanctums, which, really, are not impenetrable, as was shown in two instances within two days. In Aleong's case, he had just left his home for office when the murderers struck. There have been lots of rumours surrounding that incident, but whatever the reasons behind it, the fact that someone could hire a group of killers who would execute a man for a few dollars tells of the predicament in which we have found ourselves.
As a society, we have long crossed that dangerous "thin red line". Hired guns are nothing new to us. Men have rid themselves of wives they no longer needed that way for decades. Or of siblings, even parents, who stood between them and a few million dollars. And I am talking here of men who went on to take whatever new wives they wanted, who inherited businesses-by-blood, and who lived on to become respected and respectable persons in the eyes of their peers.
The difference today is that hired guns are easier to come by. The "profession" has reached the point where certain places serve as "offices" where such deals can be sealed. Stealing cars—and killing the owners if they happen to get in the way—is another aspect of organised crime in which the heads remain aloof of the tails. In other words, everyone focuses on the bandits who are only "putting down wuk" while the real perpetrators, the ones who benefit most from these crimes, remain far removed from scrutiny.
Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday made an observation at a recent meeting that I found was very pertinent. He queried why the bandits/murderers who struck at the Farah home, having killed the hapless woman, went only after her jewelry. They obviously do not intend to wear it, since it is easily identifiable. So clearly the gold will be melted and reappear in another form. Who buys these stolen items if not those who legitimately deal in precious metals? Who will purchase the truckloads of furniture and appliances stolen from the warehouse of a Central dealer?
If we are prepared to address these questions, then we are ready to address the issue of crime. It is well-known that if there is no market for stolen goods there will be no thieves operating in that "theatre" of crime. If there weren't people who are prepared to buy "hot" car parts or appliances or gold, the "market" will dry up, forcing the criminals to turn to other avenues of making money. I have in the past asked the Chambers of Commerce to do some introspection, to look within their ranks and see if the real criminals cannot be found there. Why, for example, in districts where there are businesses aplenty, only one or two are targeted by bandits for repeat robberies? Why are certain individuals more prone to being kidnapped—in instances, members of certain families have been kidnapped two, three times?
Because these wolves in our midst are clothed in jackets-and-ties, because they have money to buy respectability, most of us, the police included, are prepared to turn a blind eye to their dastardly deeds. Check around and see which businessmen are hiring thugs or felons as debt collectors, or as bodyguards or "bouncers" at their establishments. Yet, these are the very people who cry out loudest against crime and the Government's inability to deal with it. And I have not even touched on the hundreds of "respectable" citizens who rob the Treasury on a daily basis, violating laws relating to taxation, building codes, etc.
Oh, I couldn't agree more with those who say the police and the Government do not seem to have a clue as to how to start cleaning up the country. New National Security Minister Martin Joseph mentioned a critical element in this war, the gathering of intelligence. That is a fundamental pre-requisite to engaging in any war, and I am disappointed that the authorities have given it low priority. I know that the unit that was formed to deal with this in the mid-90s was effectively dismantled, or worse, politicised. Also, there is need for a total reconstruction of the Police Service where good, dedicated officers have been overwhelmed by the corrupt and the bad. Again, any such move is sure to incur the wrath of those who "live easy" in uniforms, and of politicians who will cry foul.
Recently, when ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani delivered a lecture here, hundreds lapped up his words as if they were coming from God. But as ex-Commissioner of Police Hilton Guy said, when he suggested that the families of kidnap victims should not negotiate with the kidnappers, he was assailed from all quarters. Giuliani said the same thing and he received a standing ovation. We deliberately set ourselves double standards and wallow in them. That way we shall never bring the crime monster to its knees. Because even as we complain and cry, too many of us are part of the problem. Yet we expect the police and the Government to provide the solutions.
Until we accept these realities, until the perpetrators who lie in the shadows as their hired hands strike are brought to heel, sent to jail, we have no hope of curbing crime.