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Raffique Shah


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Society under siege

January 16, 2005
By Raffique Shah

SOMETHING has clearly gone awry with government's much vaunted fight against crime, but no one in authority wants to take responsibility for their apparent impotence in dealing with the madness that has all but overtaken the country. To be fair, the crime spiral did not start yesterday, or, for that matter, under the watch of the present government.

Former prime minister Basdeo Panday and his associates seem to conveniently forget he (Panday) took personal control of National Security when things went rapidly downhill, only to throw his hands in the air in short time saying "Ah give up!" What has happened, though, is since the PNM returned to power, there has been an escalation in serious crimes, whatever the statistics may say to the contrary. And none of the plans to rein in the blood and gore that have traumatised Trinidadians more than Tobagonians seems to be working.

A murder a day really does make this country look like the crime capital of the world, although those of us who follow international news and trends know this is far from the truth. There are many countries in which crime is infinitely worse than it is here, where human life has no value, and where security is an unknown word. In much of Central and South America, for example, and in places like South Africa, crime has reached epidemic proportions.

In cities like Rio de Janeiro they more than likely don't even keep count of the murders that take place, far less robberies and "lesser" crimes. Recently, in Honduras I think, gangsters brazenly opened fire on a bus-load of ordinary people, killing around 20 hapless victims. Even in the USA, where security is tight as the proverbial fish's rectum, they are trying to understand why, in spite of the draconian measures they have put in place, senseless crimes continue unabated. And in the UK, only last Thursday in Bedford, a man hacked two persons to death and left another mutilated.

So it's not that we are alone in the high-crime boat. But for a country of our size, and given our abundant resources, the crime rate is simply unacceptable. National Security Minister Martin Joseph, who ultimately has to take blame for what the criminals do, and what the police do not do, needs to stop fretting over "adverse" reports in the local and foreign media, and start acting to curb crime. True, he is not trained to lead his troops on the ground-that's the function of his namesake Peter, who was promoted and put in charge of a special anti-crime unit. CoP Trevor Paul, CID Chief Oswin Allard, and other officers who head units like homicide and the OCNU, must also share blame for the shortcomings of the forces of law and order.

Imagine in Belmont, two teenagers are gunned down one night, and the best we could get from the police is that they were "believed to be robbers who probably targeted the wrong victim". Now, what does that tell us? Not that the police, at least those in the surrounding precincts, knew of the young victims' crimes, if not a criminal record. More than likely they do not have a "record" because they were never convicted of any crime. But, the cops told reporters, they were robbers. So if they were, how come they were free as birds, lurking in the hills on Belmont, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting residents? And who is the mysterious "super-victim" they tackled, who brought them down to earth, quite literally?

This is just one of the latest crimes that continue to baffle ordinary citizens, many of whom argue that the police know many of the criminals, but they make little effort to apprehend them. To use one case as an example, a family, clearly drug dealers, has been terrorising an entire street with impunity. One household tried to buck the beasts, but the marked and unmarked police vehicles they saw parked outside what is now a fortress, turned them off. A letter detailing the irregular activities there has been sent to the CoP, DPP Henderson and a few other high officials. The DPP can't do anything until the police investigate and come up with a report. But no one expects the police to investigate their colleagues, who are deemed to be linked to drug dealers, and to take action against both the drug dealers and their uniformed accomplices.

In the event that Minister Joseph finds this latter allegation "frightening", I want to assure him that he can easily multiply that situation by 1,000 times or more, and it will tell the woes of many law-abiding citizens who are unwilling victims of drug dealers. Wherever they decide to establish themselves, they do so in style, and with their guns and goons there to silence anyone who opposes them.

What is worse, in almost every instance it is so easy to identify them yet "de police cyah see"! Maybe it's true they can't easily get hard evidence to nail the culprits. But surely Brigadier Peter Joseph knows how to set up proper intelligence systems, including decoys and undercover agents, which can be used to apprehend both "police and t'ief".

I wonder, too, if Minister Joseph is aware of how many people simply do not bother to report robberies, rapes, larceny and burglaries? These incidents happen so frequently, so brazenly, they have been reduced-by the population, no less-to minor crimes. People no longer bother to make reports because, except for a few dedicated officers, most policemen, too, see these offences as "petty". They heap scorn on victims of jewelry-snatching, or who have lost small items like their wallets (matters not their entire salary might have been stolen). Why bother us with such trivia when we are awaiting the next murder victim?

The fact is, Minister Joseph, most people now feel unsafe, matters not where they live or what their stations-in-life might be. That's a fact. But Trinis are such that they will continue to go to Carnival shows and fetes and dinners and limes with their friends, and so on. That does not signal that they are comfortable, they feel secure. Their attitudes, like mine, may well be "what is to must, must", as some Trini jokingly put it many moons ago. It's only because of this carefree approach to life that this crime-ridden society appears on the surface to be normal. But it's not, Mr Minister. It's a society under siege. Physical siege in many instances, but mostly a kind of fatalism that gives us mental comfort.