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Raffique Shah


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In war we need to get into trenches

January 30, 2005
By Raffique Shah

Klemis McCarthy was gunned down in Diego Martin about two weeks ago, allegedly after he had attended a "meeting" at which he was said to have denied any involvement in the murder of someone else in the district late last year. After he attended what appeared to have been a "court" and was returning home, a masked gunman emptied a handgun on him. Luckily, his girlfriend, who was said to be with him at the time, escaped unharmed. I imagine the police are conducting investigations, but I don't know that anything will come out of it. That murder raises several fundamental questions that the forces of law and order, and the government ministers with responsibility for crime, need to answer.

Are there parallel policing and judicial "institutions" set up in this country? And if so, who are these "judges" or "magistrates" who sit on these courts, who pass death sentences on ordinary citizens? Well, let me re-phrase that: not-so-ordinary citizens. Because the fact that McCarthy willingly went to this "court" means that he knew of its existence. He knew he was going there to defend himself, which signals to me that he was in some way involved with the persons who arrogated unto themselves the powers of life and death over their accomplices. I feel certain that McCarthy was not the first such victim of what we used to term "shotgun justice". The wanton murders that haunt the hills of Laventille and Morvant, and which have now spilled over into Belmont and Diego Martin, suggest that not even "mock trials" are held for those who cross these judges-cum-executioners.

When young men are gunned down, gangland style, we are told that it's part of an intensified "turf war" between gangs, a war that the police and army personnel involved in crime fighting seem powerless to intervene in. People have told me there are parts of these "hot spots" where certain policemen have openly said they are afraid to enter. As an aside, the deep fear in which citizens live, and the notoriety the police have earned for their late response to reports of serious crime were demonstrated in the murder last week of a man described as Prime Minister Patrick Manning's friend, Carl Stone. Firstly, after he was allegedly shot by his assailants, no one even telephoned the police to report the sound of gunfire. And after another man virtually stumbled on Stone's corpse and called the police, it took them close to six hours to respond. Nothing but gross negligence can explain this indifference of the police towards crime.

But being afraid to tackle "gangs" on their turfs well, that tells me that what we have are "toy police" who lack the resolve to do the job. We are not talking about "long time police", men armed with batons and dressed in short pants. Today's crime fighters are equipped with the best rifles and sub-machine guns available, with Kevlar vests, and they are very mobile. If we factor in army personnel who accompany the anti-crime units on their raids, then there's even greater firepower, and men with a measure of protection that was hitherto unknown. And you are telling me that you are afraid to take the war to these "warlords" who literally thumb their noses at the forces of law and order?

Really, we need to question the capability of some of the personnel in our protective services. When I was a young military officer, albeit in a different crime-time, neither I nor my colleagues were afraid of anything or anyone! I shan't go into detail here about certain actions we took in unusual circumstances. Suffice it to say at Panorama last Sunday where I met many of the men who stood like giants at that time, talk was about the "toys" we now have in uniforms, and the calibre of men we had then. The point is no squad of soldiers or policemen ought to be afraid of any of these punks who run around with guns terrorising citizens.

When they point guns at their hapless but unarmed victims, they feel like giants. But when they see an automatic rifle pointed back at them, it looks like a bloody bazooka! So ridding the country of these useless negative forces is nothing very complicated. The exercise seems to be a simple one to me: gather intelligence on these gangs (which the police seem to already have), mount surveillance, and then proceed with operations designed to arrest them, flush them out of their "holes", and bring them to heel-dead or alive!

I don't want to sound callous by saying bringing them in dead would be the better option. But the communities in which these punks thrive ought to be relieved if the police and army get rid of them, either with their hands in the air or their feet covered under sheets. It's the only way I know sorry if I offend the sensibilities of many people. But back to these "kangaroo courts". Again, how can everyone in communities know about them, know who are the "judges" or "capos", but the police don't? Is this another parallel to the drug lords and drug turfs that everybody but the police knows about? Or could it be that these gangsters are untouchable?

That leads me to another point in the fight against crime that is very pertinent to the discussion. Politicians have always had a penchant for coddling shady characters. The recent meetings between senior government officials and "community leaders" were but the latest example of this nonsense that in no way helps in the fight against crime. Let's not be hypocritical about this longstanding relationship between these two elements. The venerable Dr Eric Williams used to have notorious characters from the East Dry River districts in his entourage whenever he visited. He even created the monkey we now know as URP to cater for their whims and criminal fancies. When Basdeo Panday came to office, these unscrupulous characters simply appeared to switch allegiance and he embraced them. Now that Manning is back in power, he, too, seems to think it necessary to "have dese fellas on mih side", hence the perception by many that there is an alliance between government and these elements. And how can I leave out many in the business sector who use these people as "security guards" or "enforcers"?

Look, this is a war we as citizens are involved in, a war to reclaim our society, rid it of undesirable elements, and make it a relatively safe environment for ourselves, our children, and generations after them. We cannot sit on the fence. We have to get down in the trenches and fight.