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Raffique Shah


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Authorities must move to avert anarchy

September 18, 2005
By Raffique Shah

CONTINUING on crime from where I left off last week, I was surprised at the number of people who reacted to my suggestion that law abiding citizens were getting close to the breaking point because of the free run that criminals seem to enjoy.

When I wrote of people rising up and taking the law into their hands, by any means necessary, I did not know just how correct I was. The frightening prospect is that upstanding citizens are now prepared to break the law by acquiring illegal firearms. They believe that since the police cannot offer them protection, they have the right to protect themselves. And they cannot repel gun attacks by pelting their attackers with bottles and stones.

I can see Prime Minister Manning and acting Commissioner of Police Glen Roach saying to such people: whatever the circumstances, there's no excuse for breaking the law. In other words, if someone is caught with an illegal firearm, matters not that he or she has no criminal record, that it's clearly a case of a besieged citizen seeking to have a modicum of self-protection in the absence the law being on his side, or more importantly at his side, he faces 25 years imprisonment.

What the two gentlemen, and others who subscribe to that notion, fail to understand is that people are now prepared to break the law and face the consequences in order to save their lives. One person said to me: "Raf, I'd rather be standing in front of a magistrate explaining how and why I killed my attacker, than he standing here denying that he had killed me!"

When I wrote about the gathering storm that will make 1990 look like a tea party, I did not mean any group in the society planning to overthrow the Government.

What I meant was that citizens, in increasing numbers, are fighting the temptation to be their own gladiators. But as the crime-days become grimmer, as gunfire now disturbs the peace of most communities in the country, people are growing angrier by the hour. And if or when the mighty backlash comes, it will be a case of the people doing what the authorities, police and government included, are being paid to do, but have failed miserably.

It gets worse, though. The spate of bomb attacks in Port of Spain, which will soon spread to other towns (it does not take a rocket scientist to determine that), signals that there are people out there who are bent on destabilising the country.

Having planted explosive devices that generated some damage, and more than that fear in the minds of the public, they have now taken to giving us daily doses of "bomb scares". Almost every day some schools or business establishments have to evacuate because of bomb threats. Whereas at one time one could have taken these as prank calls, we now have to treat with them seriously.

These acts, be they pranks or calculated, not only disrupt our daily lives, but cause losses that add up. Yet the authorities are no closer to catching the culprits, tracing the calls and nailing the perpetrators. We know they have equipment that's capable of tracing almost every telephone call and monitoring every conversation in the country.

They also have the technology that allows them to effect "triangulation" (for security reasons, I shan't explain this term). Why, therefore, are kidnappers, who make many calls to their victims' families, not being held?

This is a level of incompetence that cannot be explained. When one combines it with sheer delinquency on the part of the police, the situation definitely favours the criminals, not their victims. The police must know that. But it's either they don't give a damn or they themselves fear the criminals.

Or maybe some cops are in cahoots with them. Whatever the explanation, if there is any, citizens are left to fend for themselves. In most cases they are impotent to so do, and the criminals know that. Do you know how many crimes have been committed with the perpetrators using guns that have no bullets?

They know that "Trini" only has to see the barrel of a gun and he is ready to defecate on himself. In any event, as someone who is trained to use a wide range of weapons, my advice to all is when someone points a gun at you, don't take chances in the belief that the weapon has no ammunition. It could be a fatal mistake.

There is a groundswell of anger among potential or repeat victims. They are saying to their friends: no more! Enough is more than enough. It's a frightening thought, Mr Commissioner, because you and I know that guns in the hands of people who are not trained to use them can be two-edged weapons. Point is, what are you and your men doing to avert a looming anarchy?