Dr Winford James

The coming anarchy

By Dr. Winford James
September 18, 2005
Posted: September 24, 2005

"An Arima father of two accused of being one of the persons responsible for the shooting death of a girl outside the Simple Song Panyard on the night of August 30 last month was shot five times at 11.45 am on Wednesday. Luther King, a sanitation worker at the Arima Borough Corporation was shot in full view of his daughter Victoria, 11, and his mother, Marilyn. He was rushed to the Port of Spain General Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival." (Newsday, Friday, September 16, 2005, p. 4)
I found the news item shocking - not because another murder (execution, really) had been committed (daily murders are routine now, especially as part of gang warfare) but because it had been committed, it seemed, by an average citizen who had decided to take the law into his own hands. I could be wrong in the conclusion for it is impossible for me, or any newspaper reader for that matter, to fill in the details left out in a newspaper report - details relating to the relationship of the executioner to both King and Aneisha (the girl whose slaughter he was avenging), and his knowledge of King's identity, as well as of the circumstances in which Aneisha's murderer had acted. But on the assumption that no gang warfare was involved, I will stick with the conclusion that it is an average citizen that was taking revenge.

If that is the case in fact, then it is a shocking, frightening development. It signals that ordinary, law-abiding people can no longer wait for the system of justice to work, that they have lost faith in it, and that the only satisfaction they can have is to exact retribution themselves. If they get away with, as is likely given that so many of the real bandits do, then the present anarchy of gang warfare, drug warfare, kidnappings, bombings, ineffectual policing, court backlogs, uncaught or unconvictable perpetrators, and bereaved relatives drained of hope will pale before the coming anarchy. The absence of justice, the fear of victimhood, and the need for self-preservation will combine to cause too many average citizens to take the law into their hands, even if it means that they will be 'sinning their souls'.

We should be taking steps that would forestall that kind of anarchy, but none of the steps taken by the Manning administration, though highly commendable as crime-fighting strategies and devices, seem equal to the task. Not more joint police-army patrols and raids. Not newer fleets of cars for the police. Not one or two high-tech boats from the US government. Not reshuffling of ministers in the cabinet or of officers in the police service. Not the installation of an 'eye in the sky' in Port of Spain or countrywide patrols by a blimp. The failure of these steps invites the observation that we may not have identified the problem properly enough.

I am not an expert on crime detection or crime fighting, and I will not pretend to be able to properly formulate the problem. But it would be good to hear a cogent argument that explores the bases and other underpinnings of our perilous situation and presents a set of implementable time-sensitive recommendations for much-needed relief. Since government has a critical role to play in crime management, such an argument would no doubt explore, among other things, the issue of whether governments elected essentially on the basis of race and ethnicity could really effectively mitigate the crime crisis. In particular, it would examine the implications of reelection of a government in spite of the latter's failure to rein in the crime monster.

Everywhere in Trinidad and Tobago, people are worried about our runaway crime situation, and we are almost at our wit's end as to how to protect ourselves and our loved ones as we go about our daily harmless business. As Senator Ramchand has observed, we are losing the joy of ordinary life. We cannot go to a lonely beach. We cannot go for a hike. We have lost our freedom. So perhaps we need to let the government have more (private) information about us. Perhaps we need to give up samples of our DNA to help in the fight against crime.

But it seems to me that somebody has to convince us that such measures will work. Somebody has to persuade us that the criminals can be defeated with them. But I am not seeing the work of persuasion; it is almost as if the government itself does not believe in its own measures and is awaiting a miracle.

The persuasion or the miracle will have to come before too many turn from the established procedures for justice and unadvisedly take the law into their hands.