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No quick-fixes to stem crime

December 22, 2002
By Raffique Shah

AS the crime wave continues with little let-up in the senseless bloodletting that has engulfed the country, many people are politicising the issue. One expects politicians, especially those in opposition, to lay blame for this madness on the government. There are calls by businessmen and many ordinary citizens for the resignation or firing of National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee. The Commissioner of Police is coming under fire, and there are calls for our "idle" soldiers to earn their keep by coming out in force to fight crime.

If I believed that firing Chin Lee and Hilton Guy and whoever else is seen as being responsible for the situation would mean the end of only murders and kidnappings, I, too, would call for their removal. Hell, if removing the Patrick Manning government would give us the bonus of a robbery-free month, I'd send the Prime Minister packing. But a realistic appraisal of crime, of how we have arrived at this sorry pass even as we boast of being on the brink of "developed" status, would suggest otherwise.

It's not that the police or the government can be absolved of all blame. Clearly, one set are elected and the other hired by the public to ensure the safety and security of the people and the country, among other responsibilities. In issues like crime in which citizens are directly affected, they look to government and the police for relief. If the criminals appear to have the upper hand in this battle, then those who have voluntarily taken the responsibility to govern, or those who are hired by taxpayers to protect and serve, will be made to feel the heat.

The problem is much more complex that that, though. Our memories are short, we often forget that the citizenry tried that just seven years ago. Basdeo Panday and the UNC rode to power on a virulent anti-crime campaign. The populace was under siege, drug lords ruled their multiple roosts rather ruthlessly, and the cry from the UNC platforms found a positive response among a large section of the population. Yet, careful analysis of crime statistics would indicate that except for hanging nine supposedly vicious criminals (who had been arrested and charged under the previous Manning regime) and jailing a few more, the UNC achieved zilch.

Clearly, there is the need to develop strategies to deal with this multi-faceted problem, or to review tactics currently employed. In last week's column I outlined what was purely immediate measures that should be put in place to deal with a specific "death zone", Laventille. It was by no means a full appreciation of the situation, nor did I offer long-term solutions. But people are so terrified of what's happening around them, they are all for "bringing in the ground troops".

As an immediate tactic to contain crime in specific areas, I'd still opt for the draconian measures I suggested last week. But if we must reverse the trend that sees an increasing number of our young people fall victims to the lure of easy dollars through crime, or worse those for whom snuffing out a life is as easy as eating popcorn, then we need to dig deeper in our reserves, do proper analyses. If we do that, we shall find that the society as a whole has abdicated its parental and social responsibilities to children and teenagers, to our detriment. So while the buck may stop with the government, it started in the home.

The young men who commit the most heinous crimes come from homes. They did not drop from the sky, nor am I convinced that Uncle Sam's deportees are to blame in the main. These deadly criminals all had (or have) mothers and fathers. Have we ever stopped to wonder what kinds of parents they had? Were they delinquent, the kind who would leave their children to fend for themselves from very young ages? Did they have the means to bring up their children in a decent manner, or did circumstances force them to commit petty crimes to survive, thus showing their kids the "alternative" to working hard to earn a living?

In most instances I think we'd find that a combination of factors led these children to descend into the netherworld of crime. The very businessmen who complain most about crime do not see themselves as part of the problem. It is they who shoved us into wanton consumerism, into a society in which we must maintain a champagne lifestyle on mauby pockets. Why else would ALL these kids insist on wearing $1,000 sneakers and even more expensive designer clothing (never mind the damn things are bogus)? Is it not that between businessmen, cable television and doting (as well as dotish) parents, we have moulded a society that must live beyond its means?

On another note, besides the deterioration of family life and the promotion of false values by business (gotta have that Nike, gotta have that Tommy), look at how our communities have transformed over the years. It's not only delinquent parents who allow their children to roam and eventually fall into the crime-web. Neighbours no longer watch out for each other the way we used to in an era when it took a village to grow up a child. Children no longer respect their elders (and sometimes with good reason, I need add), so people in communities do not feel that sense of responsibility. There is no one-for-all, all-for-one, the kind of spirit that once made each village a fortress that needed no doors or fences, far less "gated" communities complete with security guards.

To attack crime with full force will yield superficial results: indeed, my suggestion of cordoning off Laventille is inadequate, since if that is to be done in a thorough manner, we'd need about 10,000 troops-which we do not have. In any event, the criminals will simply secure their weapons and relocate their "operations" if one district is targeted. One can understand why people would cry out for "quick fixes". But these won't work, not in the long term. We need to sit as a people, not as partisans, and work upwards from the family unit through the communities and ultimately the country as a whole.

It's a tall order. Few societies today are crime-free, and we cannot survive in isolation, not in this global village. But if we do not rise to the occasion, then we are condemning ourselves, all of us, to living in jail. As you peer from behind those metal grilles, think about what you can do to stem the tide of crime.

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