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Raffique Shah


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We must win this war

July 25, 2004
By Raffique Shah

LAST week when I heard about the maxi-taxi bandit who whipped out a gun, shot an uniformed policeman at point-blank range, and proceeded to rob what must have been mortified passengers, I thought we had finally arrived at the point where the psychopaths were coming out of the closet. But then I remembered that two years ago another uniformed policeman who sat in a parlour sipping a soft drink was also murdered in cold blood, and in his case he was robbed of his firearm as he lay dying. So the psychopaths are not now emerging: they have always been with us, but mercifully, they are few in numbers, even among the gun-toting criminals who stalk the land with impunity.

I need to stress, though, that when someone can snuff out the life of a serviceman, more so when he or she is in uniform, that dastardly act reeks not only of serious mental disorder on the part of the assailant, but also an open challenge to the forces of law and order. In other words, I-don't-care-about-you-and-your-uniform, I kill you if I feel like doing it. It's a hell of a situation, a virtual state of mayhem, and I'll tell you why. Among the mafia in the US and Europe, it was considered a cardinal sin to "take out" a policeman, except in instances where corrupt cops had double-crossed the "dons". The Mafia exacted its own justice among "cop killers" who endangered their "business". They usually ended up like strainers floating in rivers or forever buried under tonnes of cement at construction sites.

Clearly, we have reached the point where, if the forces of law and order fail to devise and implement effective strategies to put a brake on runaway crime, and if the Government is not seen to act to protect its citizenry from criminals, people would be sorely tempted to exact vigilante justice. Worse, lawlessness, which is so rampant among the wider society, would grow to unimaginable proportions. One cannot help but note the actions of the HCU and its publicity-hungry president, Harry Harnarine, who is capitalising on the failure of the State agencies to act decisively against crime and criminals. In so doing, the HCU has committed questionable acts. Besides defacing people's walls and public places with ugly-looking posters and banners, we need to ask if the HCU knows who was responsible for dumping loads of sand on a highway, at night, which was a criminal act.

On the other hand, the Opposition UNC, a virtual spent force after it was beaten at the polls in the last elections, has had new life breathed into it, thanks to Government's seeming lack of interest in fighting crime. Indeed, UNC spokespersons are making out a case that the PNM is linked with the criminal element, hence its reluctance to fight against its own. One can well understand why so many of its supporters will believe that mantra since all we hear from Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his National Security Minister Martin Joseph are promises of "strong action" to stem the tide of crime. More recently, the PM said that Government determined that most of the violent crimes are linked to the drug trade (news! big news!), so the focus will be on coastal watch and some feeble efforts to "take the illegal guns off the streets".

That the biggest drug dealers come from among the elite and/or rich in the society has never been disputed. But to catch them is quite a challenge, since most of them never even see what cocaine looks like, nor do they see the blood of those whose "hits" they ordered in the normal course of "business". Meanwhile, their "enforcers" run wild in the country, equipped as they are with sophisticated weaponry, gunning down those who get in their way, and taking a few other "wickets" as an aside. So we cannot wait for you to catch the "big fishes", Mr Manning. The "small fry" are making our lives hell, and until you deal with them, the average citizen remains paranoid, not knowing if he or she will be robbed or shot or beaten or raped. If you can't tackle crime at the level where it affects communities most then you are spinning top in mud, and you are also making track for "crime-solving-"goutis" to run.

Ken Gordon's Crime Committee recommended the imposition of a limited State of Emergency as a priority. It recommended the introduction of a Crime Suppression Act in the absence of getting opposition support for anti-crime measures. It recommended "lockdowns" in the so-called "hot spots", and pointed out that ordinary citizens must be prepared to sacrifice some of their freedoms in order to win back all their rights. As it stands now, there are self-imposed curfews in many such districts, so I don't know that a State of Emergency will be seen as an additional burden. And while the police have been more active in their raids against those who hold illegal firearms and drug dealers, we have not scratched the surface of the feeling of insecurity that stalks the average citizen.

Manning must understand that is what matters most. It's people's perceptions that count, not the reality that a new radar system has been activated, or that more guns are being seized now than before. When people cannot enjoy the freedom to relax in their modest homes without worrying about bandits storming them, that makes for a society living in fear. And fear can drive people to do some very stupid things-like follow some fool who promises them a crime unit directly from the United Nations, with Kofi Annan as its head, will be summoned to save them. Or the put-us-back-in-government and we shall solve the crime problem, which, short of implementing the very measures Manning is wavering on, is an impossibility.

We are not alone, as a country, to find ourselves mired in a crime cesspool. Last week the Tony Blair Government unveiled its plan to reduce crime in Britain. George Bush revealed a new initiative against the upsurge in gangs in the USA. But because we are a relatively small country, if government is really serious about reducing if not eliminating crime, it needs to mobilise the people to fight this scourge. The police alone, or even the combined police/army patrols, will never suffice. Give communities the confidence that they have the support of the forces of law and order, that good citizens far outnumber the bad, that we can and must win the war. That, Mr Manning, is called inspiration. It's what good leaders must do when faced with a crisis like this one.