Power in the barrel of a gun

By Raffique Shah
September 19, 2023

Raffique ShahLike most people who live in this country, many of whom, like me, will never leave the twin-island republic to live any­where else in the world, I am not only concerned but I am disturbed by what seems to be a deteriorating crime situation, especially crime that involves violence. At a recent news conference, I heard Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, not for the first time say, “We have become a very violent society.” Judging from the reports of criminal activities that we get in the media, that perception seems to be the truth.

How, when and why we sunk from being a fairly normal country, meaning while there was crime, we were nowhere near where we are now, is what is of grave concern to people like me. I happened to have had a vantage point from which to observe the criminals of the 1960s and 1970s when I was imprisoned in 1970 for mutiny and related offences. I made a study then of some of the most notorious criminals, ever. What I found was very revealing.

Mano Benjamin, for example, who was nicknamed by the trial judge after all the evidence was presented, “The Beast of Biche”, had held two sisters prisoner in a shack somewhere in East Trini­dad and had committed some of the most cruel acts against them, including blinding one of the girls and many more too disturbing to mention here.

When I ran into him, almost literally, at the Royal Jail, he was seeking a medical discharge for being old and decrepit. Although he had obviously lost weight and aged considerably, he still possessed that menacing look that sent villagers scampering for safety whenever he walked on missions unknown.

He had told me that he admired my physical fitness and my strength of character. I was not flattered, I was simply angry that this beast, after all that he did, had the audacity to try to beat the system. He would later be released at the end of his sentence and go on to live with a woman in an abandoned World War II bunker in deep South Trinidad.

Another even more notorious, cold-blooded criminal I met was Abdul Malik, who was the extreme opposite of Mano. He was short, small-built and almost handsome, and if you didn’t know him, who he was or what he had done, you might have befriended him or fallen for his missives that he sent—in my case, offers of being named general of the Black Liberation Army, whatever that was, upon my release from prison.

When Malik was arrested in Guyana, fleeing in the forest to escape Interpol, he had left several bodies buried around his home near Arima. One was that of socialite Gail Ann Benson, who was apparently stabbed and ­buried alive according to the autopsy. Another had been one of his close friends from Belmont who ran afoul of the boss. Malik was as cold as ice.

In between these two, I encountered men as deadly as pint-sized Bahadoor “Mad-Dog” Boodoowah who had shot and killed a Reform Village shopkeeper during a robbery; a heaving, sour looking San Juan All Stars Bad-John (whose name I can’t recall) and who was notorious for beating a man to death; a few of the Poolools and others whose notoriety was almost legendary.

The current crop of murderers seems to thrive on their anonymity, and with their very ordinary looks you may well mistake them for being your neighbour or relative and, sadly, some of them may well be. This is probably why they elude capture so easily.

While they also benefit from advances in technology, especially easy communication devices, so do the police. Surely the State must be using drones among other high-tech surveillance equipment, yet commissioners come and commissioners go, all of them telling us they know who Messrs Big are, giving us the impression the gangsters will soon be arrested, only to see the murder spree continue unabated.

It is unbelievable that in a country as small as Trinidad and Tobago, young criminals who are not considered academically inclined appear to be winning the battle against and making fools of a country with a Senate and House of Representatives, not to mention a commissioner, full of PhDs, Masters, specialities, lawyers, etc.

Little wonder the average citi­zen believes that crime pays. Worse, for us, we can do nothing should we ever face a gunman aiming his weapon at us. That’s a chilling thought.

At my age, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn but I worry about the future that my children, granddaughter, scores of nieces and nephews and indeed all such young people who abide by the law and who work hard at school to acquire an education and skills, only to fall victim to some 2×2 thugs whose power lies in the barrel of a gun and empty heads.