By Raffique Shah
December 16, 2016
A tragedy of our time is when we are outraged by the gore of one of the daily dosages of murder, we erupt into a cacophony of protest, condemnation and cries for the return of the hangman, such expressions lasting no longer than the proverbial sno-cone in the midday sun.
I predict that before the dirt settles on Shannon Banfield’s grave, seasonal parang music, alcohol and black cake will numb the senses of all but her loved ones whose pain will, understandably, last forever. And an avalanche of Carnival-related activities will further distract us from the atrocities that are committed daily on the killing fields of Trinidad more than Tobago.
We have been through this charade time and again, sounding off following some particularly gruesome murder, crying out for the police, the government, the authorities, to deliver us from the evil that has taken control of our country.
Remember Stephen Cadiz and the Keith Noel protests, circa 2005-2007? Remember Akiel Chambers, Sean Luke, and the female Japanese pannist whose corpse was found in the Savannah on Ash Wednesday this year?
Rah, rah, rah, we roared, demanding action against their killers, who, along with a few thousand other murderers, walk the streets free to this day, thanks to the zero detection rate by the police. In fact, there might well be some such killers attending the vigils and protests for victim Shannon.
We fail to understand that the politicians are clueless when it comes to fighting crime, with plans from Chin Lee’s anaconda to Edmund Dillon’s “architecture” and everything in between being empty rhetoric, words intended to impress us, have us believe they are on to something, when in fact they do squat. Every minister who held the national security portfolio over the past 30 years has failed, if success is measured by their ability to secure the nation from elements bent on making citizens’ lives a living hell.
If the politicians are failures, the police are a disaster. Governments have spent billions of dollars on boosting the Police Service—new vehicles, new stations, high-tech equipment, special units armed as if they are going to war, bullet-proof vests and more. They are the only public service employees who receive tax-free allowances on top of their salaries.
They now have speed guns, CCTV cameras, the right to monitor people’s telephone conversations and email exchanges, forensic equipment and, presumably, access to DNA technology. With all these tools and incentives in their hands, their detection rate for murders remains an abysmal ten per cent, the conviction rate maybe one per cent, and their intelligence-gathering zero.
Look, a hundred years ago (in technology time), in 1954, Superintendent Leslie Slater cracked the near-perfect murder using rudimentary if not archaic tools. Dr Dalip Singh murdered his German wife Inge at their St Clair home. He gutted her body, put it in a bag, drove all the way to the Godineau River in south, and dumped it in the sea.
The corpse unexpectedly floated, was seen by some crab-catchers, and Slater took charge of the investigations. It was the wily Dr Singh against a well-trained detective, and in the end, Slater secured a conviction. Dalip Singh was hanged in 1955.
One year later, this country’s most notorious pirate, murderer and gangster, Boysie Singh, who had beaten two earlier murder raps (witnesses disappeared!), was convicted for the murder of nightclub dancer Thelma Haynes. What made that case unique is the corpse was never found. And like the Inge Singh murder, there were no eye-see witnesses, although Boysie’s co-accused, Boland Ramkissoon, took the investigators on wild goose chases based on dreams he said he had.
As a result of diligent police work (Slater may have been involved), Boysie and Boland were convicted, and hanged in 1957.
The third case I cite to illustrate the quality of the detectives we had then against what we have now is that of serial rapist-murderer Samuel Jacob, nicknamed The Black Archer. He stalked “lovers’ lanes” in the East in the early 1960s, and was suspected of having committed several murders. Painstaking investigations eventually paid off when a female victim survived a brutal attack (her male companion was killed) and identified Jacob at an ID parade. The police case was convincing. Jacob was found guilty and hanged.
Detectives in that era were professionally trained and dedicated to solving crimes. They walked the beat, rode bicycles, travelled by taxi or bus, went undercover and spent long days and nights conducting investigations.
Today, the police—and the public—see video footage of murders being committed, but they do not even arrest the perpetrators, far less charge them and secure convictions.
Today’s police officers ride new vehicles in air-conditioned comfort, seeing nothing and hearing less. Real, dogged police work is alien to them—which is one, but not the only, reason why we are doomed to counting bodies and mounting vigils for the foreseeable future.