Crime and punishment T&T style

By Raffique Shah
July 25, 2019

Raffique ShahOozing from the barrels of blood that flowed from the bullet-ridden corpses of last week’s 24 murder victims and almost as many who suffered serious to critical gunshot wounds were several important lessons that we may choose to ignore, to our peril. Violent crimes have spiralled out of control, and most people are inured to the blood and gore that once shocked us. Now, spectators calmly record the macabre murders on their smart-phone cameras, video-clips to be uploaded on the Intrernet. Some achieve viral videos ratings, providing entertainment for huge audiences on social media.

Life itself has little expectancy. Death is devalued to fleeting seconds captured on digital devices. What savages we have become, people of Trinidad and Tobago.

In the midst of the mayhem that we measure only by a body-count that is ticking faster than the national debt-clock, we easily forget that the new and wildly popular Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith was hailed by the public as a superhero who would send the criminals scurrying to safety, denying them opportunities to wage war among themselves and to prey upon law-abiding citizens. Mark you, the man himself stopped short of self-promotion as a savior dispatched from heaven to deliver us from evil.

But his reticence did nothing to stem the avalanche of go-get-them Gary calypsos and portrayals during the Carnival season. There were expectations that the staccato chants of automatic gunfire that had all but replaced Reggae as nightly block-music would fade, or better still, the instruments of death be handed over to the forces of law and order.

That did not happen. If anything, armaments in possession of the criminals seem to have become more sophisticated, deadlier. What is more ominous, in my view, is that ammunition available for these illegal weapons seems to be limitless. As I listened to a recording of gunfire in Laventille a few nights ago, it sounded more intense than an infantry battalion conducting war exercises-and that entailed the use of blank bullets (no projectiles, hence cheaper).

Not surprisingly, this brazen declaration of war against the entire society by criminals in our midst, has provoked outrage from the media, business organisations, political parties that are not in power (an important distinction), and the general citizenry whose lives and routines have been disrupted.

If the criminals would restrict their murderous activities to the slums in which they live and die, in other words if they just killed each other and the collateral damage was confined to poor-but-decent people who just happen to reside in such communities, the national outrage might well have been muted.

But the fact that they have taken their gunfights outside their corrals, to city-streets and suburban business and residential districts where they are not just battling and murdering each other, but they are striking commercial enterprises and invading residences, killing anyone who stands in their way, has triggered alarm and panic in the upper echelons of society.

It did not have to escalate to this level to grab attention had we acted when illegal guns first surfaced in the hands of criminals decades ago.

The police, had its ranks not been polluted by crooked cops who, for a bottle of rum in the old days, or more recently a few thousand dollars, allowed criminals free rein, could have prevented this descent into hell. In many instances the police know who the criminals are, even who committed what crimes. But they fail miserably when it comes to gathering evidence that will stand scrutiny in court.

The politicians, who have historically courted criminal elements as necessary “muscle” for their campaigns and control of votes in certain communities, are even more culpable than the police for the crime spiral. From adopting a partisan position towards legislation that could serve as a deterrent to, say, possession of illegal firearms, to the naked politicising of crime, they come across more as accessories to law-breaking than as lawmakers.

Ultimately, though, families, friends and communities must bear responsibility for breeding, nurturing and protecting criminals. I should clarify that I am not here pinpointing the ghettoes where the triggermen are primarily from. We often forget, conveniently, that wealthy families that live in walled mansions bred some of the most dastardly criminals during the 1980s when the cocaine trade and addiction to the drug took hold of this society.

During that era, such people had the millions of dollars required to trade with the Escobars. While T&T was never a huge consumer of cocaine, it was a strategic location for transshipment of the drug from Colombia to North America and Europe. Such big dealers, some of whom today pose as pillars of the society and look down on the gunmen of Laventille, were pioneers of the very crime wave they are most vocal about today. Indeed, some of the most heinous murders and mutilations of victims were committed under their watch.

We always knew illegal forearms and drugs were not imported by ghetto criminals who were mere tools of the trade. Today however, those pawns have grown in stature and are making life hell for their communities and the wider society.

In order to stem the current crime wave, we necessarily need to focus on those lesser mortals, by first apprehending them, then punishing them by putting them in prison, maybe for the rest of their natural lives.

We however, face a complex and sluggish judicial system that takes forever to deliver justice, even if the police were to deliver on their detection rate.

So even as the spike in murders triggers national outrage that command front-page editorials, panel discussions on electronic media and forums at many academic institutions, crime and punishment T&T style will frustrate the law-abiding citizens to the point where surrendering to the bloodletting may seem an easier option.

This, sadly, is our reality.

6 thoughts on “Crime and punishment T&T style”

  1. Lt Shah
    The USA has just reinstated the death penalty for murders etc. Trinidad government should bring back the hangman. Criminals know that they will not be punished for their crimes so they are going around killing, robbing, raping, beating and destroying members of the society. The politicians are mostly to be blamed for this situation by not dealing with the criminals in the society. Think “Colour me Orange”, Life Sport which made one minister super rich. Another problem is the inadequate compensation of the police. We saw recently how the political elite gave them selves huge increases in pensions etc. The safety of the citizens do not matter to these politicians. We have a Prime Minister who seems not bothered by the crisis in the Judiciary. God help Trinidad!

  2. “Members of the Organised Crime Intelligence Unit are keeping close tabs on approximately 2,459 suspected gang members nationwide whose names, whereabouts and alleged activities are known to authorities.“ Newsday 2017.

    The chickens are coming home to roost. According to the AG gangs have grown considerably and what was needed was the “Anti-gang bill”. So far after the passing of this bill, the criminal elements are on the march. TnT is becoming more and more like a gangland. There is a gang for everything including the ones in Parliament.

    The truth is you cannot legislate human behaviour. Killers grow up with considerable hatred and do not care about human life. Maybe the media needs to educate the public on the mind of these killers.

    CoP Gary needs to buckle down for the long haul as the gangs funded with government contracts are able to eventually purchase bazookas. An undeclared war is coming and it ain’t gonna be nice!

  3. “We like it so.” Have you ever seen the police try to search or arrest a suspect? There is crowd support and cry down for the police. “Leave de boy, allyuh only harassing black people.” and so on. Not to mention the same media who crying out to Rowley now, looking and waiting to see the police pinch somebody to cry abuse and excessive force.
    There is nothing in Trinidad called punishment anymore, corporal or capital. Punishment is for religion now, where hell awaits the wrong doers.
    I thank the almighty, that I grew up in the 60’s when a good cut-arse was used to adjust my attitude. Those days I and most of my classmates could not go and tell our parents about being disciplined in school. We would get another licking, because the teacher was not mad and would not punish us for nothing. You see then the society protected me from myself. Imagine this little black boy growing up in these time when the teacher or neighbor couldn’t touch me. I would have burnt the school down.

  4. T&T as a nation has remained stagnant over the last fifty years. This stagnation is evident in every institution in the country: religious, educational,justice, legal, political etc.Ironically the only area of evolutionary development and progress is the artistic which was led by people with imaginations and creativity.
    Educational institutions are still stuck in the age of the Industrial Revolution. Religious institutions are still peddling the old conservative unbending dogma failing to adapt to the changing world.Laws are archaic, remaining unchanged in spite of being irrelevant and outmoded.Colonial regulations and red tape still clutter up the system hindering business efficiency and individual incentive.
    Politicians continue to fail and flounder, lacking innovative insights and vision.
    Festering in all of this are a people who think they know everything about anything, based on some strange notion of arrogance, conceit and superiority.
    Time to check yourself T&T! And you wonder why criminality is rampant?

  5. Gangs are the primary force in criminal conduct. They have increased considerably since the PNM came to power in 2015.

    Dr Rowley was heard bemoaning the failure of Africans to live up to a higher standard. Yet it is his government that broke the back of Petrotrin a primary employer of African people. He also cut deep into every social programs. Refuse to complete any school that was almost completed. And basically did nothing of note for the past 4 years except opening up Commission of Inquiry into projects that the UNC worked on.

    The gangs emerge due to a lack of employment. Like Manning who met gang members and gave them large contracts. He has turn a blind eye to funding these criminal elements. And now the slaughter of 7 fisherman lies on this administration hands!

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