By Raffique Shah
January 21, 2020
As the heavily armed hardcore criminals consolidate their murderous stranglehold on our country, striking with seeming impunity anytime, anywhere they choose to, the powers-that-be go into the panic mode and respond with fusillades of “gobar” rather than superior strategy and firepower.
Gunmen wielding weapons as deadly as the AR-15 launched yet another brazen attack in downtown Port of Spain mid-afternoon last Tuesday leaving two dead, scores who were nearby soiling their under-garments, and thousands more frightened to walk the city streets. What does Minister of National Security Stuart Young say? He speaks of some vague conspiracy between the criminals and “certain people” who want to promote fear and panic among the population. Why would anyone want to do that? Hey, a general election is due by year-end, so you guess who would want to create instability, to gain political power.
I say the minister is talking tripe. Because if there is an iota of truth in his hint of a conspiracy between key players in the opposition United National Congress and gunmen across the country—and let us be blunt about whom he is pointing fingers at—he would have better served the police investigations into such a grave crime by keeping his trap shut, allowing the conspirators to continue with their plot, and stinging them when they least expect it.
I have no doubt that officials of the UNC are not exactly unhappy about the crime explosion in the country: it makes the ruling PNM come across as being incompetent, incapable of controlling crime, which could tip the election against the incumbents. But consort with criminals to unleash mayhem and murder across one’s country? Nah! Prove me wrong, Minister Young.
The minister is not the first to hold the critical national security portfolio and find himself incapable of reining in runaway crime. Many more experienced than him, from his colleague General Edmund Dillon to current Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, Jack Warner to Brigadier Carl Alfonso, have all run into solid steel that is the ever-expanding criminal enterprise in Trinidad & Tobago.
When he was Prime Minister, sometime in 2000 or earlier, Basdeo Panday seized the ministry to ride into Dodge and silence or scatter the notorious gunmen. Within weeks he threw up his arms and surrendered. Patrick Manning was not so stupid: he assigned Martin Joseph to face the fire, which the poor fella did, and it all but killed him. Kamla Persad-Bissessar resorted to an ill-advised state of emergency in 2011, during which the police were said to have uncovered a plot to assassinate her and/or overthrow her government. The emergency, curfew and detention of several “conspirators” yielded a reduction in murders from 485 in 2010 to 354. But it cost the government a substantial sum when many of the detainees, who had not been charged with any offence, successfully sued the state.
And the murders continued, reaching 410 in 2015, the year Kamla was voted out of office.
The main point I’m making to Minister Young is he does not need to invent “conspiracies” to explain the failure of the incumbent administration to call halt to the mayhem out there—which is advice CoP Griffith should also heed. In his case, he spoke about a conspiracy involving senior Express editors and writers, unnamed police officers and criminal elements to sabotage his efforts to reduce crime. That accusation, coming on the heels of similar attacks he mounted against the judiciary, members of the Law Association and others who have publicly disagreed with him on certain issues, diminished the respect many citizens and organisations openly expressed when he was first appointed CoP.
Instead of keeping his focus on one target, the hardcore criminals, Sandhurst-trained Griffith breached a fundamental rule of warfare, training his guns on too many perceived enemies, fighting too many battles Don Quixote style. If he continues on this road-to-nowhere, we will lose the real war, which is the one against the criminal enterprise. Note well, I said “we” stand to lose, not “he”.
Because ultimately this is about citizens uniting to defeat the criminals, who number no more than a few thousand. There is consensus on this even if we disagree on strategy and tactics. The fight-back begins in homes, among families, involving communities. It necessarily includes the police and other law enforcement and judicial agencies, the media, and so on.
The first question that we need answers for is this: who are the gun-runners who are supplying arms and ammunition to the criminal elements? If, after a few decades of arms build-up, during which we have seen a shift from basic handguns to automatic guns, sub-machine guns, and now rifles—the police do not know who are behind it, how can we say we are serious about fighting crime?
I find it incredible that AR-15 automatic rifles are being used in committing crimes and the police seem to be as surprised as I am. Let me explain. Any rifle like the AR-15 or AK-47 has a muzzle velocity of over 3,000 feet per second (the speed at which the projectile exits the muzzle). In contrast, any Glock-type handgun exits at around 1,000 fps. The latter have an effective fighting range of around 50 metres while a rifle is normally used in combat at 300 metres although the projectile travels up to 1,000 metres.
You try to figure out the implications of such rifles being in the hands of criminals. I want members of the magistracy and judiciary, before whom criminals charged with possession of such weapons of war appear, to ponder the possibilities. The first step in any serious war on violent crimes must be to stop such weapons from entering the country, and to take those already here off the killing fields of T&T.
That’s one small step towards the larger goal of reducing crime in our beloved country.