By Raffique Shah
Sunday, June 28th 2009
Trinidad and Tobago News Blog
I SENSED the seething rage that simmered behind the genteel persona of Fr Clyde Harvey as he delivered the homily at Tecia Henry’s funeral service last Thursday. Fr Harvey is a priest whose faith and training undoubtedly combine to make him a man of peace. Yet, there he was, for the hundredth time, maybe more, presiding over the last rites for yet another crime victim who had barely known life before it was brutally snatched from her. I don’t know how he and other clerics cope with the tidal-wave of grief and floods of tears that engulf them as the nation drifts into a state of war.
I am a soldier by training, schooled in the art of war, of fighting fire with deadlier firepower. Still, from a very early age I learned to value human life more than anything else, hence my humanist beliefs. But I, too, am seething with rage. I’m angry that the wife of a soldier could drive into the supposed sanctuary of a police station in a bid to save herself and her friend from a fate worse than death, only to fall victim to a bullet fired by a brazen criminal who felt sure he could escape the clutches of the law. I am angrier that the two murders referred to above are but a mere sliver of the spate of crimes that law-abiding citizens have to face on a daily basis.
We have reached the state where there are no fewer than 1,000 criminal acts, many of them violent and all of them traumatic for the victims, take place on a daily basis. I don’t care what statistics to the contrary the police may brandish to suggest otherwise. They know that maybe 80 per cent of the “petty” crimes committed go unreported. People no longer report robberies-being clouted (if they are lucky) and relieved of their wallets, cellphones and other valuables. Burglaries, rapes, threats of violence, minor attacks do not show up on the police radar.
Why? Because by reporting anything less than murder or serious injury can lead to the complainant being deemed a nuisance. Numerous are the stories of victims who are made to feel like criminals when they make reports to police stations. Victims are abused in stations, especially if the alleged perpetrators are themselves policemen or they have connections with cops. This is not a blanket condemnation of the men and women who are sworn to protect and serve the citizens of the country. There are many conscientious, very helpful police officers out there. Sadly, they are outnumbered by delinquents who have no right to wear police uniforms.
Desperate times call for drastic measures. But the Prime Minister and his Government do not believe we are in a state of war-war declared against civil society by heartless, barbaric men and women. As F. Harvey asked, how can any human being strangle a ten-year-old child to death? Only a beast in human form, a modern-day Mano Benjamin, is capable of such a dastardly crime. In these dire circumstances, would the Government merely continue throwing money behind the problem? Hundreds of millions of dollars have been expended behind equipment like the sky-ship, the 360-degree radar, hefty consultancy fees to so-called experts for advice. To what end? The crime spree intensifies, and worse, there is no respite on the horizon.
It is true that in order to “fix crime” we have to fix ourselves first. All criminals must have mothers (well, they didn’t drop from trees!), maybe fathers (doubtful at times), families, friends. These people would more than likely know what their children are up to. I shall not repeat what I’ve written on so many occasions: if law-abiding citizens do not buy the loot robbers offer at basement prices, they would have no market for their blood-stained gains, hence less reasons to continue with their criminal acts.
But criminals are bred beyond these boundaries. Last Sunday Mr Manning made oblique reference to what might have been behind Tecia’s murder. He failed to mention that much of the gang warfare that is being waged with deadly consequences for entire communities has its genesis in government’s make-work programmes. He refuses to admit that known criminals are hired as bosses in these programmes, and that they use this influence and lucrative contract dollars to enhance their death-dealing arsenals. He refuses to call halt to these criminal “factories” that thrive on taxpayers’ dollars.
And before Basdeo Panday jumps in to say, “I told you so!” let me remind him that these very programmes also thrived under his watch. In fact, not only did his government cuddle criminals, but it embraced gangsters as candidates and activists. So we, the citizenry, are trapped between the bad, the “badder”, and the very ugly. How do we extricate ourselves from this unholy mess? How do we “reclaim” our country, as so many civic organisations exhort us to do?
As a cleric, Fr Harvey called on the nation’s mothers to act. As a trained soldier, I have other ideas. They are not palatable. But they may well be the only options we have to restore humanity where bestiality reigns supreme.
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