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The nation is jittery

Published: 
Sunday, February 25, 2018

The images of the rioting out of East Port-of-Spain last Monday could have been from a war zone, with residents blocking the streets with debris, throwing stones, burning garbage and tires.

But fast on the heels of the bloodiest January in the history of T&T with 61 murders and ISIS terror plots, the nation is jittery.

What if rioting is no longer contained in particular areas? What if it spreads onto the streets everywhere terrorizing citizens?

In 2012 a United Nations Development Report titled Gangs are the new law in urban T&T identified over a 100 criminal gangs across Trinidad and Tobago.

The report confirmed what we know. The majority of violent crimes, from murders, kidnappings, assaults and sexual assaults are either gang/drug related or ‘domestic’ in nature. 52 murders of the 494 homicides last year were of a domestic nature. That leaves the rest, over 400, in gang deaths.

In 2012 there were 383 murders. In 2017 that number soared to 494. This January was the bloodiest in our history and as I write, 87 people are dead.

Citizens are now asking why residents of East Port-of-Spain protested a police shooting but are silent about murders by gangs. Well, we all fight for what we love. We love those who protect us.

The ugly truth is people in East Port-of-Spain don’t feel safe. The State has failed them in its primary duty as a State—to protect its citizens.

People from ‘depressed’ areas take care of themselves, dividing turf into little two-by-four street kingdoms.

These kingdoms of anarchy were suckled by the State with ‘make-work’ jobs from Dewd to Cepep in a Faustian exchange for votes. So, like poisonous tarantulas the gangs multiplied and grew fat until it outgrew its nourisher.

In East Port-of-Spain alone there must be some 40 gangs. Gang leaders controlling street blocks are in charge. They are miniature states with the State. Since the State has failed to protect the residents they take a position of accommodation with gang members.

The faceless, nameless drug and gun benefactors recruit drug pushers in communities providing them employment, filling in the gap left by the State. A further vacuum is created by absent, negligent fathers and working mothers.

Gang leaders become de facto fathers to fatherless boys; give them belonging, employment, drugs and a sense of power from guns.

If a gang is disbanded or a leader shot, the boys are threatened by an invasion of another hostile gang. The State has little moral authority to shoot at them after failing to protect them from guns and drugs, failed to give them education and opportunity.

The police too haven’t protected them. So they protect their own. That’s why East Port-of-Spain protested. They want more than the barrel of the gun from the State.

If we don’t want a spreading anarchy, this is the time for action. It’s well documented for instance that a sure punishment for crime is the best deterrent. The police rate of detection leading to conviction for known dangerous criminals is laughably small, less than 20 per cent. That is a colossal failure.

The State needs to call in the experts. Swallow their pride and bring in foreigners trained in civil war and terrorism. Upgrade the systems. Put all records online. Allow police officers to call up anyone’s conviction with a search. Put police officers to patrol the streets instead of languishing in sleepy stations across the country. Fix the court system. Anti-Gang legislation. Bring in “gun courts”, “murder courts”, anything to expedite justice and maintain the rule of law. Shorten court cases to three months with a workable witness protection programme. Root out guns and drugs, but if it’s ‘complicated’ and people are scared to bell that cat, remove young boys out of at-risk communities and starve the drug trade. Work with communities to rebuild them. We all fight for, protect what we love. East Port-of-Spain did it their way. It’s time for the State to fight for, protect us, its beleaguered citizens.

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