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Sunday 15 July 2018
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Crime commission 1977


Commission. This is described as “the authority to perform a task or certain duties, especially by a government.” And so, at a time way back in 1977, a few months after returning from some 12 years in Canada, as a columnist, I felt compelled to call upon government to establish a multi-sectoral, representative National Crime Commission (Express, July 21, 1977) to help deal with what was then noisily described as a “nation in crisis” faced with murders, gun violence, robberies and political excuses.

Quite grieved at the robbery-driven murder of young DJ Gabby in his Laventille bar, I repeated this proposal in a later column headlined “Let’s have some frank talk on crime (Express, November 20, 1977), this time with letters to then Prime Minister Dr Williams, and National Security Minister, John Donaldson. They both replied, “To consider.” DJ Gabby was my good boyhood friend from San Juan Hill. From then towards now, it became the annual mantra “crime is the country’s number one problem,” etc. Things worsened.

Along the way in 2004, veteran editor the late George John said, “Crime is the major issue facing Trinidad and Tobago now (Express, October 6, 2004)." Day by day, the mass media exploded with stories of murders and other violent crimes. And from top to bottom, people angrily complained about policing, the courts and government. Now, in March 2018, how have things changed? Like now, those were very noisy, blame-sharing days. As a short-cut means of understanding how our crime problem grew in “same thing, same thing” ways, I now present that 1977 column:

“The time for serious Government action over the state of crime and violence in this country is certainly long overdue. So much so, that many citizens today, like the women who protested against lawless quarrying of the San Fernando Hill, are quietly asking: “How long again, O’ Lord, how long?”

“The establishment of a permanent National Crime Commission is certainly long overdue for a comprehensive study of crime and even the issue of capital punishment. It is indeed a matter of urgent national importance. And the nation expects a positive response from National Security Minister John Donaldson and Prime Minister Eric Williams.

“Since July 21, 1977 when the call for such a Commission was first made, bank robberies and other crimes became more notorious not so much for their frequency but also for their pattern, boldness, and viciousness.

“A state of emergency here, an extra home for “insane’’ murderers there, and shouts for more jail everywhere would just be “pot-hole” politics and knee-jerk social planning. Sporadic increases of “police patrols" in San Juan, Siparia, and San Fernando are not enough for a confused nation fast becoming under siege.

“This is a critical moment for the country’s Cabinet to appreciate some frank talk and a healthy outside suggestion and stop paralysing itself with “face saving” or bravado stances. After all , we may not be too far behind Jamaica in the frequency and scope of violence that has numbered that country.

“Gun courts, never mind their constitutional status, don’t stop the flow. And so even the Jamaican Government is beginning to talk about “reviewing the nature and methods of crime.” A country has to learn to take a look at itself beyond the immediacy of political posturing and away from the emotional realm of revolutionary rhetoric.

“A National Crime Commission for Trinidad and Tobago could take us behind the scenes and possibly behind the minds that ferment crime and violence. Punishment and executions are not always deterrents to the criminal mind where criminality itself is based on lack of fear.

“The time has come for the public interest to be heard, for State reluctance to be seriously questioned , and confusing leftist jargon shelved. Today’s lives ought to count for something. The safety of person and private possessions ought to count. The Government should respond in terms of policy, in terms of establishing a body like a National Crime Commission." (Final part with details next week).


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