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Thursday 13 December 2018
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Getting our crime-fighting right

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

PAOLO KERNAHAN

I WOULD like to open my inaugural column with warm greetings to the readers of the Newsday. It is an honour to have my unsolicited mental scribblings tolerated once more in a national newspaper.

For the next few columns I will focus on crime. Aside from this average nation’s failings, crime stands out as a solution-resistant stain on our country and a continued source of heartbreak for us all.

Live action figure Gary Griffith’s appointment as top cop was met with an outpouring of goodwill not seen since the swearing-in of former president Anthony Carmona. The goodwill towards the derisively nicknamed “Powers” lasted about as long as that zaboca you were specifically told would be “good by tomorrow.” Let’s hope the shelf life of the new commissioner’s approval rating fares better.

Griffith certainly makes the right noises. His take-no-prisoners banter is precisely the sort of tune a bandit-frazzled population can dance to. He genuinely appears keen on succeeding, on making a difference, even if his delivery timelines are wildly optimistic. His gung-ho attitude is already more encouraging than the rock-back style of many of his predecessors.

It’s in this environment of hope and despair that the killings of five men in Laventille in a reported firefight with the police provoked strong reactions. The overwhelming support for the police in the aftermath and the cavalier use of the word “cockroaches” to describe the slain men was not surprising.

Given what we’ve endured at the hair-trigger hands of murderous bandits, many citizens were ready to pin medals on the chests of officers for pumping bullets through the chests of adjudged “pests.” The praise reverberated even without any investigation of exactly what happened that evening that ended in death for five human beings.

In the Barabbas court of social media, anyone who dared question the official police account was branded a murderer-sympathiser. Not an unusual reaction, given that the average citizen is imprisoned by a binary thought process. It is, however, entirely possible to support the police, abhor all criminality and demand accountability of law enforcement at the same time.

How calls for an investigation into a police shooting could be interpreted as tacit support for criminality is beyond comprehension. Lest we forget, history is littered with atrocities committed in the name of the people. Such history is happening right now in the Philippines under the popular, gun-brandishing Rodrigo Duterte.

Online commentators opined that the Laventille killings sent a message to the criminal underworld. Perhaps something got lost in translation, because since then we’ve had a slew of shockingly brutal murders committed with alarming frequency.

Griffith’s pledge to outgun the criminal element seemed more addressed to police officers than our killer elite. This makes sense because if you are meant to mount a war, you must rally the troops. Securing the loyalty of your officers is important.

Don’t believe for one minute, though, that criminals are troubled by the spaghetti-western rhetoric of the CoP. Compared to these devotees of blood and mayhem, Griffith and the police are mere postulants in the faith. Any person who holds a gun to a pregnant teenager and pulls the trigger isn’t handicapped by morality or fear of consequences.

Having been into impoverished communities and spoken with at-risk youth on many occasions, I always came away with the impression that many of our young men, cut adrift by circumstance and the lottery of the universe, have nothing to lose. They see criminality as adaptation in an ecosystem that has cast them in the role of the predator of the privileged.

The lawlessness in our land has progressed through several decades of evolution. From breaking the traffic lights to breaking and entering, we are reaping the harvest of long-standing relaxed attitudes towards law enforcement. We can’t suddenly expect cutthroat “good boys” to be shocked into eschewing their lifestyles for the straight and narrow.

Additionally, kicking down doors with guns blazing in already marginalised communities isn’t likely to build on the trust capital investigators so desperately need to gather intelligence. Simply put, force must meet force where necessary. Overall, though, the police must function from a place of thought and strategy.

We all want Gary Griffith and his men to succeed. Demanding oversight of police actions that result in fatalities isn’t the same as rooting for criminals.

Next week this column will take a closer look at what ought to be done to grapple with violent crime.

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