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Wednesday 16 October 2019
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Commentary

Getting tough on causes of crime

I never thought that TT would become like Rio! The vision of hordes of assault police in riot gear looking like terminators is very frightening, as it embodies the fact we have been all trying hard to ignore, that we are into a very deep hole that we do not know how to climb out of.

The public, politicians and commentators may say what they like, but in all the recent years during which the crime situation grew to its now almost unmanageable level, we have, for the first time, a sense that those in authority understand the size of the problem. For the first time, it is openly acknowledged that our police service is not what it should be in management, practice, ethics, ethos, equipment and systems, and reassuring changes are in force.

It certainly does not help that the judiciary is in crisis and that miscarriages of justice such as decade-long waits on remand is the norm in prisons made for half of the present prison population. Because we are a very judgemental society and believe in retribution we do not blink at that terrible human rights violation. It is the same inhumanity that allows some of us to express ourselves in the most abhorrent and bloody ways. And the same lack of empathy, which now borders on stupidity, allows us to close our eyes to the fact that the chronic sickness at the heart of our society will infect all of us in due course.

The voices in the wilderness are getting louder and more of us are now prepared to admit that after 50 years and billions of energy dollars later, we have failed to deliver on the hopes of independence. We have not managed to transform anything much of what we inherited into something that really works for us – not the economy (except for developing gas), not the politics, not the society and definitely not the bureaucracy.

What we did get right and what helped us tolerate the disappointment is our innate creativity, ingenuity, and sense of humour. We may not value “culture” but it is the one bright spark. This is why the murder of Raymond Choo Kong hit so hard. It was a blow to the solar plexus that has winded us.

Gang warfare is the reason, we are told, for most of the multiple murders of the last weeks. But do we really understand what that is and how to deal with it? The CoP has strong ideas, but he is at the end of the line and he must also deal with the hardware problem of how the guns are getting into the country.

That leaves the software problem of why young people join gangs in the first place.

We need prevention and early intervention to stop that, and the CoP cannot be in the forefront of delivering on that. Children not yet aged 12 are gang members, any casual “disrespect” by anyone could result in murder and reprisals, but they probably feel safer in than out.

How can we offer them an alternative life? We need to deal with what drives them to gang membership in the first place, and we already know the pointers: family breakdown, including absent fathers, abuse, domestic violence, bad parenting; poverty; living in a violent neighbourhood with low employment; poor school performance, unidentified learning difficulties.

In this column and elsewhere, arguments have been put forward about the need for a strategic approach that targets vulnerable areas and includes health, social services, drug addiction, criminal justice, education and financial support and job intervention programmes, because the problem is bigger than any one part of the government or state.

I detect the intention to boost the infrastructure in crime prevention zones such as Laventille, with the new swimming pool, for example, and maybe still more services are to be rolled out in such areas. We definitely need to go farther and to do that I would advocate the setting up of a cross-party, cross-ministerial crime and gang violence unit that could strategically pull all the necessary resources together. The situation has gone well beyond the senseless slurs between parties in Parliament about who is a bigger failure at stopping crime. It needs clear leadership.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s honesty about the difficulty of undoing the damage of funding for state projects being given to gangs, but it took the CoP to name it before the politicians would admit it, even though it has been so for a very long time.

Next, we would like to know about how the guns and war arsenal are making their way into TT under the nose of various controlling departments. There is obviously widespread collusion and access to foreign exchange.

Let’s hope the new Minister of Communications will take the attitude of openness in keeping us informed.

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