Barrier-building or vigilantism?

- Photo courtesy Pixabay
- Photo courtesy Pixabay

THE EDITOR: At this moment of escalating criminal activity in TT, building physical barriers (walls, fences, roadblocks, guard booths) on public property to guard against criminal activity is anathema to the peace and tranquillity the people so desperately desire.

Barrier building is nothing more than a dangerous first step towards the deep abyss of vigilantism, which in fact is what unauthorised barrier-building on public roads is.

According to one definition, vigilantism is “law enforcement undertaken without legal authority by a self-appointed group of people.”

One example that fits this definition appears in a newspaper report by Otto Carrington. He writes: “Terrorised by criminals and bandits who have invaded six homes in Real Spring, Valsayn South, the community has now set up barricades to protect themselves from criminal elements.”

If barricades were set up without legal authority along a public way, a street, road, trace, etc, under the definition that is vigilantism.

In fact, despite being ignored, vigilantism is real in TT, for there are communities, especially in north Trinidad, where "invisible" barriers warn "outsider" young men, in particular, enter at their own peril.

Thus the Bamboo #2 residents' claim that if Valsayn can do it then we, too, can is a step in the wrong direction.

And if Valsayn and Bamboo #2 can set up barriers on a public way, why can’t the residents of Cocoyea, Monkey Town, Beetham Gardens and the hundreds of communities across TT also do it? It is nothing less than a recipe for chaos.

Moreover, if all such communities are allowed to set up barriers, will fence-building deter criminals and return TT to the peace and tranquillity we so desperately desire? Most likely not.

In a balkanised TT, barrier-building may be the deterrent to criminal activities in affluent gated communities, but most likely it’s greatest effect in such communities will be to drive criminal activity deeper into non-affluent communities and in fact might change the criminal trajectory away from home invasions to highway robbery. So, while residents from affluent communities may protect themselves with a barrier, will barriers protect them in the public space?

Fazir Khan, president of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC), has proposed the installation of “…soldiers at construction sites to safeguard contractors and their employees…amid concerns that contractors are facing extortion from criminal elements which has led to death threats to contractors and has hampered work” (Loop News, Oct 9).

If the TTPS and the Regiment respond positively to this request for protection, how will non-affluent contractors protect themselves? Will they resort to vigilantism?

In a recent example as to what can be described as a "mobile barrier," authorities suggested to bank customers making large withdrawals that they travel with a security guard. But the thorny issue of who will protect the customer who cannot afford a security guard is left unanswered.

Instead of hiring a "mobile barrier" (security guard), the police should embark on an all-out effort to identify the perpetrators and deal with them in a manner necessary to deter further attempts at bank-customer robbery.

In an Express editorial, section 4(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, was seen as “quite relevant” (to barrier-building as a constitutional right). “On this basis,” the paper said, “…it is arguable that the State is mandated to allow private initiatives that uphold such a constitutional guarantee.”

But does section 4(a) of the Constitution provide for the creation of vigilantism and, most importantly, lawbreaking as a constitutional right?

What section 4(a) says is that the right to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property are rights to be enjoyed and executed within the confines of the law, which unauthorised barrier-building does not conform to.

Barrier-building by communities such as Valsayn and Bamboo #2, if unauthorised, are models that do not conform to section 4(a) of the Constitution and in fact are models for chaos.

Who gives a private individual the authority to interrogate me on a public road? Is it the village council, a business executive, the barrier-installer?

Or is it a member of the community, like the one who stated, “We in this village here, we will decide what is legal and what is not legal in protecting (ourselves)” (Express, November 23).

If the installers, vigilantes really, whether authorised by a 100 per cent village council vote or not, and despite a cease-and-desist order, install a barrier after the previous one was demolished, they should be punished to the full extent of the law, because barrier-building on a public way without legal authority is vigilantism, and no one – whether businessman, village council member, or community activist – is above the law.


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"Barrier-building or vigilantism?"

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