Even if the majority of murder victims are criminals, as asserted by National Security Minister Gary Griffith, this does not mean that murder is not a serious problem.
This, however, seems to be the argument offered by Mr Griffith, who in Tuesday’s Express noted that six out of every ten people murdered last year were involved in “serious criminal activities” —specifically, in gang- and drug-related activities. The obvious implication, which seems to have escaped Mr Griffith, is that the police therefore have no control over gang members and drug-traffickers, who are free to kill one another with impunity.
Not content with this assertion, Mr Griffith went even further. “If you are not involved in criminal activities, you are a law-abiding citizen of this country,” he said, “there has been a reduction in persons like that who have been kidnapped, robbed, raped, vehicles stolen and murdered.” Yet his own statistics show that 161 of the 405 persons murdered last year were “law-abiding citizens”.
Thus, even if the alleged criminals were left out of the National Security Minister’s statistics, the homicide rate in Trinidad and Tobago would still be 12 out of every 100,000 persons (instead of the actual 30 per 100,000). This compares to homicide rates in developed countries of less than three per 100,000. Even the United States, which has the highest murder rate of all developed nations, scores just seven out of 100,000.
The other point that Mr Griffith glosses over is that executions are not the penalty for either drug trafficking or belonging to a gang. He is correct in saying that it is difficult for the police to protect such individuals and the solution lies in removing the incentives which started these killings as far back as 2001. However, he paradoxically claims that it is the starving of state funds which has led to the recent spate of murders—even though his premise is that swollen URP funding caused the rise in gang-related killings in the first place.
Be that as it may, when murders got to 547 in 2008, the police were seen to be making little effort precisely because it was mostly gang members killing one another. The National Security Minister has now created the perception, rightly or wrongly, that he is comfortable with this approach. Indeed, his argument is that, once the gang fights for turf cease, the murder rate will drop drastically.
This is an end devoutly to be wished. But it will not be achieved by airy dismissals of murdered criminals on the premise that such Wild West killings do not affect “law-abiding citizens”, who were similarly categorised ten years ago by a former prime minister as “collateral damage”.