New Govt talkers, but old crime plan rhetoric
Targeting crime, a fresh barrage of tough talk has been coming from Government sources, now sounding like people freshly apprised of an encircling enemy that effectively let actions speak louder than their words. New National Security Minister Gary Griffith has advertised himself as coming to the job, and hitting the ground running, in his military combat boots.
Such declarations could have more reassuring effect, had they not been repeatedly heard over the years that the fighting of crime has been officially represented as a “war”. Undeniably, the perpetrators of the 278 murders between January 2013 and last weekend must be seen as fiendish foes of all who long for a peaceful and livable T&T.
It is scant consolation that, around this time last year, the murder count from January had been 297. If the decline in fatal casualties means the authorities have been doing something right, it is, to an anxiously unclued T&T public, far from clear what that something is.
Ever more spectacularly, the killings continue. The survivors’ anguish and mystifications keep being reported and, in the steady absence of reliable “whodunit” evidence, colourful speculations are prompted. Nor are the killings so restricted to “East Port of Spain” that they can be ascribed to just a localised phenomenon.
As bullet-riddled or mutilated bodies show up on mornings, later overwhelming capacity in forensic laboratories and mortuaries, investigators remain equally nonplussed. In the event, the media and the public are served predigested suggestions labelled “gang-related”, “drug-related” and “known to the police”. Meanwhile, with the killers, seldom detected, and their atrocities largely unpunished, the reward of impunity upgrades their practice to profession.
It is against this background that, Finance Minister Larry Howai’s latest Budget, taken together with Mr Griffith’s aggressive self-projection, have amounted to a one-two rhetorical punch—but nothing yet credibly promising an actual knock-out. The theme common to the tough talk out of both ministerial mouths appears to be scepticism about and a reduced emphasis on addressing the so-called social roots of crime.
The budget thus cites the “billions” spent on education and on programmes gearing young people toward healthy and productive lifestyles. To the East Port of Spain demand for employment opportunities, endorsed by area PNM MPs, Mr Howai even notes that “sustainable” private sector jobs go abegging, while some people take “deliberate life decisions” to pursue criminal careers.
Clearly, tough talk, favouring worn-out commitments to “zero tolerance”, marks the attitude of the present and former administrations. As murders continue, and continue to remain unsolved, it’s the failure of policy action that is demonstrated. In this sense, the budget-outlined plans, or wish lists, for more officers, better technology, and tighter laws, effectively only retrace former steps, while projecting, or hoping for, better results.