Monday, January 22, 2018

The public and ‘gang-related’ violence

Dana Seetahal logo38

Mark Fraser

 There appears to be a suggestion in some quarters, even as high up as in the Ministry of National Security, that many of the recent killings should not trouble the average citizen because they involve criminals killing criminals. This might lend some temporary comfort to the public which has looked on aghast at the spike in reported murders in the last two weeks, but it does little to curb violent crime in the long run or to prevent a descent into anarchy,  which is where such an approach could lead.

If this response prevails it will not be long before we rationalise that the police should just “take out” any person whom they suspect is a violent gang member or murderer. This would lead to a total breakdown of law and order. While some of us might blithely say, “Live by the gun, die by the gun”, at the news of the killing of a gang leader this does not mean that we will sanction killings a la the “Star Chamber”.

There is something called the rule of law and in a civilised society it is expected that this will prevail. Never mind that the criminals are not playing by the rules and have no compunction intimidating or paying off witnesses. Agents of the state however are expected to behave differently. There is a difference, after all, between the police and the criminal and the former had better not forget it. 

It will be a sad indictment on our society if we relax into an acceptance of any type of murder on the assumption that we are not personally affected. Even if this were true, where does it stop? Are we to say that we should not spend resources in investigating killings in hotspots such as Laventille or Morvant because those killings are surely the result of gang warfare? Are we to abandon the majority of good people in these areas to the criminally minded? Do the people from these areas deserve this?

A young colleague of mine grew up in Laventille and he was able to make his way out of the challenge of his environment to become a lawyer. My helper in whom I have complete trust is from that area and she has to battle with criminality on her doorstep daily but she still presses on and is determined to make a good life for herself and her family. Two young persons who were employed by me hailed from that area and are becoming solid government professionals who are a credit to their family. I grew up in what was called a “bad john” area years ago in Tunapuna.

If the state were to even contemplate at any time folding its arms and allowing violent crime to continue in so-called hotspots in this country it would not only be reneging on its duty to society as a whole but it would be leaving good people who still predominate in these areas at the mercy of the criminal elements. Every child or young person there would have no option but to join with the criminal elements or be taken out themselves. It will become a case of survival through the barrel of a gun.

And what of the fallout as regards the rest of the society? Does anyone believe that criminals empowered by no restrictions will remain in their own environment? Obviously not. They may retreat there and for all we know set up barricades to persons entering the areas as was done in some “inner city” areas in Jamaica. Then they will also move on more and more to crimes against those from whom they are increasingly alienated and whom they may rightly perceive as having more material possessions than they do.

In my experience the majority of  those who resort to violent crime such as murder and shooting in this country are persons who are functionally illiterate and have no technical training in any skill or craft. The reason for this might be varied: poor parenting which allowed or forced them to leave school or not value school. It may be that they are simply “backward” as some like to say or as the experts claim of late: they have a learning disability. Whatever the reason, we have a set of young persons, mostly young men, who seem only to find their manhood through possession and use of a gun.

While many resources have been deployed with little success over the years to determine the source of firearms and illegal drugs very little focus has been placed on how to treat with the youth who are illiterate, under- or unemployed and unheralded. Programmes such as Milat-Mypart are limited in scope as are the Hoop of Life and others of a similar nature, the first by numbers and the latter in that only a few can excel to make basketball a life’s vocation.

For this reason I revert to the call made by many, including the former mayor of Port of Spain, for compulsory National Service. All healthy young persons who are not usefully employed or pursuing studies should be required to “join up” and do two years of service for the country, the first part of which would require them to become literate. 

This will not only literally keep many of them off the streets but it will give an opportunity to those who do not want to continue the downward spiral towards criminality to leap out of it. Not everyone is made for a profession or office employment. National service will allow such persons to retrain and to perhaps find a worthwhile place in this country.

• Dana S Seetahal is a former

 Independent Senator