Time to move against gangs
This week’s report by US-based think tank, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), marks the latest evidence of the notice being taken abroad of Trinidad and Tobago’s unchecked murderous crime problem.
Local observers may well identify with the COHA conclusion that a “South American method of warfare”, marked by extremes of violence, is raging inside gangland T&T today.
What may be less apparent from up close is COHA’s warning that T&T’s gangs may be strong enough to pose a “challenge to state sovereignty”.
“As it now stands, gangs have a stronger hold on the Trinidadian population than its government does,” is COHA’s chilling conclusion.
The report appears as T&T is seized with continuing anxiety over state contracts going to even known gang leaders. But much of the official response still takes the form of fresh “gun talk” from the mouth of new National Security Minister Gary Griffith, vowing that “if we don’t get them (gangs) in one way, we’ll get them in another”.
COHA reportage also corresponds with local knowledge of low confidence in the Police Service, leading to low levels of murder detection. Here, again, Mr Griffith is offering to be “the main conduit” for criminal intelligence.
Over the last decade, similar fist-shaking assurances have come from successive National Security ministers, with results as unavailing as they have been tiresome.
Mr Griffith has been put on notice that his reputation, too, is now recognisably on the line, both inside Trinidad and Tobago and out.
The minister would do well if he follows through on his threat to cut off the gangs’ access to State funding through certain leaders’ ability to secure construction contracts, some of them even allegedly building the very police stations that house the lawmen and women who should be eradicating this major threat to the nation’s well-being.
Whether Mr Griffith will get the support of his fellow ministers is another matter, but this issue should be one of top priority, with the Prime Minister reading the riot act to all members of her Cabinet that these gangs should in no way be beneficiaries of State largesse.
They should no longer be used as political pawns, with successive governments giving them leeway in exchange for favours done in getting out the voters in the respective communities where they operate.
According to COHA, the gangs “have infiltrated the official government and created an alternative administration—at least in urban centres—of violence and strict order, lacking any semblance of ethics or ability to address welfare”.
The Government must admit that its Anti-Gang Act is a dismal failure, based on the lack of convictions against those arrested during the 2011 State of Emergency, and fresh legislation must be enacted to address this matter.
And Minister Griffith should give serious thought to establishing an elite unit, using the best personnel available in both the Police Service and Defence Force, to infiltrate the gangs and gather the necessary evidence to incarcerate both leaders and followers for a very long time.