We could bury our heads in Maracas sands while looking out at a gold and blue sunset. Still, I guarantee you that every citizen and resident of this country gets at least one massive anxiety attack every time they glance at a newspaper. But you can’t escape it. So, even if you stop reading newspapers while buying aspirin from the pharmacy, your eye can land on newspapers with the headline “FIVE MORE CITIZENS MURDERED” with photos of the murdered in the top row of the front page.
And if you’re tempted to turn the page, you will see another headline “Homicide detectives are investigating four murders in Penal which occurred over the past 12 hours, including a triple murder.” Turn that page, and you get “Criminals using 3D parts to boost small guns–study.”
Beneath that is a story of a body found with “an almost severed head” in Tableland. You leave the pharmacy a mess, looking over your shoulder in the midday sun.
All the shark and bake and ole talk in the world can’t take away the reality that we are the SIXTH in the world of the most criminal countries, according to the World of Statistics and the World Population Review.
We are wary. Frightened to go for a walk in a park.
Bandits have overtaken the land. And they are angry. They are invading homes, using guns like playthings, and threatening to derail schools with bomb threats.
We know why. We know why.
It could start with our 40 per cent of school dropouts (while the Ministry of Education struggles with absent principals, shelved literacy programmes, troubled gun-filled neighbourhoods where gang leaders take the role of parents, disgruntled teachers facing violence from students and parents).
This slots in with the steady arrival of weapons (an exchange for allowing traffickers from Europe and the US as transshipment points for drugs?). These countries will continue producing and exporting arms while triggering free murderous nations like ours, the knuckles for violence (old colonial story).
So the police face thousands of men shoved towards the power of joining the underworld quick bucks and with nothing to lose, cool with risking their almost inevitable early bullet deaths.
The deep and wide problem interconnects with a sagging judiciary and a scrappy witness protection programme, which means that killers of some 500 victims a year are getting away with murder.
This connects with more desperate citizens who are also calling for arms.
Victims and perpetrators are angry so people kill over a sour conversation, a few dollars.
One former T&T CoP Dwayne Gibbs (Canadian) spoke of 21st-century policing, a digitised utopia (despite our oil bucks and brain power, we can’t get there) where police punch in a suspect’s name on their phones and their entire criminal history comes up, where policemen will be on the road and not sitting in police stations, where reports won’t take forever. It wasn’t allowed to happen. Gibbs was fired. Gary Griffith was promising, eager, and strong, but he overreached and fell.
No matter their style, various CoPs have not been able to deliver, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this latest police plan will get results.
Our police service does its best, but something in that system is not working. Worryingly members of the police force are regularly charged with criminal behaviour, so it’s not a case of bad apples but a curdled opaque police force that will require a powerful team. It will take more than a police plan to deal with this. More than the well-meaning Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher.
It will take the Ministries of Education, Social Development, Finance, Trade, National Security, Foreign Affairs, and the Attorney General’s office in tandem with any supporting country to help with border control and intelligence.
Jamaica’s National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang recently reported that major crimes were down by a whopping 20 per cent and murders by 17 per cent. How? Chang said the Jamaica police force did it by ramping up intelligence, “including legislative tools such as the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) and States of Public Emergency (SOEs).”
Maybe we need a Jamaica-type of SoE?
There are distressing signals–a rise in vigilante thinking from the frightened and angry public dealing with increased home invasions by organised bandits and increased extrajudicial killings. Giving citizens guns to defend themselves will mean bandits will come for the guns. There will be more bodies on our killing fields. That police plan better be good.
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Ira Mathur is a Guardian journalist and the winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Literature in the category of Nonfiction ( 2023).