T&T is in the throes of a murder crisis, an unrelenting wave of criminality driven by gang violence and domestic discord that has been claiming lives at an alarming rate. For the year so far, the body count is 195, a marked increase from the 115 murders recorded in the corresponding period last year.
There has been a steady climb in killings over the last few weeks and a marked acceleration in just a few days. This demands strong and urgent intervention by the authorities.
The brazenness and brutality with which the latest murders have been committed is alarming—the daylight execution of a motorist in downtown Port-of-Spain; a woman shot as she tried to escape from shooters who were pursuing her neighbour; a Chaguanas businessman killed during a robbery.
With the full reopening of schools for in-person classes, there has been an upsurge in violence there too. Add to that the recent fatal outcomes of family disputes, including murder-suicides, and there can be no denying that the crisis has reached epidemic proportions.
This out-of-control violence has had a corrosive effect on T&T’s economic growth and social development.
With all that is taking place, it is time to demand action and answers from those in charge of the country’s national security. They cannot be oblivious to the recent violent upsurges and should be fully aware of their responsibility to account to the nation for this worsening crisis.
There has been a deafening silence from National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, who is yet to enunciate a clear and comprehensive policy for dealing with the crime surge, although he has held the portfolio for more than a year.
Murder figures for a five-month segment of his tenure, from October 2021 to February 2022, paint a grim picture—250 deaths, an average of 50 per month.
Neither Minister Hinds nor acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacobs should be comfortable with the status quo, not when murderers have the upper hand and gangsters go unchallenged as they carry out their criminal rampages across the country.
Silence also cannot be an option for Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in his role as head of the National Security Council. He should not lose sight of the fact that every life lost to this crime scourge is one too many. As an elected official in high office, the safety and welfare of citizens is his primary responsibility.
There has been a loud and clear call for action from various parts of the country, a demand for solutions that cannot be superficial. Urgent measures must be taken to reclaim this nation from the criminals and the corrupt.
It is time to make T&T safe again.
The current state of the T&T Police Service, which is once again without a full-time commissioner, is an immediate concern. The departure of Gary Griffith from the top post, and the Police Service Commission (PolSC) fiasco, including the bungling of the recruitment process, have created instability at a time when the TTPS needs strong and consistent leadership.
This situation is added to the long-standing problems of low morale and indiscipline within the ranks, rogue officers and waning public confidence in the TTPS.
And then there is the vexing question of firearm users’ licences. How can it be that law-abiding citizens must wait for the Police Commissioner to determine their eligibility to legally carry a firearm even though they meet the established criterion, while guns can be rented by the hour and used by multiple persons to commit murders and other crimes?
Citizens should be able to protect themselves, but instead, their lives are as expendable as animals killed and left to rot on the sides of the nation’s highways. The Government is as desensitised to the rising body count as are the motorists who veer wildly away from those rotting carcasses.
The law-abiding citizens live in danger, while bloodthirsty killers roam freely, taking more lives.
How do we explain to the children of this nation that there is hope for a better tomorrow and that somebody cares about what is happening when those with the power to act seem immune and uncaring about the violence and death that is all around? Is there anyone in authority who understands what it means to have the life of a loved one brutally snuffed out?
There are many women who are spending this Mother’s Day mourning for their murdered children. Spare a thought and a prayer for them, and soberly reflect on the fact that too much has been allowed to go wrong for too long.
A multi-faceted approach is needed to fix all that has gone wrong in law enforcement and national security.
It is time to reverse course and eradicate the conditions that draw people into violent or criminal behaviour. This requires a systematic, integrated, coordinated approach that draws on a wide range of state and non-state actors.
There needs to be more consistent delivery of developmental programmes in hotspot communities that are directed specifically at those most likely to commit violent crimes, usually young males between 14-29 years old. The risk factors for why these young men get involved in criminality need to be identified so that remedial plans that involve the family and community can be developed.
The engagement of all stakeholders—governments, civil society organizations, and citizens—in a serious dialogue on crime and violence, can help in identifying more strategies to put T&T back on the path of security and prosperity.
Strong leadership in politics, law enforcement and across various social and economic sectors is needed to guide this transformation and develop a united front against the criminals. However, progress will be possible only if selfishness and self-interest are set aside, and a stronger sense of social responsibility and community spirit is nurtured in the population. It can be done. It must be done. The bloodletting must stop.