By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar
January 14, 2007
AT AGE 13 when most girls are giggly, telling secrets in the ear of their friends and enjoying a carefree life, Choc'late Allen seems to have taken on the weight of Trinidad and Tobago's number one problem of crime on her narrow shoulders.
Home-schooled Choc'late, bright beyond her years, articulate and brown and smooth like her name, went on a five day dusk-to-dawn fast last week at the National Library in Port of Spain which she dubbed a `One Hundred Percent Crime Free Fast for Purity’.
One of her first visitors was the Prime Minister, Patrick Manning who promised to meet with her after her fasting to talk more on her anti-crime initiatives.
I admire Choc'late, admire her tenacity for believing that she can make a difference; I like her spunkiness and refreshingly youthful courage.
I also admired 38-year old Wesley McCleod, who despite fearing for his life went to rescue a young woman who was being mauled by a man in a car.
They were some of the bright spots in what otherwise has been a gloomy and depressing start to the year.
Even the end of year celebrations, which we normally looked forward to, had an air of false festivity.
How could anyone have celebrated when almost every conversation automatically focuses on crime; that people have to leave the homes of relatives and friends to be in the security of their home before darkness arrives; that instead of warmly greeting strangers on our streets who might be visiting for the holidays, we look at them with suspicion? They might be criminal deportees with their Yankee accent.
With the 2007 picking up from where 2006 ended in terms of the high murder rate, people are once again debating whether there should be a limited state of emergency to deal with the illegal arms and the criminal elements in the country and whether the staging of Carnival next month shouldn't be postponed in the interest of having a safe and secured country.
Some are also calling on the government to resume the death penalty which continues to be on the books despite no hangings in the country over the last six years or so.
The government, no doubt, needs all the help it can get, considering that our top cops are openly begging and pleading with criminals and kidnappers, as they keep steps ahead of the security forces.
An acting police commissioner got a solid verbal pounding from residents of Lange Park, Chaguanas in the central when he said he always thought the area was safe and then blamed his lower-ranked officers for not giving him the real story on crime in the area. And he's from the top brass of the police service!
It was in this 'secured' area that gunmen three weeks ago kidnapped philanthropist Vindra Naipaul-Coolman who has not yet been released despite the paying of a ransom to the abductors.
So, if senior officers don't know what's going on in one of the high-profile crime ridden areas of the country, how do they expect to deal with it as a national issue?
What, too, can we say about police officers who could not catch a criminal who escaped from a police van, with the silver handcuffs around his two wrists?
No wonder Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo seemed tickled, maybe harrumphed a bit when the Trinidadian national security minister, the very embattled and war-thorn Martin Joseph claimed that Guyana had summoned for TT's help in fighting crime.
The opposition United National Congress (UNC) deputy political leader Jack Warner also found time to bring former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, to Trinidad where he met a high-powered security team including Security Minister Joseph, the Police Commissioner, Prisons Commissioner, Director of the Special Anti-Crime Unit and others.
Despite a chequered past which doomed his nomination to the post of Homeland Security adviser in the U.S., Kerik, who claims to be a consultant to the Guyanese President, plans to visit Trinidad once a month to oversee a commission set up to analyse the country's crime problems and make recommendations.
Crime has gone past being just about drug trafficking and rival gangs killing each other.
It has infiltrated every sphere of life, from the ghetto to the affluent, despite ethnicity, political affiliations and social standing in the country.
The ruling party has also sobered up to the realisation that criminals were also now attacking their governance, given the recent killing of a very popular local government councillor, Bert Allette, and the shooting of another councillor, Peter John, who survived the attempted murder.
NO ONE BUYING
In the area where Allette lost his life and John shot about seven times, people are putting their houses up for sale and moving out, as the innocent and the notorious were being gunned down almost daily. Despite this being one of the most scenic areas and could be an area of prime property in the capital, no one is buying.
Security has also been beefed up for Port of Spain Mayor Merchinson Brown, who received death threats via a letter.
One very apparent cause for the high crime and murder rate is the use of illegal guns. The government admits that illegal guns are proliferating in the country.
It is now the weapon of choice for settling the smallest of disputes even between neighbours.
The government has so far resisted calls for a gun amnesty. I'm not even sure if this will help reduce crime in the country. But I do believe if the security forces begin a campaign of getting illegal guns off the streets, it could lead to a dent in the crime and the criminals who are walking the streets with open impunity.
As I write this column, I heard on the news that two brothers were shot, not too far from where I live, by a man who had an altercation with another brother over a vehicle.
It ended in blood when the man whipped out his gun and fired shots at the brothers who are now in hospital, with wounds to the neck and foot.
According to the government, illegal guns were infiltrating the country because part of the payment for drug gangs was in weapons. Now, to my simple mind, if the government and the security forces are aware of this, why not more resources put into patrolling our waters?
Why am I not hearing about the confiscation of these high-powered weapons as they arrive into our waters from across the South American coastline?
In the meantime, more money has been pumped into purchasing high speed boats, another new helicopter for the Coast Guard and army and more sophisticated radar systems that are supposed to detect these illegal activities.
The country must be taken back from the criminals. Another year must not pass us by when the crime situation continues to deteriorate.
All efforts must be put into this so that citizens can freely move about the place, enjoy their lives and for their young children, such as Choc'late not to be burdened by such a mammoth problem.