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Getting away with murder

By LARA PICKFORD-GORDON Monday, March 18 2013

I heard the tale of a teen (let’s say a 17-year-old) who sought to earn stripes as a gang member by playing a big man, going into a community and shooting indiscriminately. The gang leader controlling the particular community could not let that disrespect go without reprisal, so he sent his crew to the community of the gang the youth wanted to be part of to send a message. In the process a teen was killed while his younger brother, of primary school age, was spared.

Gang warfare has put some sections of society in a state of anarchy. East Port-of-Spain which for a time seemed quiet, has reignited. Shootings and killings are not enough for the gangs, now they are forcing people from their homes, burning them out. In one day, there was a drive-by shooting at the Beetham dump and also homes were burnt in Clifton Hill, Laventille. Pity the residents in Clifton Hill and elsewhere who are caught in the middle of the gang wars.

To deal with the problem police/army have been sent to the area to restore order. This is of course a stopgap measure because we cannot have them like permanent guards in the community.

Most of us would not understand the logic of joining a gang. And while there may be benefits to be derived from belonging to a group, a gang member’s career in crime is not long at all. There was a two-part article by Allan Davis and James Densley which was published in England in the Police Review in August 2011 which focused on gangs.

Apparently there were some problems with killings and disturbances in London and other areas. After reading the story I have to question why young people would even bother becoming gang members. It is an exploitive, violent, short-lived life for fast money and even faster demise.

Their research found that the life of a gang member was governed by informal rules and “ratings”—or what we call rank and this is earned through different ways—violence, maintaining the code of silence and ensuring that others do not break the code, through labour (though illegal such as drug trafficking and robbery), sexual conquest—boasting about how many girls they had, having a name or “tag” and earning a name on the street. Gang members must also have visibility on the front line to earn a reputation.

The second part of the article dealt with the lifespan of a gang member.

According to Davis and Densley gang members have a finite amount of time to earn their reputations and if at 21 they haven’t achieved this and are still hustling on the streets and hanging out with younger men on the streets, then they could actually lose reputation. Also, earning a reputation is not as easy as we imagine “putting down a wuk” due to the pecking order. Davis and Densley note that successful street drug dealers have to work long hours in “dangerous and unsanitary” conditions for less money than is earned by people who do legitimate work for their income.

They said, “Gang members desire instant celebrity, but it is fame awarded in a distinctly local setting.” While the thought of communities living mere streets apart having a war with each other may seem absurd, in gang life that is how it is.

Davis and Densley explained that gang members operated in limited spaces and whatever status and reputation they gained were restricted by geography. In TT and other places where there is a problem with gangs, the persons making the deals and reaping the big money from illegal activity are operating on another level.

A report from the Financial Intelligence Unit has stated over a one-year period, October 2011 to September last year, there were 258 suspicious activity reports made about transactions but there have been no prosecutions apart from one matter.

If the Financial Investigations Bureau of the police, which is charged with investigating these matters, is being stymied or hindered in any way (whether through insufficient human resources etc) then these must be addressed. If the reason they have not moved forward with more cases is because influential members of society may be involved, then that is another matter entirely.

Another agency which is important for building cases which lead to arrest and successful prosecutions is the Forensics Science Centre. Yet it seems we keep hearing the same complaints about poor working conditions and the need for more personnel.

Sometimes it appears as if the authorities are like crazy ants trying to put a plaster on the crime sore which has been festering for so long. To deal with the lawless minority government is putting forward legal amendments which will see army officers enlisted to work with the police to fight crime bail being denied to first-time offenders and the abolition of jury trials. There are already opposing views being expressed with the direction government is going with legislation.

We have anti-gang legislation but there has been no influx of persons appearing in the court on charges. Why? Because a case has to be built based on evidence that can withstand scrutiny.

Is it any wonder criminals are brazen in our society? They see how many are untouched by the law and how long justice takes. They see how they can get away with murder.


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