Now that 2022 has been declared the deadliest year ever for homicide with over 600 homicides and T&T edging once again to the dubious distinction of being among the most murderous in the world with no direct campaign for safety from the Government or police, it would be easy to pretend it's not happening. Call it battle fatigue, denial, shock, or whatever. It's impossible to live like this– hypervigilant. Looking over your shoulder. Better to think of Carnival. Don't think of the bodies piling up in the morgues. Better to go numb. Guess who else is numb to crime? The criminals.
After I visited the Port-of-Spain prison some years back, I understood some things. Nothing human can shock prisoners on death row. Show them a man with a bullet through their brain, an accident victim with their brains scrambled like eggs, a woman choked and shot, or a child shot through the chest, and they won't blink. Normal. Normal. Why? Because they grew up around such consistent brutality that it is normalised. They were beaten and abused, and the next day their parents acted as if nothing had happened. It comes from unhealed wounds inflicted by colonial masters who, although they are irrelevant today, have left their mark.
During colonialism, we supplied Europe and the US with sugar and cotton, and now we allow the same countries that manufacture arms a safe harbour to transport drugs. Illegal guns are everywhere. They have been coming in steadily for decades with impunity after the attempted coup. The Minister of National Security has reportedly said that over 12,000 illegal guns are at large, and 87 per cent of the murders are due to firearms. The Guardian reported in November that some 28,000 guns were seized between 2017-2022, worth $350 million.
Who is bringing in the guns? Then the smaller fry: Janina Pawelz, a researcher from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH), who spent four months in 2015 interviewing people in gang districts, implies that successive governments have been blackmailed for decades by gang leaders who are given CEPEP funding and control of communities in return for keeping gun violence under control. Pawelz revealed the paradox of handing out make-work contracts (CEPEP etc) to gang leaders, enabling them to buy more guns. We have part of the answer.
The other financiers of illegal arms remain evil and shadowy, with the blood of the boys who they use as pawns on their hands. In 2020, I reported that, according to Pawelz, an army of gangs–around 30,000 strong in 2015, had taken us over. It's probably swollen to an army of 40,000 now.
But the 600 deaths and the gun failures are also a result of incompetence at several levels. Look at the institutions with blood on their hands.
Customs: Last year, it was reported that arms were coming in containers (not in the dead of night) but in front of the eyes of customs officers with faulty scanners
Police: The police need to step up to deal with a watertight witness protection programme, weeding out the rotten eggs and creating a digital footprint of criminals.
Government and Opposition: The police can claim that gang-based violence requires supportive legislation, Anti-gang legislation, gun courts and permission to hold suspects caught with guns in custody for longer periods.
Judiciary: Research shows that the critical deterrent to crime is not the severity of the sentence but the likelihood of criminals being caught and prosecuted. Cases take a lifetime to process. Excuses include a shortage of prosecution judicial and legal aid staff, outdated processes for court appearances, plea bargaining, dealing with police officers not turning up in court, and poor protection for witnesses.
Politicians: On the one hand, they are forced to negotiate with the criminals, so we don't get shot up, and on the other, they refuse to support one another in the country's best interest. They are comfortably numb as they sit in Parliament with eyes half closed, making sanctimonious noises on hearing murders cross 600 in 2022 or that a six-year-old girl Kylie Maloney was shot in the chest and still refuse to support legislation that could have prevented her death. This numb selfish negligence from all who owe us a duty of care to keep us safe leaves them with blood on their hands while citizens are hunted like daily prey.