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Seeking the causes

Tuesday, January 15 2013

We are appalled at yet another series of gunshot murders across north Trinidad. Over the past weekend several people were gunned down in seeming unrelated killings within the space of a few hours.

While every killing is both horrific and tragic, on a weekend of almost mass bloodshed it is easier to understand several killings if they are related to some gang dispute or vendetta sequence. However, when there is an outburst of killings spread over a wide geographic area, we need to ask whether this is coincidental, or whether there is some hidden catalyst or trigger setting it off.

The police have not suggested any link or thread between the several killings, and while some have been described as “gangland killings”, others have presented the police with no clear motive. In some cases “mistaken identity”, or “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” have been given as reasons why presumably innocent people have been shot. People have also been hit by what police describe as “stray bullets”, from random shooting at a presumed target and hitting innocent persons, including women and children.

All of this adds up to a horrifying situation where killings are not only planned and carried out in execution style, but where the killers care nothing about who else may get killed as the bullets begin to fly.

It is quite clear by now that attempts to repress or prevent these ongoing murders have not been as successful as we hoped. The police can only promise to try harder. The promises continue, and the killings continue. So we need to ask: Why?

While we accept that the police must continue to investigate each killing, and seek to bring the killers to justice — and this is no easy task they face — we need to know more about the gangs which are said to be behind most of the murders. We learned at the time of the State of Emergency that we cannot simply lock up the “known” gang leaders. So if we cannot deal with the “heads” of the gangs in the shorter term, we should be finding ways to reduce their influence in their communities — especially among the potential recruits for the gangs.

We have been told the approximate number of gangs and their members. However, very little else is in the public domain, and we are not even sure if the police know how and why the gangs operate. For instance, what are their means of survival — economically? Is it through dealing in drugs, banditry, robberies, burglaries, extortion, or a mix of any or all of these criminal activities? And to what extent might each gang depend upon all or any of these or other activities for their incomes?

We are also aware of gang control of URP and CEPEP projects, where access to “contracts” can be an excellent source of income, without resorting to violence — other than violence to “protect” the contracts.

And what are the territorial imperatives for these gangs? In some cases it is clearly geographic, where outsiders are not permitted on certain turfs. But the geographic boundaries are often defined by areas of operation — selling drugs, extortion, sharing of spoils of robberies and the like.

We do not believe that suppression alone — which can easily become oppression — can treat with the gang culture in the long term. We need to define the “attraction” of gang life and neutralise the braggadocio of the gang leaders if we hope to develop communities with alternative lifestyles for young men.

We urge the Government to find the answers to these questions as they seek permanent solutions.

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