The gangs of Trinidad and Tobago
Monday, March 18 2013
We are being told daily that many of our murders are gang related and that they are focussed in the Laventille areas. Hence we need more feet on the ground, we need to precept the army, to patrol this killing field.
What this approach suggests is that our gangs, besides the normal criminal activities to make money or in competition with each other in these activities, they are fighting among themselves. We are seeing an increasing number of people before the courts walking free because witnesses contract amnesia or they are killed before testifying. It appears that besides the violence they may indeed be threatening the security of the state.
The view of the government to date in their social solutions, exemplified by the Hoop of Hope and providing playing fields, is that these gangs are violent youth groups that deal in petty crime, localised drugs — that these gangs are unsophisticated, uneducated and are largely interested in controlling swaths of decaying urban areas that mark out their territories. We hear of killings, allegedly because some victim crossed a borderline. However, the recent literature is seeing the gang more as an organised crime group. Hence it is very important to understand how these gangs are organised and their funding resources.
The literature tells us that the policies of many governments besieged by gangs revolve around the power of law enforcement, in some cases, like in TT, putting the military on the streets to fight the gangs.
However there are few references to the social policies in this fight and even when they are found they focus on the reasons why individuals join gangs or what sort of family conditions produce these at risk youths. In TT our studies suggest that single family households, poverty are among the causes of gang formation.
However these studies focus on the causes of this gang culture and not the solutions apart from the inane — improving access to sporting facilities and the like.
More recent work on this gang culture takes a more holistic look at the problem and has begun to relate the activities of these gangs to cartels, organised crime and even terrorists groups. These studies tend to recommend as solutions political-military enforcement approaches based on country insurgency methods. Our current discussion in Parliament on the Defence Amendment Bill is a step in this direction.
However there is little discussion as to the evolution of these gangs into what could be a national security threat to our country.
The question before us is whether our gangs are anywhere near the level of sophistication we see in Mexico and pose such a threat to us or if they are heading there?
Our gangs are well equipped with weapons, use them discriminately and they are of such sophistication that suggests that the gangs are institutionalised. There is not enough information to tell us whether these gangs are independent cells that operate subject to a larger country or regional leadership on drugs,or whatever.
The island wide radar and the now cancelled OPVs suggest that at one time the government thought that our gangs were operating in collusion with a broader based leadership, had broader based goals. This is also the view held by Darius Figueiro that all of the tools of the trade utilised in gangland come from the drug trade and gangs are the spawn of that trade; hence the largest single threat to the Caribbean States is not the gangs but the drug trade-to deal with gangs the drug trade must be addressed.
MARY K KING