The Minister of National Security has suggested that the
crime situation is not as bad as people are making out, that
in fact the security forces have identified the main areas
where crime is prevalent and are dealing with it. The Police
Commissioner was not far behind this rather complacent attitude,
talking about locking down certain parts of the
country to control the crime there.
Both these assertions come in the wake of the farcical statement
of the Prime Minister, Friday before last, when he said at
a public meeting, Cabinet will consider very shortly
a proposal for the re-introduction of corporal punishment.
He promised that criminals must get strokes since who
cant hear will feel.
It is, to say the least, worrying that the head of our Government
and National Security Council, someone who has been in Parliament
for over 30 years, should talk of re-introducing
corporal punishment when it never went away, as attested to
by the Corporal Punishment Act.
No matter what spin one chooses to put on his words, it is
clear that the PM did not have a clue as to what he was taking
about, although a PNM Government of which he was head had
amended the very Act to clarify its provisions. Someone offered
to me that what the Prime Minister really meant
was that judges do not impose strokes, so Cabinet was going
to change that. That person must be a mind reader then as
this is entirely different from what the PM actually said.
In any event, who says corporal punishment is not utilised
as a form of punishment? The law provides that a male offender
may be sentenced to be whipped, in addition to any other punishment
to which he may be liable (imprisonment) for certain offences
of violence such as rape, robbery and wounding by means of
a sharp instrument.
Up to last year, I had a matter in the Appeal Court, where
persons convicted of wounding by chopping and sentenced to
strokes sought to challenge the strokes. Two weeks ago, a
similar challenge was made in respect of another convicted
person. The point is judges are imposing corporal punishment
but naturally they do so selectivelyas they should.
Thank goodness the determination of what punishment to impose
is still within the province of the courts and not subject
to the changing whims of politicians.
State of emergency
Here, in one breath, we have a PM talking about beating prisoners
and in another, of rehabilitation for those who want
to be rehabilitated. Frankly, most prisoners that I have come
in contact with do want to change their lives but by and large,
current conditions in our prisons are not exactly conducive
to this. This is so of the State Prison, in particular, and
much has been written of that Dark Hole of Calcutta
in this column.
Suffice it to say that it is really the sign of a desperate
man, who has little new to offer when he has to resort to
talk of beating people as a means of deterrence from crime.
I know that some parents believe spanking is good for disciplining
a child. However, we are not talking of children or of a few
smacks. These are adults who will be whipped with either a
tamarind, birch or other switch and whose beating must be
witnessed by a medical officerthis fact alone would
indicate that this is serious business.
In most civilised countries of the world, corporal punishment
has been outlawed as it is deemed to be both inhumane and
dehumanising. It is also felt that violence begets violence
and those who are beaten by order of the State may then deem
the State and its officers no better than themselves.
Those issues obviously call for wider debate. However, the
real irony is that while our PM scrambles around and offers
desperate (and foolish) measures in an attempt to alleviate
public concern in the face of the crime spree 10 days ago,
the Minister seeks to deny that there is a real problem.
If the situation is not as bad as is made out, then tell us
what is the truth of the matter? When criminals can flagrantly
and in broad daylight come to the centre of the downtown shopping
area in the capital city and shoot up the place, is this not
cause for concern? If criminals can boldly shoot at the police
the next day and if two prison officers can be murdered in
their hometown, are we to feel anyone is secure?
What the Minister fails to grasp is that these public shootings
and killings convey that no one is safe anywhere and at any
time. Telling us that crime is being contained when we see
evidence to the contrary just makes him and the police look
foolish. Furthermore, if it is known where most of the crimes
are being committed, as is claimed, it should follow that
it is also known by whom.
Why, therefore, is the detection rate the lowest ever for
murder (some 25 per cent)? Why is there this prevalence of
hard drugs in the country? Someone is bringing them in, surely.
Why are communities forced to take their own action in the
face of fears of kidnappings, carjackings and the like? Answer
Amid all of this is suddenly this talk of lockdown.
If this has to happen at all, should it be by announcement?
In any event, the time for that was more than a year ago,
when the authorities were still burying their heads on the
sand. Even now they are still in denial while the rest of
the country is crying out for some solutions and responsible
leadership in treating with these crucial concerns.
Perhaps it is time to consider declaring a state of emergency
to effectively treat with our violent crime situation.