Sunday 2nd March, 2008

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Is Vision 2020 just ole talk?

I read two reports side by side in a newspaper last Friday. One was headlined “Cops kill 2 in Laventille” and the other “Gang member shot.”

What was prominent about the two stories was the difference in the reaction of members of the public to the two incidents.

In so far as the killing of two youths by the police was concerned, the very detailed article spoke of Laventille residents expressing “outrage” at the killing in the Trou Macaque area on Wednesday night.

Apart from the parents of one man and his brother, residents of the area also spoke to the media. One was even described as an eyewitness.

They claimed that the men were ambushed. They were going to buy burgers and they had no weapons as alleged by the police.

The police contend that one of the two men shot at them. Both were armed and they were wearing ski masks.

Whatever the truth of the matter is yet uncertain, but we are told that a thorough investigation will be done.

In contrast to this are the circumstances of the other incident, which occurred about half an hour after the one in Trou Macaque.

Gang member?

One Marlon Roberts was walking along Wharton Street, Laventille, when he was confronted by a gunman who shot him.

Residents who heard the gunshots claimed they “dared” not come out of their homes, for fear of their own lives.

The police describe the deceased as a gang member.

What do these two stories tell?

For one thing, the average citizen is certainly much less afraid of the police than he is of a gang member. Were it otherwise, people would not come out of their houses when the police are involved, so as to be in a position to see what occurred.

They would not be so bold as to speak to the media, where their names are given and faces identified. They would be very careful of what accusations they made against these alleged “trigger-happy” officers.

The fact that they did otherwise must mean that the people of Laventille find it easier to attack the police rather than gang members.

In the case of Marlon Roberts, media reports say that residents cowed in their houses out of fear.

Is this really so; or is it that the residents claim to have seen nothing because it is easier that way?

If they heard gunshots, how is it that they knew who was shooting: the police or the gangsters?

They would have to know if, in one case, they were paralysed by fear and remain inside, and in the other they were capable of giving eyewitness accounts.

There clearly appears to be more of an uproar in respect of police killings than the almost daily murders, or when gangsters repeatedly are freed of charges because witnesses are afraid/refuse to testify.

During the last six years, we have had 1,500 or so reports of murder. During that time, there have been 103 police killings, 45 of which are still under investigation.

It is a high ratio of killings in both instances. The question that arises for consideration is whether the focus on police killings are justified, given what they face daily in some areas of T&T.

No one can support the suggestion that the police should just “take out” any person they suspect is a violent gang member or murderer.

That would be the beginnings of anarchy, and would lead to the total breakdown of law and order.

While some of us might blithely say “Live by the gun, die by the gun” at news of the killing of a gang leader, this does not mean that we will sanction killings a la the “Star Chamber.”

There is something called the rule of law, and in a civilised society it is expected that this will prevail. Never mind that the criminals are not playing by the rules and have no compunction in intimidating or paying off witnesses.

Agents of the State, however, are expected to behave differently. There is a difference, after all, between the police and the criminal, and the former had better not forget it.

If the excuse of a police officer for a police killing is that he is getting rid of a criminal in the public interest—either to protect the public from future threats or in reprisal— it means that he does not understand his function.

A police officer’s primary responsibility is to maintain law and order. Killing someone other than in self-defence (which is justified) is outside of the law.

A gang member who kills does not have such a civic responsibility—in law or by inclination.

The response of the people in Laventille to the different killings is an implicit recognition of the different roles of the parties.

When the police, who are specially selected to regulate and maintain the law in the society, breach that very law, the public reaction is swift and condemnatory.

Much is expected of them, having been given legitimate powers to arrest, search, seize and investigate, as well as charge persons for offences, on behalf of us all.

Condone criminality

Some people rightly refuse to countenance what may be criminal behaviour on the part of the police, yet daily they condone criminality and murder on the part of gang members.

They say they feel threatened, yet they refuse to go into protection. They don’t want to testify because they know the gang member—he is a cousin, friend or neighbour.

Yet, the cry all over the country is that crime is out of control.

Anyone who has witnessed a crime and refused to give information to the police; has refused to testify when he is a witness; has accepted money not to give evidence; has claimed that he “forgave” or “forgot” and allowed a criminal to walk free should never complain about the escalation of crime.

You are part of the problem.

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