Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Changing our Minds on Crime...

The people of Trinidad & Tobago do not feel safe. The truth is we wont for a long time to come. Reeling from years of an inestimable crime problem that looked to have the authorities beat, we may see the results of the new dispensation with many quick to point out how hard the police and other members of law enforcement are working, but like victims of sustained violence all through history, it is going to take some time for us to accept that we are in fact truly free. Even the criminal element, members of the police service tell of their surprise when they are caught, so accustomed were they to plying their trade without fear of consequence, some of them end up dying due to the clumsiness of sheer disbelief.

We are creatures of conditioning. Victims of domestic abuse cower and tremble when certain sounds play. I read the story of a woman who was abused every night after the news and for years and years after her liberation the sound of the musical score of the nightly news was enough to dramatically disturb her and make her almost non functional. We are creatures of habit, of learning. We can be taught to be afraid. Violence applied over time has been used for centuries to break human spirits, and we in T&T are no different, our spirits are still broken. After decades of abuse inflicted without respite we developed a conditioned response, and it is this more than anything else that keeps us feeling unsafe despite the undeniable drop in crimes of all types and the dramatically increased interdiction rates.

I myself wonder at times what it would take to feel the freedom of a crime free society, to establish in the minds of the criminally minded that to choose such a pastime in these times have almost one of two certain outcomes, life spent in a cage, or terminated in a hail of gunfire as attacks against law enforcement are met with the unexpected fury of the superior fire power of the highly trained and well armed determined to reverse the tides. Had I not heard the head of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association himself admit that for the first time in a long time the streets of the capital city are safer as the crime numbers are dramatically down, or the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, despite being on opposite sides of the political divide praising the Ministry of National Security and the law enforcement community for successes in Tobago how would I be able to gauge?

Doesn't the news contain stories of violence and crime daily and nightly? How are we to distinguish and to accept facts that seem to be challenged by reality? Well the truth is that all social conditioning ebbs and flows like waves, where one person's actions determines another's in like fashion. Much of the crime that we are hearing now usually have a different outcome than it did in the not too distant past, and the perpetrators who choose to challenge the authorities rather than surrender to clearly superior odds are routinely killed for their miscalculation of the situation if not their trouble.

Can this be dealt with? Yes, over time. What law enforcement needs to do is continue to build on its successes, and to keep speaking up and out. Nothing exceeds like excess, and high visibility responses are going to continue to be the best kind.

A couple weeks ago I stood alongside others and witnessed the Coast Guard and Police Service intercept and subdue a criminal gang in Cocorite in broad daylight and the professionalism demonstrated even during the suppression stage of the operation astonished us all, the Hollywood-esque, surreal quality to what we were watching. The almost scripted dance as sea-going law enforcement gave way to their land based counterparts and back again as those caught in that act tried every imaginable trick to evade capture to no avail. I remember watching the faces and expressions of some of the other onlookers and noted the shock and awe mirrored in each face as we watched the reality of law enforcement doing its job, the cheer as the arrival of the helicopters provided the final piece in what was already checkmate and had us rooting for the good guys.

The truth is we don't feel safe and we probably wont for a while to come, but we can, especially if the law enforcement agencies keep up and build upon the good work that they have been doing in the recent past. This nation and its people are due for a healing, a grand gesture to define the changing of the order. The arrest, trial and conviction of the killers of Dana Seetahal or the successful arrests and prosecution of the big fish behind the juice tin cocaine bust are two that come to mind that could help speed this process along the way, that changes our preconceived notion that crime does in fact pay in Trinidad & Tobago.

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