Home / View Point / Guest Columns / All ah we dead: Raffique Shah says citizens caught in crossfire between police and thief

All ah we dead: Raffique Shah says citizens caught in crossfire between police and thief

I had planned not to address crime in my columns; to waste space on an issue that, while it grows grimmer by the day, is seemingly intractable.

When last I tackled it, I admitted to having become inured to the barbarism into which the nation has descended. Decapitation, mutilation, suffocation and now on-the-spot cremation no longer shock me.

Photo: Another lifeless body prepares for a trip to the morgue.
Photo: Another lifeless body prepares for a trip to the morgue.

In fact, I suspect that most people are bored with crime to the extent that it’s no longer front-page news, the only thing of significance being the body-count-box that’s ticking along at 1.5 a day.

I have returned to the scene not because there aren’t more important national issues, but because of a few recent developments that I found particularly unsettling.

One was the video-clip posted on the Internet last week that showed several young men wildly firing sub-machine guns and pistols as if they were in a war theatre. Except that this was set in a housing estate, a theatre of the absurd, complete with wildly cheering female fans.

It turns out that this “event” took place last December—Old Year’s Night to be specific—somewhere in Maloney, and the police knew nothing about it until the video surfaced.

Now, the police can claim, with justification, that because almost everyone across the country was engaged in an orgy of explosive merriment at that specific time, they could not distinguish gunfire from fireworks or “scratch bombs.”

Photo: A police officer helps his colleague with his stripes.
Photo: A police officer helps his colleague with his stripes.

But those firearms and the seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammunition would have been at that location well before the firepower-display. In fact, the criminals may have exhibited a fraction of their armaments.

And that Maloney gang is just one of a nation-wide network of gangsters that probably number in the thousands, all armed with automatic guns.

Over the past few years, the police have boasted about how many hundreds of firearms and ammunition they have seized. Yet, we can easily deduce that huge supplies remain in the hands of criminals.

Hence the nightly gunning-down of victim after victim, the perpetrators using a magazine or two per “kill”, which suggest they have unlimited supplies of ammunition.

A trained soldier exercises disciplined firepower: every round counts.

A criminal with a gun and much ammo will be reckless: squeezing the trigger of an automatic weapon until the magazine is empty—dangerous.

Photo: A thug shows off his weapons. (Courtesy Wehearit.com)
Photo: A thug shows off his weapons.
(Courtesy Wehearit.com)

Before I offer my diagnosis of where this society has reached in lawlessness, I tender exhibit number two: yet another video posted on the Internet, this one capturing a few schoolgirls in uniform roundly and loudly cussing a police officer, who was also in uniform.

It seemed that the policeman attempted to quell a disturbance in a public place when the girls pounced on him like hyenas in the jungle—to use a description coined by Prime Minister Keith Rowley—for which he was roundly condemned.

The common threads in the two incidents referenced are they involved young people between ages 15 and 25, male and female, who showed utter contempt for the law and disregard for officers of the law. And both sets of miscreants enjoyed vocal and visual support from their peers and families.

In other words, there is a general breakdown of law and order across the country, with criminals engaging in what I would describe as an insurgency, which is loosely described as a rebellion against authority.

My colleague Martin Daly SC goes beyond that: it’s a coup d’etat, he posits, in which the State has ceded large areas of the country, including the nation’s prisons, to criminal elements.

Photo: Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams (left) shakes hands with US Embassy Security Policy and Assistance Coordinator, Juanita Aguirre, at the handing over ceremony of 18 forensic photography kits to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service by the US. (Courtesy US Embassy)
Photo: Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams (left) shakes hands with US Embassy Security Policy and Assistance Coordinator, Juanita Aguirre, at the handing over ceremony of 18 forensic photography kits to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service by the US.
(Courtesy US Embassy)

When a police officer cannot arrest, handcuff and cart away teenage girls who commit several offences, either because he is afraid of them or of hypocritical public outrage, we reach!

When the security forces—Coast Guard, Army, Air Guard and Police—over several decades, fail to stem the free flow of arms and ammunition into the country (we don’t manufacture guns and ammo here) to the extent that anyone who wants an illegal firearm can easily acquire it, we are perilously close to being a failed state.

And when murderers, bandits and sundry criminals find safe havens in homes and communities, when families and neighbourhoods celebrate their deadly firepower, morality has collapsed and common decency has dissipated in the fog of war.

What is more frightening, in such anarchy where might is right, is that it is law-abiding citizens who come under attack from both police and thief.

Because the police are afraid to tackle the criminals, they pounce on easy targets—minor traffic offenders, marijuana smokers, protesting workers, and so on.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago police on the move. (Courtesy Heritage Radio)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago police on the move.
(Courtesy Heritage Radio)

Besides targets of their internecine wars that they must dispense with to survive, gunmen find “soft targets” in ordinary citizens whom they rob with impunity, and kill as a sideline.

The real horror is that things won’t get worse before they get better: they will degenerate from worse to worst, by which time “all ah we dead!”

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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32 comments

  1. Police, bandits politicians and the hereditary elite are the wolves, hyenas and corbeaux, the citizens are the sheep for all to feed off.

  2. The protective services are perceived to be weak in the conduct of their duties. Under and in the dire circumstances that we find ourselves in Trinidad , our leaders need to make a few no apology statements. I.e. That all laws and penalties will be immediately enforced. Police in addition to their regular gear be equipped with night sticks and buss any protesters heads when conducting their duties. A standing Riot squad duly trained to take back the streets transported by armoured personnel carriers with water canon and a front space to move burning debris etc. let’s get it on.

  3. THE RISKS FACING THE NATION IS THE PROTESTER WHO SEEKS MORE THAN TOKEN PARTICIPATION IN THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS OF CHANGING THE NATIONAL MINDSET!

  4. It seem like we are in a real life purge movie.

  5. Do not forget armed policeman to oversee the eviction of illegal HDC squatters.

  6. when ah small decided to call names of those invovle in the crime dance, wa he get? AH biggggg buff, hush yuh mouth

  7. Trinidad has succeeded in achieving an amazing level of emptiness. And yet.

  8. Ent the Commissioner now suggesting more prayers?

  9. Totally agree..the police could never garner public confidence and trust if they continue to bully the normal man on the street. Protect and Serve my ass…ask an officer a difficult question when you’re pulled over for something minor snd see how quickly it goes downhill!!

  10. That last quote in my mind is at the heart of what is eating this country from the inside out Keron King

  11. I’m curious Abby and Keron. Didn’t read the book so I’m not sure of the context.
    What is the benefit of crime to the society?

    • Many critical criminologists argue that the benefits of mishandling crime can be seen in lawyer fees, security firms who benefit from the fear of crime, the privatised prison industry (locally in terms of prison transport) the business of ‘safety’ i.e. the cost of bullet proof vests for law enforcement agents, vehicles, construction of jails, providing technological advancements to the facility, proving police departments with body warn cameras (BWCs), consultancy services to the police, corrections and gov’t, you might have seen Andy Johnson series on the Police Transformation of 2006. It cost TTO $91 million for that consultancy. Apparently all the consultant did was interview our police officers, and public officials and in a report suggested a transformation plan that comprised of everything we as a ppl knew already. But to be fair to the consultant he did suggest a creation of a few units to aid in the transformation. The extent to which these units are doing such is questionable. Thee 2002 Prison Transformation document is a similar story. Of all the recommendations in the 2002 Prison Transformation Report one of the few that has been implemented is the creation of more executive leadership positions. The other sweeping changes is yet to be seen. But to be fair to them they will argue that they have implemented rehabilitation programmes however I am not convinced.

    • When I think just of the academic programs that have developed since 2006. We have about 12-15 academic programs across 6 educational institutions… The whole situation is awful if you ask me…

    • I should note though that Menninger was offering a critique to the heavy reliance on punishment as a response to crime and how such a response was beneficial to certain segments of society without actually dealing with the crime problem

  12. You know Lasana Liburd for better or for worse I am boxed in by empiricism so I like to see numbers however trying to analyse crime in TT is tough because good data is hard to come by and although I appreciate Shah’s column I will say this though all ah we ain’t dead although I agree with Raffique’s analysis for the most part. Last year the TTPS took 600 or so guns off the street and it failed to affect the violent crime rate. The idea that our Coast Guard cannot prevent these guns from coming is hurtful and a slap in our face. But yes things are bad in TT the murder rate has increased over 400% over the last two decades and our efforts at detection is awful. The TTPS needs to take serious measures to increase their relationship with the public if this detection rate is to ever move in the right direction. But we not all dead because a 2012 national survey (Wallace 2012) revealed that the vast majority of our citizens are still willing to work with the police, this finding validates a 2002 survey (Deosaran 2002) that had a similar finding. My own research in Laventille suggests that the residents are ready and willing but my work in this area is a bit preliminary. But I find hope in knowing that there were only two violent deaths in Beetham for the year and one was as a result of a foolish New Years Day accident. And I understand, very anecdotally of-course, that a partnership between the police and the community is responsible for this. Additionally the Arima Police Station District has recorded over 50% reduction in homicide over the last four years. I do not know as yet what explains the decrease but inspite of how bad things are we are not all dead. However when I think of this small arms and light weapons issue in TT I am forced to adopt inescapable conclusion of Karl Menninger in his book The Crime of Punishment “ that society secretly wants crime, needs crime and gains definite satisfactions from the present mishandling of it.”

  13. ..illegal guns by the thousands..murder spree continues..school gyal has no respect for police..a state of paralysis.. .I can only ask God to protect the law-abiders..like myself..

  14. Strange how macroeconomics affects microeconomics …. Anyone who thinks fighting crime is not a governmental issues lets research Mexico, Colombia, China and Haiti…. Research before you talk and you see history repeats itself…

  15. Raff left out one line. He should’ve borrowed that line from Chris Rock, “There! I said it!” to end the column .

  16. The government of Trinidad and Tobago do know who illegally bring drugs and guns into our country. In addition they receive reports from the FBI, DEA, Scotland yard and INTERPOL on possible people and business place that interact with other crime networks and people who actually carry out possible crimes.
    Listen there is such an Under-World in Trinidad and they legitimately fund Governments.
    As i said and i will say it before most Trinidadians live in there own World and really have no idea what really goes on in Politics and the daily running of our country.
    Too bad SWAT was taken apart by KAMALA when she was Prime Minister…. DID YOU EVER QUESTION WHY???

  17. Though, the government is not solely responsible for crime, the government has a responsibility to protrct and serve the interest of the population, National Security of the citizenry is the responsibility of the government who in turn seek support from other institutions and other agencies to ensure that compliance to the laws of the land are upheld.

  18. I don’t know where to begin, I would start by saying that parents are losing grip of their children. When I hear people complaing that their 14 year old son or daughter is uncontrollable it is actually a reflection of what goes on within the home environment. Needless to say the situation is further compounded by the education system that has no room for stragglers. These are often the children with social and domestic issues, that go unnoticed and undocumented during the tenure at school. By the time it’s picked up it maybe far gone and out of control where the gang leaders, and drug lords takke this opportunity to prey on the now vulnerable individuals who seeks attention.

  19. Where to start?

    Crime fighting isn’t the government’s responsibility, we aren’t subjects of a crown. Crime fighting isn’t the police force’s responsibility, they aren’t super heroes. Crime fighting isn’t the citizenry’s responsibility, they aren’t trained for the task.
    The fact is it takes ALL three working in concert to tackle crime. When the crime rate escalates in a particular police division, the citizenry has a responsibility to hold that division’s commander to account, he needs to communicate to those citizens that he is aware of the situation and assure them in words and deeds that it is being addressed.
    When if the crime rate in that particular police division continues to escalate then the citizenry has the responsibility to take the matter to their Member Parliament demanding that the division commander be sacked and replaced.
    The government has the responsibility to write legislation that would gove law enforcement as well as the justice system the tools needed to arrest and prosecute criminals effectively and efficiently.

  20. Not only from crime

    From poor environmental and safety standards

    This island a graveyard

  21. So dam true…. The innocent law abiding citizens get tax again and are targeted by Police and Criminals…. I have heard the Government distinguish that they are nit the ones to be blamed for lessening crime and this was said in parliament. Yes pushing the blame and responsibility on the Police service.
    Another thing only when it comes to take citizens money is the only time the government move in a quick manner. So see the signs for what they are!
    Tax the innocent the Government does for if they really wanted to solve crime they would have dealt with the companies the bring in drugs, guns and humans on ports and our waters…
    In addition would fight crime with technology advancements, for instance all police stations still lose reports or never take them in the first place while being funded by drug lords and even exercise hiding guns and selling guns to criminals.
    I know most citizen in Trinidad drive to work then back home so they live in their own World and really don’t have a sense to what really goes on but as we can see the boogy man is getting closer and closer to home and all they going to do is blame the poor ass young people again and not there negligence as leaders and fail no tolerance policies. So let them let the jail get over crowded and not learn to Lead you not to be kind and just on all fronts.

  22. Whose duty is it to patrol the air and sea borders of T&T? There are large holes in our security fence as Immigration, Customs, Police, and the TTDF have all been infiltrated by greedy persons.

    Yet, those agencies do not make policy. As such, what have the policy makers done to ensure that there is accountability and proper management of these agencies?

    Who is held accountable when uniforms belonging to the TTR are found in the hands of criminals? when last have you heard of persons accounting for that?
    Why are there so many illegal immigrants in this country going about with impunity?
    Do Chinese groceries and restaurants pay NIS, BIR and other taxes? Where are the compliance officers?

    We are paying for the greed, laziness and nearsightedness of policy makers. that is what we get when we elect people based on their colour jerseys (red or yellow) and not based on their ability to get the job done.

    Mr. Shah, why haven’t you spoken on the failing of a soldier to carry out his mission; that being Retired Maj Gen Dillon. Has he gone AWOL? When a soldier fails in their mission, what action must be taken against them? Or rather, what should that soldier do?

    Has he done sufficient work in the 8 months he has been ’employed’?

    • …and doh talk about the Prisons Service…..that whole system has rotted.

      • We need to also speak about the unrest and hardships in Venezuela and the effect that will have on our security. We can expect to see an influx in illegal migrants from there and more pirating. Are we prepared for that?

  23. Failed state? Far from it.

    Guns and ammo are the result of the illegal drug trade. Drugs come in. Go out. Money and guns are left behind.

    Youth lawlessness? Thats a result of us tryiing to be a developed nation where liberals have the upper hand. And speaking of hand that’s exactly what we need. Somebody need to put discipline on those children and most…not all…will straighten right up.

    • Nattie: Some of the drugs stays here; it is used as currency.

      BTW: Has anyone asked how the drug runners in this country get US currency to pay for their illegal goods (Guns and drugs)? They buy in bulk and need large amounts of US dollars, where do they get it from, considering the average person can’t?

  24. Frightening. ….yet not surprising..