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Letter to the editor: Stale noose! Murder rate needs objective solutions not raw emotion

The following Letter to the Editor on the emotive response to the murder of Shannon Banfield was submitted to Wired868 by Kenna Clarke:

“Bring back the noose!” is the sentiment expressed by many following the murder of Shannon Banfield. Her tragic death shook us to our core. If a young and innocent girl can be murdered off one of the busiest streets in Port of Spain in broad daylight, are we really safe anywhere?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago has reacted with shock and anger at the inexplicable murder of Shannon Banfield.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago has reacted with shock and anger at the inexplicable murder of Shannon Banfield.

We are not only grieving for Shannon; we are grieving for our lost sense of security. We are angry and we want justice. The hardest part is that we don’t know how to rid ourselves of this feeling of powerlessness.

At a critical junction like this, objectivity and strategy is needed—not raw emotions. We can’t let this feeling of despair and powerlessness cause us to lose our humanity like her killers. We must be strategic and channel our collective anger discerningly.

After Shannon’s death, much of the ensuing conversations revolved around the reintroduction of the death penalty. But how can the death penalty be a deterrent for crime if no one is ever convicted?

Six percent of all murderers are successfully prosecuted in Trinidad. You have a 94 percent chance of walking away scot-free. If I were a killer, I would gladly take those odds.

But more importantly, our premise is wrong to begin with. Just because you are afraid of being hanged, doesn’t mean that the persons committing the murders are. Which is why capital punishment never works as a crime deterrent.

Everyone who commits premeditated murder expects to beat the system. They don’t think of the consequences of being caught because they always assume that they are smarter than the system/police. Hence in countries or states where capital punishment is still carried out, there is no reduction in crime.

Photo: The hangman's noose. (Copyright AYV News)
Photo: The hangman’s noose.
(Copyright AYV News)

Yet the average Trinidadian will insist that re-instituting the death penalty is solid policy.

Having lived in a few OECD countries across 3 continents, you know what I have realised makes developed countries developed? They follow the evidence!

They are not inherently smarter or less violent. Instead, developed countries recognise that we all may have slightly different culture from each other, but much of the research holds true across the board. If the proposed solution has never worked, they try something new and/or different. After all, isn’t the purpose of education to learn from our/others mistakes?

Do we even know the root of crime? Why do some of these fellas find it so easy to take a life?

We can’t solve a problem unless we correctly identify the problem. We keep throwing solutions at the wall hoping they will stick but with little effort to properly characterise the problem.

A National Day of Prayer or the death penalty will not work because they do nothing to address the root of crime. So what are some solutions?

More police officers on the street does nothing to curb the cause of crime. It’s not even an efficient band aid. We already have one of the highest number of police officers in the world—76 per 10,000 citizens—and that clearly hasn’t done anything to reduce crime. So let’s try a different approach.

Photo: The Wizard of Id cartoon.
Photo: The Wizard of Id cartoon.

Maybe we can address social issues instead. Income inequality in Trinidad and Tobago is horrid. One of the best indicators of crime is not how poor a country is—that, surprisingly, doesn’t have any correlation with crime—it is in fact the disparity between rich and poor.

So why not look at policies designed to lessen this disparity. It worked in a post-great depression America in addition to a slew of other countries more recently.

We can build a society where you can succeed in multiple avenues and nurture the various talents of our children and not tie academics to their self-worth. Just like we have open scholarships for our academically inclined, we should give the same number of scholarships to youths who show promise in music, sports and the arts.

Another solution would be a top down approach to crime.

You know what would send shock waves through the criminal community? If the government went after corruption at the top level. That sends the message that there is accountability and no one is above the law.

The average Trinbagonian doesn’t need a research paper emanating from UWI to know that laws are not implemented equally across the board. If I were to get caught with a joint in front of a police officer, most likely I will be arrested. Change my name and complexion and the outcome would most likely be quite different.

Many people live that experience. They may not be able to articulate the injustice but they sure feel it. If you want the public to regain trust in the governance, they have to see laws being enforced at the highest levels.

Photo: Former "Honourable" Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former “Honourable” Government Ministers Anil Roberts (left) and Jack Warner.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Accountability doesn’t start at the bottom and work its way up. It must be a top down approach. This isn’t just my myopic opinion. It’s one of the actions that took Singapore from being a poor shipping outpost to a financial behemoth.

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew prosecuted party officials and their family members engaged corruption harsher than Joe Public to send the message that corruption will not be tolerated at any level. He gained the unstinting trust of the public as a result. He may not have been liked by everyone, but he sure was respected.

Lastly, how about the police actually solve crime. Detection rates are low, overtime is high, and crime is going from bad to worse. A complete overhaul of how the police conducts itself is needed.

Many of us want a panacea for crime, unfortunately there is none. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. There is work to be done. Let us not shirk our responsibilities and blame everyone but ourselves for the crime problem.

It didn’t happen overnight and it will not be solved overnight. Let’s get to work!

Photo: Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Photo: Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

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  1. Good article. ‘Objectivity and strategy is needed-not raw emotions’- I cannot agree more.

  2. High police per capita. Let’s just ignore the number of officers on vacation leave and officers on the payroll that do next to nothing. Our highways are full of police on patrol and us citizens are always concerned about being stopped and ticketed by the police for the slightest traffic infringement.

  3. Yakuza, Triad, and the various incarnates of the Mafia, exist in various countries around the world. These same countries are ripe with white collar crime and untouchable bosses and yet still the violent crime rate is still lower than sweet TnT and the other countries of similar ilk. Let’s just keep pretending.

    • Yakuza has a rule though: Violence is bad for business. There are few mafia murders in Japan, not because they are not violent, but if they act up too much, they know the government would come after them with an iron fist. There is no fear of prosecution for white collar criminals in Trinidad. They know own the politicians and are untouchable.

  4. Well written article. Agree with all Kenna’s points. He has my support for the soon to be vacant CoP position or better yet the next Minister of National Security. Maybe we’ll finally get lucky and have a competent person in one of the above positions. I don’t recall the last time we’ve had an even partially successful CoP or Minister of National Security. On a side note I recently read about the escalating crime situation in Chicago. Gangs apparently are the prime source of this fast moving crime wave. Parallels exist between the escalating crime in Chicago and escalating crime in Trini. An intervention is needed. The youths are bored.


  5. The death penalty is not a deterrent for crime. It is your PUNISHMENT. That’s all.

  6. Its not the police its the courts .where justice is not being serve but is instead serving baib bail and more bail and by doing that. it is frustrating the efforts of the police who have to be continually holding the same set of criminals over and over and over.people who should have been given jail time instead of bail.But nobody ain’t coming out and putting the blame on the justice system they are only blaming the police

  7. All excellent points in this letter. Although Lasana I have not lived in Trinidad for the past 9 years, my family and myself have been victims of this phenomena. My Aunt was murdered this year. Even though the family cannot speak, we do have our suspicions. The police never looked in that direction. Starting from the top going down would be a great place to start. The issue is, who do we use to start from the top to take this initiative?

    • Seems the pattern of the police. Family member house broken into. Told police about who.they suspected. Nothing done-not even.dusted for prints. Over a month later they went and search the person house to say they did not find anything.

    • Obviously. Smh. My Aunt’s murder may go unsolved. Even though I also know we as a society watch tok many crime shows, there has to be protocol and somewhere to start. You telling me nowhere?? Smh.

    • Ihu. The frustration is the feeling that the police are not even trying. If they had dusted for fingerprints, asked neighbours if anyone had seen anything, then you would have some level of comfort they were trying. With all these missing people, do we have dogs trained to find ppl. Imagine if a dog had picked up this poor girl’s scent in.the store. I reiterate, that is if we were serious about crime. Which we are not.

    • The saddest thing is when people see the police involved in crime themselves or fraternising with criminals, it makes it even more dangerous to be a witness.
      I’m really sorry about your aunt Jonelle. 🙁

    • Thanks Lasana. This happened in June. I’m still angry

    • That will happen everywhere you go. I think the pronlem is the reocurrence and the amount of times it has happened. Police have been giving mediocre service for too long. I know very few hard working officers who actually uphold the law. Ive seen even more who break it. How many people have used the phrase “ah know ah police…he go fix meh up” It goes back to the entitlement gene. That needs to stop so that things can actually be done the right way…whatever that is.

  8. Crime will only be solved if we start at the individual and family level….and for the citizenry to hold politicians and the police service accountable for their action or inaction

  9. Who’s the Bess in the picture?

  10. I do agree with.the point about the death penalty as a deterrent but my reason different. Why must the tax payer pay huge sum to feed, clothe, shelter and secure convicted murderers. Heard a suggestion by someone they should pay to take care of the family of the person whose life they took. (Do they earn income in prison?)

  11. “A complete overhaul of how the police conducts itself is needed.”
    When the two Canadian officers tried to do this they were run out of the country.
    And we are proud to say or reference that they weren’t fit for the job.
    The fact is the crime will continue until you have a police service that is not corrupted from top to bottom.

  12. Straight to the point ! I have always said that the answer to reducing crime is when the crime bosses are caught and convicted . We need the judiciary to step up and deliver the deterrents this place so badly needs .

  13. Excellent point Keron. So what would we keep and what would we throw away?
    I do hope to get a longer analysis of this from you. But if you were to give a suggestion what would it be?

    • I’ll try and do a longer piece but my suggestion would surround local community control of justice

      • KK,
        if that’s where you’re going, you want to ensure that you apply for a patent or whatever is the relevant equivalent. There’s a very good chance that your ideas will end up in a political manifesto for some upcoming elections but, of course, you will get none of the credit.

        In fact, if you were that way inclined, you could probably make some serious money by selling your ideas to the highest bidder. This intellectualism that people like you and Kenna and Wired868 and a handful of its readers encourage by fostering free and frank public discussion in today’s materialistic world is a completely passe notion.

  14. I believe Kenna is a “he” in this case though. Will try to add him to group when possible.

  15. 🙂 thanks to Kenna for this letter. He advances a very intriguing idea that what separates us from the developed nations is that they ‘follow the evidence’. (a claim that needs some support but i’ll entertain it for now) But I do find this true of many other systems in TT, the education system comes to mind. I also agree that the process to fixing this crime situation would be long and difficult but not in the sense the author suggests. I think the fundamental issue is that our CJS is working the way it was designed. As such his charge of “lets get to work”, whilst important, must first be preceded with an agreement of what is the work we must get to. And IMO that work is answering the following question; how do we design a justice system that works for all whilst dismantling the present colonial one?

    • How about starting with an automatic fine for attorneys or policement who do not turn up to court when the case is called and have no good excuse for causing an unnecessary adjournment? Also a time limit for judges to deliver verdicts. Why is it that a judge can deliver verdicts long after the cases have been heard? If it is case loads, appoint more temp judges. We have to start doing something if only to reduce drastically the remand population. All these can be done while they work out the final design. Time to get the show on the road!

    • Isn’t there a time limit in law for a judgment to be delivered?

  16. I like the top down approach….in total agreement there

  17. She could not have said it better!

    I would however add that while we hav so many policemen, they are not ‘on the beat’. If they are in a vehicle (possibly about their own business) you can flagrantly commit a traffic offence without evn considering that they police would intervene. We need the TTPS visibly working as part of th move against crime. I include here the un-uniformed personnel driving marked cars, turning on sirens to miss traffic or get the kids to school on time and behaving as though they can transgress minor laws because thy are police.

    I had hoped that this government would have come in and mad the hard decisions, but I am still waiting. That is all part of getting rid of corruption and we know that there is nothing visible there yet!

    • Not the point of the discussion but I called a police station to complain about noise @1 am. Officer says…what noise. Hold on let me go outside and hear. Then, we did not get any complaints about noise so now we can deal with it. So, when you patrolling in a residential area if you hear loud music at that hour, you do nothing? When you driving on the bus route and see a number of private vehicles without PBR passes, you do nothing? If we can’t deal with small issues, how we dealing with murder and white collar crime.