Twenty-four murders in a seven-day period in the past week in Trinidad have so shaken up the sensibilities of people on the island that various umbrella groups have said the country is close to a breaking point as it relates to violent crime and now authorities have asked the public to help them identify the leaders behind the spike.
Security Minister Stuart Young late Sunday, July 21, summoned an emergency news conference to update the nation on measures, including greater use of the crime stoppers anonymous initiative, to stem the latest outbreak of violent crime but most locals think that this is too little to late.
This is as police have recorded 300 killings for the year so far, placing the oil and gas-rich republic with Tobago on course to surpass the 2008 record of 550 murders.
Police Chief Gary Griffith complained bitterly in recent days about a bitter, bloody fight between gangs vying for state construction and other contracts, saying that perhaps nowhere else in the world would the state help to finance gangs rather than suffocate their activities by choking off their money supply. This is the case on the island he said, calling for an immediate halt.
“It is very difficult for the police service to try to provide safety and security to a country when the state continues to facilitate major contracts for gang members. This is not the first time and I hope it could come to an end one day.”
Authorities have also in the past blamed drugs and weapons smuggling from the nearby South American mainland for the constant battle with murders, kidnappings and other forms of violent crime.
Local media—including the sometimes combative Guardian newspaper—reported that many of the gun killings not only occurred in broad daylight but also in public places in full view of onlookers. This has shaken public sensibilities to the core the paper said, noting that crime had reached “the breaking point.”
Both the local and American Chamber of Commerce also weighed in, saying that tougher, innovative measures are needed to stop the national bleeding.
“We called a board meeting to discuss the matter because we believe that extreme action needs to be taken to address the current crime situation in T&T. The private sector is doing something, the police commission and his leadership are meeting with the private sector and we are working on things. However, it is clear that more needs to be done,” said Chief Executive Gabriel Faria.
For their part, the Americans said violent crime has been going on too long and a systematic response is needed as criminals are holding the country at ransom.
“What we need is a systemic approach to arresting crime, so yes we need to do some things that lead to perpetrators being put behind bars but those perpetrators are not just the young boys on the street. They are the people who are facilitating money laundering, who are financing crime, and we have systematically and aggressively gone after those people as well, otherwise we are not going to get anything done. I think what we need is a much more targeted intelligence-led forensically supported approach to dismantling the structures that facilitate the crime,” said CEO Nirad Tewarie.
The island with the largest economy in the Caribbean Community has been blighted by violent crime for decades but it appears that the time has come for concerted action against gangsters and those in high society who fund them.