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Monday, October 26, 2020
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Dealing with crime

We are spending a lot of our resources, which could be put to better use, in trying to control criminal activity and punishing criminals by putting them in jail, that is, that is the ones that are apprehended and processed through our criminal justice system. If we were more successful in our efforts, we would have to build more jails and staff them, which would put a greater strain on our resources. Bearing in mind that criminal activity is non-productive and, in fact, destructive, perhaps we should exercise our minds on finding ways to discourage people from committing crimes, in other words, penal reform.
 
Many citizens are looking forward to see the government take effective measures to reduce crime, in general, and violent crimes, in particular, and are anxious that the work of dealing with crime begin as a matter of urgency. But, it is not reasonable to expect the government to rush into the breach precipitately or to take action without careful consideration and consultation.
 
People are entitled to expect their governments to protect them against predators. This is the term I would use to describe citizens who have chosen as their occupation to use might or cunning to do harm or deprive other citizens of what belongs to them, including their lives.
 
In its objective to provide peace, order and good government, the first duty of our political leaders is to ensure that the property, well being and lives of its citizens are taken care of. To this end, and because of the escalation of crimes in their countries, the CARICOM Heads of State met and decided to adopt two very potent measures to fight crime.
 
It has been announced that the government is considering the introduction of the two measures agreed on by the CARICOM Heads of State. Reaction has been swift and severely critical by one of our well-respected journalists in an open letter to the Prime Minister published in last week’s Sunday edition of Amandala. Mr. Frankie Rhys is so regarded, as I have seen very little criticism of the views he has expressed on a variety of subjects. He does not see anything that can be done to these measures that might make them serve their purposes without doing great harm to the body politic. In his view, the proposed cures for our ailments are worse than the afflictions themselves. I don’t agree. Let us discuss the measures.
 
Firstly, it is proposed that there should be a law to give power to the appropriate authority to remove certain individuals from their accustomed places of association and put them somewhere else for a limited period of time in the interest of public safety. In effect, really, to take away their freedom without cause except that in the opinion of someone or someones, he or she is a danger to others. When put like that, the reaction of those of us who believe strongly in civil liberties will be to reject such a proposal, and yet, there are certain circumstances when this could be the preferred action on the part of the appropriate authority. Let us say that a prominent member of one of the established crime organizations which we call gangs, has been killed by a member of a rival gang. Everyone knows that this calls for reprisal against the killer but, it does not stop there.   Members of the offended gang who have personal grievances, will not be averse to taking the opportunity to kill a member or members of the offending gang. Furthermore, gang members do not seem to care who gets hurt when they are shooting at another human target. There is no due process in gang affairs. Invoking and acting upon a law like preventive detention, might serve in such a situation.
 
But, there is a problem. There would be the need for the proper authority to know the identity of gang members. So. There would be the need before such a law can be put into effect for some serious intelligence to be made to discover and put on record the particulars of each gang member in special confidential files in the Ministry of National Security. It would be easier to administer a Preventive Detention law if the established gangs, which everyone knows are criminal organizations, are outlawed. This does not close the case for the defence of the Preventive Detention law. It is only an attempt to show that it may have some merit. Let the exchange of views begin.  
 
The other proposal is to empower the proper authority in the interests of Public Safety to intercept communication between persons engaged in or seeking to commit crimes, in other words, taking away a citizen’s right to private communication. Here, I am in agreement with Mr. Rhys with one exception. I am in favor of a law against dealing in guns without a license with the most severe penalties for infractions. The men who provide guns to the gang members who do the bidding of the drug dealers. They put inordinate power in the hands of individuals who, in addition to carrying out the orders of their bosses, use them to commit most of the violent crimes in our society. The objective to be realized would be to stop the drug dealers from using guns in the preferred way to exercise control over their organizations, protect their businesses and punish their enemies. It is the most efficient way to kill with the least risk to the gunman. If guns were taken out of the hands of these hirelings, they would find other ways to intimidate and kill. Then, guns would be at a premium and it would be necessary to increase security on armories and licensed dealers’ storerooms ten fold but, there would be a reduction in the number of murders.
 
There is great danger in giving anyone the power to exercise surveillance of communication between private persons because, how can we be sure that it will not be abused? The fact is we cannot be absolutely sure, but is this sufficient reason why the initiative should be abandoned when the objective is so much to be desired? I think not. I would suggest that the power to issue warrants to intercept private communication should be given only to a judge or a commissioner of the Supreme Court.
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