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Over 2,000 people murdered by gangs in Trinidad and Tobago; country has 2,458 gang members

By Joel Julien

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(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — Gangs are re­spon­si­ble for the mur­ders of at least 2,100 peo­ple in this coun­try ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the Trinidad and To­ba­go Po­lice Ser­vice (TTPS).

Last year alone, there were 179 mur­ders cat­e­gorised as gang-re­lat­ed. And the gang killings have con­tin­ued this year.

Apart from the killings, gangs have al­so been re­spon­si­ble for nu­mer­ous wound­ings, shoot­ings, rob­beries and oth­er vi­o­lent crimes.

More than 4,600 gang-re­lat­ed guns have al­so been seized since 2010.

Gangs are a prob­lem. And ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics, it’s a grow­ing one.

In 2006, there were 95 gangs with 1,269 mem­bers op­er­at­ing in T&T. Ten years lat­er in 2016, that fig­ure rose to 172 gangs with 2,358 mem­bers.

While two gangs in par­tic­u­lar, “Ras­ta City” and “Mus­lim,” are the most eas­i­ly iden­ti­fi­able in terms of names there are more than 200 now op­er­at­ing in the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures, there are 211 gangs op­er­at­ing in T&T with 2,458 mem­bers. These gangs are lit­tered through­out Trinidad and To­ba­go.

So what ex­act­ly is a gang?

Ac­cord­ing to the An­ti-Gang Act 2018, a gang is “a com­bi­na­tion of two or more per­sons, whether for­mal­ly or in­for­mal­ly or­gan­ised, who en­gage in gang-re­lat­ed ac­tiv­i­ty.”

There are 46 of­fences list­ed as gang-re­lat­ed ac­tiv­i­ties ac­cord­ing to the First Sched­ule of the An­ti-Gang Act in­clud­ing ex­tor­tion, rape and sex­u­al groom­ing.

The An­ti-Gang Act was as­sent­ed to on May 15 last year. It is de­scribed as “an Act to make pro­vi­sion for the main­te­nance of pub­lic safe­ty and or­der through dis­cour­ag­ing mem­ber­ship of crim­i­nal gangs and the sup­pres­sion of crim­i­nal gang ac­tiv­i­ty and for oth­er re­lat­ed mat­ters.”

Where did T&T gang ac­tiv­i­ty be­gin?

A 2010 study done by Charles Katz and David Choate for the Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­tre for Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion and Com­mu­ni­ty Safe­ty, School of Crim­i­nol­o­gy and Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, ti­tled Di­ag­nos­ing Trinidad and To­ba­go’s Gang Prob­lem, tried to an­swer just where gang ac­tiv­i­ty be­gan in this coun­try.

“Of the gangs in Trinidad and To­ba­go, 26 per cent trace their date of ori­gin pri­or to 2000, while the re­main­der orig­i­nat­ed af­ter 2000,” the study said.

“Gangs in Trinidad and To­ba­go are typ­i­cal­ly small­er than gangs in Latin Amer­i­ca and the Unit­ed States and typ­i­cal­ly do not have link­ages with gangs in oth­er parts of the re­gion or in oth­er coun­tries.

“This con­trasts with some of the larg­er gangs in Latin Amer­i­ca, which have con­nec­tions to oth­er gangs with­in their re­gion and in the Unit­ed States,” it stat­ed.

The year 2000 is a sig­nif­i­cant year be­cause it was the first year gang-re­lat­ed mur­ders en­tered the TTPS’ sta­tis­tics. In that year four gang-re­lat­ed mur­ders were record­ed. It was one of on­ly two years when the fig­ure was in sin­gle dig­its. Eight years lat­er in 2008, more than half the mur­ders that year were gang-re­lat­ed. There were 278 gang-re­lat­ed mur­ders that year.

The ma­jor­i­ty of gang mem­bers are said to be young adult males be­tween the ages of 18 and 45.

“More specif­i­cal­ly, 26.1 per cent were be­tween the ages of 18 and 21, 25.4 per cent were be­tween 22 and 25, and 33.7 per cent were be­tween 26 and 35.

On­ly a small pro­por­tion (5.3 per cent) of the mem­bers in the sam­ple were 17 or younger at the time of the in­ter­view, where­as 8 per cent were be­tween the ages of 36 and 45, and 1.5 per cent were be­tween the ages of 46 and 55,” the Katz and Choate study stat­ed.

What is the lure of gangs?

To an­swer this, crim­i­nol­o­gist Prof Ramesh De­osaran be­lieves we need to go back 50 years when “gangs were for crick­et, foot­ball, lim­ing and a lit­tle delin­quen­cy like steal­ing man­goes to­geth­er.”

“But what hap­pened over the years is one, you had a com­mu­ni­ty in­fra­struc­ture break­down, that is the whole ques­tion of recre­ation­al fa­cil­i­ties, the ques­tion of peer group ac­tiv­i­ties like Boys Scouts and then you had the ex­pan­sion of the sec­ondary school sys­tem where quan­ti­ty was more im­por­tant than the qual­i­ty lead­ing to a num­ber of fast-ris­ing dropouts,” De­osaran told the Sun­day Guardian.

“Young peo­ple be­ing mar­gin­alised, and the young males re­al­ly lost their pres­ence in the coun­try, you have a sharp class di­vi­sion where the well to do keep on be­ing well to do and those work­ing-class homes and work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties have been falling by the way­side, so now we are reap­ing all the dele­te­ri­ous con­se­quences off of our fal­ter­ing ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, com­mu­ni­ty in­fra­struc­ture break down and parental break down too.”

He added, “And the at­trac­tive­ness now for young peo­ple are out­side these in­sti­tu­tions. The at­trac­tion is now on the cor­ner lim­ing with drugs, guns com­ing in which re­in­force the gang cul­ture, so now we have an ex­plo­sion of gang­ster­ism and even though you lock up some of them or they shoot one an­oth­er, there is a long suc­ces­sion line be­hind where the sup­ply side for gang­ster­ism and vi­o­lence is quite sta­t­ic, it is al­ways there and you have to find out now more deeply, apart from pun­ish­ing and sen­tenc­ing and so on you have to find out where is the sup­ply side.”

Renée Cum­mings, a New York-based Trinida­di­an-born crim­i­nol­o­gist and crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gist who spe­cialis­es in vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion and homi­cide re­duc­tion and pro­vides law en­force­ment and vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion train­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ly, agreed.

“Gangs are shaped by so­cial, eco­nom­ic and po­lit­i­cal cur­rents. Gangs al­so de­vel­op in re­la­tion to the eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment of a com­mu­ni­ty. Com­mu­ni­ties lay­ered with ad­verse so­cial con­di­tions cre­ate the con­text for gang pro­lif­er­a­tion be­cause there’s a volatile com­bi­na­tion of mul­ti­ple lev­els of mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion and a col­lec­tive dis­po­si­tion of fa­tal­ism, ni­hilism and in­ter­gen­er­a­tional crim­i­nal­i­ty,” Cum­mings said.

“We must al­so ex­am­ine the labour mar­ket and how un­em­ploy­ment cor­re­lates with par­tic­i­pa­tion in gang ac­tiv­i­ty. Crim­i­nal­i­ty is very flex­i­ble and many young men and women move in and out of gang ac­tiv­i­ty as a way to sup­ple­ment their in­come in an econ­o­my that may not be pro­vid­ing many op­tions. Eco­nom­ic dis­place­ment of­ten pro­vides the hu­man re­sources gangs re­quire. Every­body is try­ing to get paid,” she said.

She said the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem al­so played a role in the prob­lem.

“The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem re­mains un­re­spon­sive to the needs of many boys and young men and con­tin­ues to pro­duce many who are un­suc­cess­ful in con­ven­tion­al so­ci­ety; sup­ply­ing a steady flow of tal­ent to gang­land. The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must em­brace in­no­v­a­tive learn­ing method­olo­gies and un­der­stand the im­pact ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences and ear­ly ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence can have on aca­d­e­mics, so­cial­i­sa­tion and chil­dren’s life out­comes,” Cum­mings said.

De­osaran said State-fund­ed make-work pro­grammes such as the Com­mu­ni­ty-Based En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and En­hance­ment Pro­gramme (CEPEP) and the Un­em­ploy­ment Re­lief Pro­gramme (URP) helped fos­ter “gang­ster­ism and com­mu­ni­ty ri­val­ry.”

Cum­mings said it is al­so “im­pos­si­ble to erad­i­cate gangs.”

“It is im­pos­si­ble to erad­i­cate gangs, but it is cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble to re­duce gang vi­o­lence us­ing a com­pre­hen­sive strat­e­gy of pre­ven­tion, in­ter­ven­tion and sup­pres­sion tac­tics. In Trinidad and To­ba­go, there’s been an over-re­liance on re­ac­tive polic­ing and sup­pres­sion tac­tics which have con­sis­tent­ly de­liv­ered lim­it­ed re­sults. Short-sight­ed get tough on crime poli­cies ac­tu­al­ly make gangs be­come more or­gan­ised and more vi­o­lent,” Cum­mings said.

“De­vot­ing more at­ten­tion and re­sources to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion would send a clear mes­sage that gang vi­o­lence will not be tol­er­at­ed.”

De­osaran said the State needs to find a way to make gangs less at­trac­tive and im­prove the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“A young man now go­ing in­to a gang finds that hav­ing a gun is more im­por­tant than five pass­es, so the au­thor­i­ties have to de­mys­ti­fy that con­nec­tion be­cause the priv­i­leges and fame that these gang mem­bers and the lead­ers get are in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion to what the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem of­fers. So un­less you break that con­nec­tion you will al­ways have a fes­ter­ing of gangs, vi­o­lent gangs with drugs and guns all over the place,” De­osaran said.

“His­tor­i­cal­ly, gangs have al­ways had a pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy to build its mem­ber­ship; dig­i­tal me­dia has now ex­tend­ed the reach of the gang. The so­lu­tion lies in un­der­stand­ing the ecol­o­gy of vi­o­lence and the in­ter-sec­tion­al­i­ty of mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion and in­equal­i­ty. Al­so, there are too many dys­func­tion­al spaces where the po­lice, the com­mu­ni­ty and the gov­ern­ment don’t work well to­geth­er and it makes it dif­fi­cult to ef­fec­tive­ly re­spond to vi­o­lence and de­liv­er da­ta-dri­ven vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion strate­gies,” said Cum­mings.

“Gang vi­o­lence is more than a law en­force­ment is­sue, it is al­so a pub­lic health prob­lem. While the po­lice must re­duce the avail­abil­i­ty of guns on the streets, gov­ern­ment poli­cies must de­crease the num­ber of mar­gin­alised young males.

“Polic­ing should al­so be com­mu­ni­ty-sen­si­tive, com­mu­ni­ty-fo­cused and com­mu­ni­ty-friend­ly. We al­so need to fo­cus on build­ing a strong ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, de­sign­ing ev­i­dence-based delin­quen­cy pre­ven­tion pro­grammes, tru­an­cy re­duc­tion ini­tia­tives and find­ing cre­ative ways to en­gage boys who are drop­ping out of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.”

This article was posted in its entirety as received by This media house does not correct any spelling or grammatical error within press releases and commentaries. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of, its sponsors or advertisers.

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