Gangsters be warned: this is a war you will not win.
That’s the message from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday to people in communities who feel they can engage the police in gunfights.
To bolster “hotspot” communities plagued by gun violence and which are genuinely hurting, however, Rowley also announced a recovery team to foster good order and engage in reconciliation.
Rowley addressed the issues yesterday following protests in parts of Trinidad during the first three days of the week. The protests were sparked by last weekend’s alleged extra-judicial killings of Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Noel Diamond and Israel Clinton. The PM extended condolences to the families of the three men, relatives of PC Allen Moseley, who was killed in an encounter hours before the men were killed and those of Ornella Greaves, who was killed during a confrontation between Beetham Gardens residents and the police during one of Tuesday’s protests in the capital.
“T&T has five dead people, grieving families and a bruised nation…looking to the future hoping this would be a thing of the past,” Rowley said.
The Prime Minister said the protests were organised and there was evidence people with political ambitions associating with criminal elements were involved. He also made it clear the police must ensure they maintain public trust and urged that various authorities expedite their probes on the killings.
Rowley said killings and firearm use causes members of communities to express themselves in outrage, anger, sadness and hope, “…Hope that justice would be served for all those who deserve justice…and that we’d find a way out of this situation where our young people especially wouldn’t be resorting to the kind of mob behaviour—or worse, organised by the criminal elements, in their search for justice or revenge.”
He said he sympathised with those who were calling for justice in the killings of the Morvant residents.
“I believe all those calling for justice are completely correct and I find a common cause with them, those who are demanding revenge, I warn against that approach.
Violence can’t be ignored
“So those who want to protest because of what or how they feel, or want to draw to the attention of those in authority in the country that is protected by law and there is nothing wrong with that. When it turns to violence and destruction, then that is a different story which cannot be encouraged or cannot be ignored.”
To those with firearms who think they can engage the police in firefights and win, he warned, “As long as we are awash with firearms and there are individuals in the communities who believe they could engage the police in a firefight, and we do have young men who believe that, we say to them that is a war that you will never win and you shouldn’t declare. The police isn’t your enemy—the police is the protector and server of all.’’
Asked about threats by gangsters against police officers, he said, “The fact that we are accepting there are gangs is bad enough. The gangs, if they exist as they do, if they identify the police as a common enemy, then what is happening here would be the worsening of a bad situation.”
Ghost of Lifesport programme
He said those who had a hand in Tuesday’s occurrences were adding to the already bad situation.
“So for those contributing to this chronic situation, it is a worsening of an already bad situation and to them we say run your run. Some of them are two by four politicians, some of them are hardened criminals for whom crime does pay.”
Rowley also said the People’s Partnership’s government’s Lifesport programme created a criminal network still haunting T&T to date, which made it easy to organise what was seen recently. He said many of the same Lifesport players are now at work.
On whether warring gangs had united to fight police on Tuesday, Rowley said he was very concerned about this and gang activity. If gangs identified police as a common enemy, he said it was worsening of a bad situation and of very great concern.
Stop looking through barrel of a gun
If people have illegal arms, Prime Minister Dr Kewith Rowley says the police will also have to be armed. But he urged gang members to “… put down this life of crime and stop looking at your future through the barrel of a gun.”
He said the bigger problem in Tuesday’s protests was just how much was in motion and how much of it was by prior agenda. He said there was sufficient information to show T&T’s exposed to a situation where many young people have obtained firearms for their protection from others like criminals, out of fear of criminal conduct against them or to use against people targeted by criminals.
He said it was quite understood that with the level of armed people, the response will be armed police.
“When those two situations come together, as is commonplace in T&T – it’s not unexpected there will be outcomes of this nature,” Rowley said.
“Today, I’m appealing to the young people – and not so young – of this country, when you take up arms for whatever reason, you automatically put yourselves in harm’s way with respect to law enforcement because the only response the state will provide in that situation is an armed contingent…”
However, Rowley said the police must respond within the law and if they require justice, they must not pursue revenge and they must be exposed to the “rigours of evidence,“
Rowley noted one regional country with communities plagued by gun violence and which had areas where police couldn’t patrol.
“That ended very badly for those communities, those people and that country – we will not allow that to develop in T&T,” he said.
He acknowledged Government’s resolve to prevent gun violence will bring authorities face-to-face with those who see violence as success. But Rowley said, “We’ll work against it and do an alternative. That alternative today is establishment of a National Community Recovery programme aimed at these problem areas which give birth and sustenance to the lawlessness, hurt, anger, discrimination and all the negatives associated with ‘hotspots.’”