More than two years ago, the Anti-Gang Act, 2018 was proclaimed, making it an offence to be a member of a gang, to participate in, or contribute to, the activities of a gang, among other related offences. Police officers can thus arrest, without a warrant, anyone they have reasonable cause to believe is a gang leader or member.
The expectation was that with the introduction of tougher law, passed by a special majority in Parliament, there would be suppression of the gang activity that has been driving high levels of violence and murder in this country. Instead, the opposite seems to be the case, to the extent that warring gangs have now entered into a truce and joined forces to declare war on law and order.
There have been very few arrests and even fewer convictions under the law and big players in T&T’s criminal underworld, functioning in plain view, have become more brazen in conducting their illegal activities.
Rather than being forced into retreat, they are at large to the extent of maintaining a strong social media presence, flaunting their illicit high-powered weapons, hordes of cash and lavish lifestyles.
In recent days there have been reports of unified gangs mobilising to destabilise the country. This alone should be setting off alarms throughout the national security infrastructure, so it is perplexing that no charges have been laid against any of these gangsters plotting against T&T.
For close to two decades, according to studies by criminologists, these gangs have been increasing in size and reach, their exponential growth funded by money laundering and drug trafficking.
The small, fragmented groups that emerged from urban communities, gaining strength as they filled the vacuum created by the poverty and marginalisation in these areas, were estimated to number 95 gangs with approximately 1,269 members about 14 years ago. Last year, conservative estimates put the criminal gang members at more than 2,500 divided mainly between two warring entities, Rasta City and Muslims.
Law-abiding citizens living under siege from these ruthless rapists, killers and plunderers are yet to benefit from any of the relief promised with the passage of the Anti Gang Act or any of the other crime-fighting laws pushed through the two Houses of Parliament by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
The recent truce between Rasta City and Muslims will not bring a let-up to the bloodshed and the criminals have issued threats to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and T&T Police Service members which are yet to be met with any legal response.
There were significant blunders made under the predecessor to the existing law when, during the state of emergency in 2011, several gang members were arrested and charged, then released. To add insult to that injury, the state was forced to pay them large sums of money for wrongful arrest.
By now, with the available legislative power, these criminal enterprises should have been infiltrated, arrests made and charges laid.
Commissioner Griffith and AG Al-Rawi need to explain why that hasn’t happened.