Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gang violence Set to spin out of control

Source: Trinidad Guardian 130108

Gangs are claiming new territory in East, South and Central Trinidad even as police continue to crack down on their urban strong holds in Port-of-Spain.

Areas, as far east as Sangre Grande to Point Fortin in the South, are now experiencing increased criminal activity, as gangs based in Port-of-Spain establish operational cells and actively recruit new members.

And while the police and security services continue in their attempts to combat gang violence, Sunday Guardian reporter GIZELLE MORRIS found out residents of the areas are being targeted, and seem to have given themselves up to living in fear.

In a bid to crack down of gang-related crime, National Security Minister Martin Joseph, last week unveiled a series of “new” initiatives before the Parliament.

The highly criticised measures included the strengthening of the Homicide Prevention Working Group and Homicide Bureau of Investigations, along with a refocusing of the Inter-Agency Task Force to provide increased support for gang suppression in hotspot areas.

According to police statistics provided by acting Deputy Police Commissioner (Crime & Operations) Gilbert Reyes, the number of gang-related murders has steadily increased from 20 per cent in 2003 to more than 50 per cent of the annual homicide rate last year.

In 2003, of the 229 reported homicides 46 were gang-related. This number dropped to 32 in 2004, when 260 homicides were reported.

The number of gang-related homicides then continued to climb steadily.

And if the member of one Port-of-Spain gang is to be believed, the number of gang-related murders is set to increase as turf wars and power struggles threaten to explode.

When Keron “Blood” Burnett was killed, allegedly by a close associate, G-Unit insiders were not surprised.

“That death warrant sign long time,” claimed one associate of Burnett, who was described as a contract killer.

Burnett’s death is just one in a series of violent assassinations that has rocked the gang as members of the G-Unit grapple for power and leadership since the murder of Kerwyn “Fresh” Phillips last September.

“There is a leader now, but he is keeping a very low profile because…well you see what happening (killing of G-Unit members). But the fellas don’t really respect him. When Fresh was alive, they respected him,” said one G-Unit insider who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing he would be branded “an informer.”

The basis of Phillip’s respect among his members was more than charisma; those on the inside said it was fear. Those who worked closest to him said he was dangerous when crossed. The man now at the helm, according to the insider, does not have Phillip’s control or a reputation for swift, decisive action.

Phillips was at the height of his power when he was killed in a hail of bullets at Henry Street, Port-of-Spain.

Leading one of T&T’s most organised urban gangs, Phillip kept lucrative contracts, many mistresses and his base of operations at Teshier Terrace, commonly known as The Harpe, and Charford Court.

But with his death and the absence of a strong leader, the insiders believe the violence is set to spin out of control.

One source warned that reprisal killings would increase as those who used the G-Unit and Phillip as a shield to “advantage people” may now find themselves targets.

“Fresh was really backing the peace accord. He had them fellas calm. Now that he dead, people who was afraid to put down wuk will feel they could do what they want,” said one gang member.

The peace accord, signed by Port-of-Spain’s major gang leaders in September 2006 after several anti-crime marches, was aimed at ending the violence in and around the capital city.

Police intervention

In a move to prevent the simmering tensions of ambitious young “shottas” from flaring into open warfare, the Harpe, Charford Court and neighbouring streets remain under the watchful eyes and heavy presence of the police.

Every day, from early morning into late night, the visible presence of the Inter-Agency Task Force armed with intimidating assault rifles, can be seen watchfully patrolling the community’s courtyards or “yard” and wide asphalt pathways.

With the police literally camped out in their back yard (a security post has been set up next to the Renegades Pan Yard on Charlotte Street), things have been quiet in what was once one of Port-of-Spain’s major crime hotspots.

While this offers some relief for shell-shocked residents, it has spelled bad news for once peaceful neighbourhoods in other parts of Trinidad.

As Reyes explained, in a release issued by the Public Relations Department of the Police Service to the Sunday Guardian: “Whenever pressure is applied to the Port-of-Spain area, gang members migrate to Central and deep South to avoid law enforcement and criminals as themselves.”

The move out of Port-of-Spain and into outlying suburbs and towns is not a new phenomenon. This started as early as 2002, when Operation Anaconda rolled into the hills of Laventille as part of a national crime plan by then national security minister Howard Chin Lee. As the lawmen armed with search warrants invaded, criminals fled seeking safety across the Caroni Bridge.

Today, the migration out of the capital city has seen cells of major gangs spring up nation-wide.

New hotspots

Major hot spots for gang activity outside Port-of-Spain, according to police intelligence, include Santa Cruz, Mount D’Or, St Joseph and Maracas/St Joseph.

In Arima, Pinto Road, Malabar, Samaroo Village and Maturita have joined Temple Street, a long-time drug block and crime hotspot, police said.

The gangs have moved even further east to set up operations in Wallenville and Walks Trace, Sangre Grande.

In the west, Diego Martin, Carenage and the middle to upper income community of Maraval have seen increased gang activity, police said.

Central Trinidad, long a magnet for criminals fleeing the police, and now southern towns like La Brea and Point Fortin have also attracted police notice as a result of gang activity.

“About five years ago gangs start to take root here,” said one Enterprise businessman two Fridays ago.

Standing in the front of the family-owned business, the chubby Indian businessman in his 30s, was willing to talk, but hesitant to have his name published.

“Next thing these fellas say (name called) ‘talking about we’ and come for me,” he said.

It is with the same friendly tone and affable manner he recalled seeing a man armed with a gun, jump out of car right in front of his business and attempt to kill another man.

More dangerous

“Every day the crime gets more dangerous, it is not even safe in the house…nowhere safe now,” he says and shrugs his shoulders.

Asked if he ever felt fearful enough to move out, his response was surprising.

“No. I born in here, we are known here as business people and deal good with the community. I never had the idea to sell out and go,” the entrepreneur said.

But while he thought the living in Enterprise was bad, he identified the situation in Longdenville as even worse.

“The police post there is a waste of time,” he said.

“The police post here and drugs selling right there,” he said.

When the Sunday Guardian visited Longdenville things were peaceful, sleepy even. The sale of illicit drugs was not evident and hardly anyone, except for the odd stray dog, could be seen on the street.

In one parlour on the main road, a shopkeeper attended to young customers.

“You could have left your doors open and children home 20, 30 years ago. Now you have a high wall with razor wire and they jumping that to come for you,” the shopkeeper said from behind thick iron bars.

It was midday but the houses/businesses on both sides of her business were locked tight.

“That neighbour get rob and had the car stolen,” she said pointing to the house on the right. “Over so,” she said pointing to another house, “some fellas rush in and chop the husband in front the wife.”

Strangers blamed

She blamed the increase in crime on the influx of “strangers” in the once sleepy village.

“It have a set of deportees, people coming out of jail and fellas from Beetham and Sea Lots coming here (to) hide out,” she said.

So where are the gangs? She pointed to a narrow side street called Flemming Trace.

In Flemming Trace, while one family prepared to bury a young man shot at a New Year’s party, in what police said was a gang-related incident, another recalled the pain of a youth murdered in his prime.

“They need to implement hanging so criminals will ‘fraid to kill people. Otherwise they will go on killing people like normal,” said outspoken Jenatta Jerimiah, sister of 2004 murder victim Clinton Seales.

Although 23-year-old Marvin Nedd was convicted and sentenced to hang last July for the murder, Seales’ sister was still angry and unsatisfied.

“Although we get justice, I know them not going to hang nobody,” she said.

At this point, a neighbour passing by interjects, “They need to start popping (breaking) necks! What they keeping them there for, souvenirs?”

Jennifer Seales, the young man’s mother, hovered quietly in the doorway of their home as her daughter angrily decried the crime situation in the community.

“Crime just getting worse,” she said, “Not only here, but in other places and the same thing just happening over and over, and nobody doing nothing about it.”

Like Seales, other residents of Central had ideas for stopping the crime.

“Police need to respond quicker,” said one resident of Homeland Gardens. While he said the area was yet to be touched by the growing influence of gangs in Central, he identified drugs as a growing problem.

In Enterprise, the cheerful young businessman suggested the use of what he called stop points. He described the system as one where police and army arrange checkpoints at strategic spots along the main roads, helped by barriers that act as speed bumps to slow traffic.

He said this would allow the police to better scrutinise occupants of vehicles and lock down main thoroughfares for searches in cases of kidnappings and other serious crimes.

“It might sound small, but it will be good for the country,” he said.

Police Action

In addition to the measures outlined by Minister Joseph last week the police also were engaged in other activities aimed at cracking down on gang violence.

Intelligence-gathering and new technologies, such as crime scene investigations for capturing DNA evidence, should ease the police dependence on witness testimony and help increase the conviction rate.

Crime-mapping technology, which was used in the UK and US, is also being utilised.

“This is very important because it will give us a clear indication of what is happening, as far as crime patterns, which will enable us to deploy human resource appropriately,” Reyes explained.

However, police were reluctant, offering only a “no comment” when asked about the other methods being used to crack down on gangs.

Now I have no problems with gang violence spinning out of control, as long as it doesn't involve the law abiding citizens. I say let them kill out each other. Why the hell the police want to protect gang members from themselves, just make sure they don't come out into the public and start killing the law abiding citizens who are willing to do an honest days work for their living. The increased percentage in gang-related murders is excellent news, it means that there are now less criminals to deal with and the citizens of T&T stand a better chance or surviving to see the year 2020. My suggestion to the police is to simply use surveillance on these crime hot spots, make sure the gang members don't leave these hot spots with weapons in their possession, but once they are killing each other then let them do so. It will mean that the police will have less work to do (something they should be glad for) and it would also mean that the streets would be safer for every one. Think about it, if we let these gangs continue warring with each other, they will not have time to focus on killing, kidnapping and robbing the law abiding citizens. They will be too busy watching their backs and planning their next assault on the rival gang that they are warring with. I'm all for gang members killing other gang members. I call that a service to the public because as soon as the gang war is over, who you think these gangs will be focusing their attention on? The law abiding citizens, that's who. The Central and South business men, that's who. Your wife and your daughters, that's who. So hope and pray that the gang killings continue until all these gangs end up killing out each other.

1 comment:

Y said...

I'm not surprise this crime wave started to happen AFTER the election. The PNM win to gangs can roam free again.