Last year just before Christmas, our youth went on a rampage. They organized themselves into gangs, they marked out turf which they claimed and defended with the gun and knife. They killed one another without compunction. They sported their colours with daring and openly and wantonly attacked anyone who presumed to wear an outlandish colour on their turf.
Most of the murders and attempted murders passed without as much as an arrest; a few of the culprits were tried and punished. The season was long. It touched many.
The season of madness got to everybody’s head; some saw in it a reason to play politics and to blame the incumbent government for the tradgedies.
Others cringed in fear and avoided certain areas in Basseterre where they thought hoodlums and gangsters were bred. Some people prayed.
I went on a one-man demonstration in front of Government Headquarters. I stood in the sun for a few hours, alerting the government and the passersby that people like me thought the crime situation was very serious and called for serous attention.
The government responded to the outcry from the frightened public. Certain measured were hastily put into place to calm the fears of the public and to attempt to stem the immediate threat of anarchy and riot by our indisciplined youth.
The Ministry of National Security held urgent meetings with the army and police. Together they theorized and analyzed and planned how to deal with the young criminals. Naturally, their strategies were based on the matching of wits with the criminals and fighting criminal fire power with national security firepower.
The Prime Minister reacted by forming a national task force on crime which he chaired and of which Dwyer Astaphan, Minister of National Security, was a member. Some people wondered if this was a demotion of Astaphan in the war strategy against crime.
The army and police went on the offensive. They raided houses in certain neighborhoods; they acted on tips and discovered guns and ammunition in old unoccupied houses. Occasionally they found somebody with a gun.
Crime was the focus during the carnival season and the security forces were in full strength and exercised the highest alert to ensure that the gangsters and hoodlums did not cause any mayhem with the fun and frolic of the carnival season.
The public sighed happily when carnival ended with nobody killed in the jamming crowds.
And once again, the peace having been achieved by force, the public was lulled into a sense of security.
I have often warned that when there is an upsurge in criminal activity a corresponding upsurge of law enforcement deals only with the symptoms of our social malady, and leaves our basic ailment unattended.
What actually happens is that the criminals go into hiding, take a break, and ride out the wave of anti-criminal assault against them. In the meantime they regroup, enlarge their forces and strike when they are ready again.
This is precisely what has happened in our island’s recent experience. The gangs have increased in size and they have engaged in a collaboration between gangs in different areas. For example the Bloods gang of Stapleton has forged an understanding with the Bloods of Newtown and so on.
Recently our shocked community was awakened to the reality by the resurgence of the criminals. One young man in Newtown was brutally shot to death by a gun man who emplied multiple bullets into his victim. A woman was going shopping and was shot while two other young men were wounded by the same sniper.
Another sniper in Cayon shot off the leg of an alleged bad man while his walking companion sustained less serious injuries. Some days after, the amputated victim checked out of the JNF on the grounds that he saw an attacker outside the hospital window. And then within that fiery circle of days, two young men were found in a ganja patch on the mountain, their dead bodies riddled with heavy duty bullets.
These gangs are permeating the deeper recesses of our society recruiting adherents among preteens, boys as well as girls.
It is an object lesson in sociology to see little boys walking like gang members talking like gang members complete with the current gang expletives.
If nothing happens to divert these youngsters from the gang culture soon, the majority would soon belong to rival gangs and will soon be involved in the carnage that is associated with gang culture.
For the most part, these gang members are high school dropouts who having failed to make it in school and find solace in the underworld community where they develop their own culture of drugs and other vices and defend their way of life by violence. They have their sources of guns and ammunition which they traffic through their own tight network and they bamboozle the law enforcers by their shady antics.
I have made the point repeatedly that the effective control of gang crime calls for more long term strategies which will prevent the development of gangs.
The best way to prevent gangs from developing in our society is to draft all of our nations youth, 16 to 25 into National Service. Under this arrangement, young people who are not going to school or college and who are not sustainably unemployed should be encamped and retrained to fit into our society as sensible, sober and productive citizens.
Under their National Service these will be trained in the many skills which support good citizenship and will share in a peaceful and crime free society.
While these under-achieving youth are encamped, guns and drugs will be out of their easy reach and the grounds of misbehaviour and violence will be removed from them.
The idea makes sense, not because it comes from me. It has been highly commended by as prominent a criminologist as Dr. Von Frederick (Woosey) Rawlins, a noted Kittitian who deals with crime and violence all over the world.