Who is Safe, Who can Feel Safe?
By: Dr Tara Singh
“Crime flourishes in a social medium appropriate to its development and society has the criminals it deserves.” If one only ponders for a few moments on this statement, one will soon recognize its application to our country, Guyana.
Not even Guyana’s President Davic Granger feels safe as he has erected a concrete fence around his presidential palace!
Our conscience has once again been torn apart by the depraved act of two masked bandits who invaded Fazal Shaheed’s family home on Sunday, on September 24, at East La Penitence, Georgetown and murdered Fazal Shaheed, 58, and also attempted to murder his two siblings. Fazal’s brothers, Talin Shaheed, 50, of Toronto Canada, and Shalim Shaheed, 53, of the USA, were preparing for a memorial service in honor of their father when the bandits invaded their home and shot Fazal and his two brothers. The condition of the two brothers was regarded as stable. It was reported that the bandits relieved them of their jewelry.
Apart from this brutal murder, there have been several other murders that have been committed during the week. Two old ladies were gagged, robbed and then murdered in their home in Georgetown. There were also two murders in the East Coast Demerara that are linked to arguments and alcohol. Earlier, a child was sexually molested and then murdered. The system’s failure to protect people is symptomatic of a social paralysis.
Mayhem has become a way of life in Guyana! Whatever policies or programs Ramjattan and his Public Security Ministry have implemented do not seem to be working. We also don’t know when the impact of the Citizens Security Strengthening Program will make a difference to public safety.
From horses to bicycles; from prisoners’ amnesty to gun amnesty; from liquor shop curfew to reduced sentencing; one is given the impression that these are “ad hoc” measures and not part of a coherent crime fighting strategy. Most forms of violence are on the rise, and it seems that criminals are ruling the street! We have just learnt that a senior police officer had his gun as well as his vehicle stolen. Is there anything to stop criminals on their war path?
Nothing is off limits for the modern sophisticated criminals. They (criminals) have robbed banks; they have robbed factories; they have robbed churches; they have robbed restaurants; they have robbed hospitals; they have robbed casinos; they have robbed numerous businesses; they have robbed offices, they have robbed chauffeurs and engaged in carjacking; and they have robbed the dead, too. The only place left to be robbed is the Guyana Parliament. These despicable acts speak to the audacity and indifference of the criminals.
Whenever there is a crime wave or an upsurge in criminal activity, the usual response is for the government to make a strong public statement, increase street patrol, intensify the solving of cases; and inflict heavier penalties. It is at such times that many people will call for the imposition of the death penalty. When the “kick down the door” robbery, murders and rapes were being committed in the 1980s, former President Desmond Hoyte quickly re-introduced the death penalty, and there was an immediate steep drop in violence, including murders. The death penalty worked. The PPP government did not carry forward with Mr Hoyte’s policy on the death penalty, citing pressures from Human Rights Groups. The Coalition and the PPP have the same approach to the death penalty; that is, not to enforce it. Why then did the Coalition instituted the death penalty for a number of crimes under the Money Laundering Bill?
The Minister of Public Security provides periodic reports on crime by comparing these with the same periods in the past year. For example, for October-November 2017, he will compare the figures with October-November 2016 figures. But what’s important in such comparisons is not necessarily the number of crimes committed but rather the negative impact of such crimes on people’s lives and the wider society. One incidence of crime can negatively affect an entire village, while another can negatively impact just a family and neighbors. Different crimes have different impacts. This (impact) is what we have to measure rather than citing figures.
We note that crime happens under all governments and in all situations. It is committed at all levels of society. Who are the ones that are usually being prosecuted? The poor and the unconnected. But what many of the poor, the unemployed and the unconnected are good at, is that they plan rationally their criminal acts and work out their escape route. While there are a few exceptions, like in cases of impulsive criminal acts, in general though the criminal is cool, calculating and pursues his “trade” in accordance with his own subcultural rules and argot.
For most criminals, there is nothing abnormal about their criminality. Neither do they suffer from personality defects. They have been socialized into a different value system, a subculture where violence is taught as a normal response to everyday stress. Much criminal behavior is learned, and it’s learned in the process of social interaction with others. It varies in frequency, intensity and duration. Criminal values are transmitted like other values.
It seems that there is very little repugnance at murders from society, except from the victims’ family and friends. This points towards the moral decay of the society. This decay finds expression in high crime rates, high suicide rates, high rates of broken homes, high levels of alcoholism, high levels of drug abuse and trafficking, high rates of domestic abuse, high rates of bribery and corruption, high incidence of human trafficking, and high rates of lying and deception. What we have in Guyana is not a moral code anymore, but rather a perversion of it, moral decadence. The puzzling part is that people seem to be getting accustomed to these negative traits. And the truth has become a casualty of this moral collapse.
In terms of punishment: “should punishment fit the crime, or should punishment fit the criminal?” The first option is favored by classical theorists, while the latter is favored by reformers. This reform approach is based on the idea that crime is caused by personality defects or social maladjustment. They believe that training can induce behavior modification and turn around these people’s lives. The classical theorists believe that the criminal is a calculating person, who plans his move carefully, and does not suffer from any personality defect. Rather, he responds rationally in accordance with the norms and values of his sub-subculture of violence.
Reform must be accompanied by reintegration measures, including employment. If people cannot earn a living they will feel not only hopeless but also useless. They will eventually develop a negative self-image which in turn will generate high levels of alienation that will pre-dispose them to criminal activity.
Here’s a frightening thought! “Whether we live or die is no longer a matter for God but rather it is being determined for us by criminals.” This is a sad indictment on our society. Can the government control the level of violence, including the home invasions? Of course! A few measures for consideration include the re-introduction of the death penalty or the sentencing of murderers to “life without parole.” The government should also focus more on the ecological approach to policing, such as beefing up patrol in high risk neighborhoods and at commercial centers. Police officers should be on the streets where they truly belong and not in offices doing clerical work, which should be left to civilians.
Our deepest condolence to the bereaved family and friends of Fazal Shaheed, as well as the other victims’ families of violent crimes.
DR. TARA SINGH IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.