I have no problem with the concept. Gangs are bad news.
At first blush, however, the Act could be a challenge for investigators as well as for prosecutors, as they try to gather and present the evidence required to secure convictions. But I could be wrong.
Also, the punishment is severe. And while I’m not against severe punishment, I believe that it must be appropriate, and that it must be part of an overall strategy that includes addressing the psychological, social and economic determinants of criminal behaviour.
A sensible mix of prevention and cure is required, remembering that both are important, that prevention always costs less than cure, and that in addition to everything else that it is, imprisonment must provide the prisoner with the opportunity to be productive, to be rehabilitated and to be redeemed.
We’re dealing, for the most part, with young people here. And we can’t write off people, worse so that early in life. It’s just not right.
Further, an overloaded criminal justice system and a full prison don’t conceal society’s problems. Indeed, they do quite the opposite: they expose society’s problems in all of their rawness.
On this note of redemption, let me remind you of Stanley Tookie Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang in the USA, who was convicted of four murders in 1979, and spent over 26 years on Death Row until his execution on 13th December, 2005.
During his time on Death Row he was able to fight off his demons and to find inner redemption. He renounced the Crips, gang life and violence. And he wrote a number of children’s books in which he tried to dissuade them from gang life and violence. He also wrote a book entitled ‘Prison Life’ and his autobiography which was entitled ‘Redemption: the Stan Tookie Williams Story’.
‘Redemption’ was made into a movie, starring Jamie Foxx, which was co-produced by a man from, yes, McKnight, Basseterre, St. Kitts. His name is Rudy Langlais.
Here are Stan Tookie Williams’ final recorded words, played on a tape at his funeral:
“The war within me is over. I battled my demons and won. Teach them (the younger ones) how to avoid our destructive footsteps. Teach them to strive for higher education. Teach them to promote peace. Teach them to focus on rebuilding the neighbourhoods that you, others, and I helped to destroy”.
Now back to the Act. There’s little sign of prevention in it. At least, in terms of social intervention. I’m hoping that Government (and economic and social partners, adults, parents, all of us) will find ways to cover this utterly critical aspect of the problem.
Once passed, the Act is intended to protect law-abiding citizens and communities, and to maintain public safety and public order by suppressing gang-related activities and discouraging membership of gangs.
Under the Act, “gang-related activity” is any criminal activity, enterprise, pursuit or undertaking in relation to any of a total of twenty eight(28) named offences acquiesced in, or consented or agreed to, or directed, ordered, authorized, requested or ratified by any gang member or a gang leader.
Some of those 28 offences are larceny of a motor vehicle, arson, receiving stolen goods, threatening to publish with intent to extort, demanding money with menaces, murder, shooting or wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, unlawful wounding, robbery, robbery with violence, murder, etc.
Why have crimes such as trafficking in firearms and ammunition, trafficking in people, smuggling, gambling, prostitution, child prostitution, etc., not made it to the ‘Gangster Crimes List’?
Also, quite conspicuously excluded are ‘white collar’ crimes such as fraud, bribery, insider trading, embezzlement, money laundering, cyber crime, identity theft, forgery, etc.
Can’t these crimes be “gang-related activities” too? And if so, why are they to be treated less harshly by the law?
Is this an oversight, or is it an attempt to protect certain persons, and yet another manifestation of a malignant cancer that seems to be taking over the heart and soul of our nation?
Also, what about persons, formed into a gang, who collaborate to compromise and corrupt the electoral processes and to rob people of their sacred right to vote? Are they too not gangsters, and far more dangerous gangsters than the ones who are being targeted by this Act?
Or are they above the law?
And what about gangs involving government personnel who operate illegally in relation to passports, residency, work permits, other permits, government contracts and other deals, nepotism, tax evasion, protectionism, abuse of public office, abuse of public trust, misuse of government funds and other resources, kickbacks, etc?
Who is worse than them? Are they too above the law?
What message are we being sent here? Why doesn’t the Government go after all of the gangsters and all of the gang-related activity?
Why go hard on some of the gangs and let the other gangs do as they please? Don’t our lawmakers know that such an approach can make things worse, instead of making them better?
And why does the Prime Minister’s zeal for this Act evaporate into nothingness, and even turn into dismissive, defensive, angry and stubborn reluctance when it comes to Integrity in Public Life and Freedom of Information law?
Who is the greater threat to the peace, order and good government of a society and economy, and to democracy: a corrupt, unscrupulous street person, or a corrupt, unscrupulous occupant of high office?
Who is the bigger gangster, the street gangster from Basseterre, Cayon, Old Road or St.Pauls, or the ‘executive’ gangster?
If you think that it’s the former, then ask the FBI, the DEA, the RCMP, Interpol and others. Ask the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Bank and the International Monetary fund(IMF). Ask the US, Canadian, UK, French, Japanese, Taiwanese and other Governments. They all know.
So if a law is being passed, as this one is, to protect law-abiding citizens against gangsters, then why isn’t it protecting us against ‘white collar’ gangsters, ‘electoral’ gangsters and ‘executive’ gangsters?
A “gang leader” is described in the Act as a person who knowingly initiates, organizes, plans, finances, directs, manages or supervises any gang-related activity.
And a “gang” is described as a combination of two or more persons, whether or not formally organized, which, through its membership or through an agent, engages in any gang-related activity.
This description of “gang leader” perfectly fits the leaders of these ‘electoral’ and ‘executive’ gangs. And from an evidentiary perspective, with all things being equal, a case against such gang leaders might be less difficult to prove.
However, let’s be realistic. With things being the way they are, these ‘electoral’ and ‘executive’ gang leaders will not only walk free, but they will have the rule of the roost.
That is, until their time comes. Because while they engage in their full-court press against the ‘blue-collar’ gangsters, while they continue with their half-way measures to solve a problem that requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach and substantial and sustained resources, and while they strut and stride up and down the land playing Colossus gangster, is it possible that some system of higher and wider justice now has them locked in on its ‘radar’?
I’m being perfectly serious here. Do you think that the ‘electoral’ and ‘executive’ gangsters are being observed only by people living in this country? Do you think that countries and organizations with whom we do business, and from whom we seek favours, aren’t watching and taking notes?
And while the high-level gangsterism rages on, our nation’s security agencies continue to suffer, deprived of their many needs, yet being asked to do more with less.
Some other time I will go into details, but you know that you’re living in a Gangster Paradise when gangsters are given unjustifiable deals and concessions or are allowed to owe millions of dollars to the taxpayers of this country, and when ‘executive’ gangsters take all kinds of liberties with the public trust and the public purse, yet Coast Guard vessels sit idle because there’s no money to keep them properly fuelled and oiled up.
That is gangster! And our safety and security are compromised in the process.
The money one gangster alone owes the Port Authority is enough to buy a device to scan containers for guns, ammunition and other contraband and perhaps a proper radar system for the Coast Guard.
The money one gangster alone owes for Restaurant Tax is enough to by 20,000 gallons of fuel for the Coast Guard.
Unpaid gangster debts and concessions alone can keep the Coast Guard afloat, and the Army and Police fully geared and good to go at all times.
And if the resources were being properly directed, nobody would now seek to rationalize throwing over $1 million at consultants (or looking to beg some overseas organization for that money) to come and tell us what our security commanders already know and what the commanders, together with our friends in the international community, could have done, using the $1 million to do so.
How come they can find money for consultants but none for the security agencies?
Meanwhile, our safety and our security are compromised.
The money one gangster owes for electricity could light up what I refer to as ‘the Kim Collins Darkway’( not one single light ‘pon um!) to help make it safer for us.
Money possibly overspent on no-bid, and no-bills-of-quantity, deals over the years might have been enough to build and equip a new prison and a few new police stations, to get the CCTV system properly up and running, and to put extra (and much needed) dollars in the hands of security personnel.
Money spent buying two executive vehicles recently could have gone towards equipping the agencies with a proper computerized intelligence system.
The millions of dollars of our money squandered in the form of unjustifiable concessions to gangsters could have gone towards a proper Police Development and Training Centre, a proper Witness Protection Program, perhaps even a small forensic facility, etc.
But this is Gangster Paradise. Never mind the ‘blue collar’ gangsters are now being targeted. That’s not enough. All gangsters should be targeted. And targeted equally in terms of prevention, punishment and redemption.