“YOUR day will come!” This from a grim-faced Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday to those citizens who harbour criminals, who know of crimes but choose to stay quiet and who do not assist law enforcement in the battle against crime and lawlessness, as he responded to the slaughter on Thursday of Success Laventille Secondary schoolboys Denilson Smith, 17, and Mark Richards, 15.
Reacting to the murders of the youths, who were pulled out of a PH (private-hire) taxi along Picton Road in Laventille and gunned down, Rowley announced at a press conference at the Parliament Tower, International Waterfront Centre in Port-of-Spain, that the army will move into Laventille and be based there on a permanent basis.
As the nation still reels in shock of the boys’ slaughter — they were shot collectively 25 times (see Page 8) — Dr Rowley offered his condolences to their families saying it is unexpected that children sent to school would be gunned down. He blamed the killings on a “new phase” of a continuation of the criminal conduct that has besieged TT for some time by armed persons confident their actions will go undetected.
Saying criminals are becoming bolder and bolder to a now intolerable point, the Prime Minister vowed officers in the criminal justice system will respond to the criminal onslaught by an armed minority on the law-abiding majority.
“I have today instructed the National Security Minister (Edmund Dillon) to instruct the Defence Force to operate in conditions determined by them, within the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, to operate virtually permanently on the streets of those communities where criminals have armed themselves and determined that the populations are so affected.” Addressing Laventille residents, he said while they mourn today they will soon complain there are too many soldiers on their streets, but, “I prefer to hear you say that than to watch your children being slaughtered in their school uniform,” Dr Rowley said. “The law permits that the Defence Force will operate freely and unimpeded in the presence of the police in TT.” He said that given a current escalation of lawlessness, he has told Dillon to create an appropriate response forthwith.
DO YOUR PART LAVENTILLE
Mulling the Anti Gang Act, Dr Rowley posed a question to police — how can they know a deceased person was a gang leader, but do not know this when that person is still alive. He then had some words for Laventillians. “Had the police killed someone in Laventille it would have been quite unsurprising if the community wouldn’t have risen up to say how awful the police behaved and everybody would have known who did what and how wrong it was.” “But two of our sons have been murdered in school uniform and there is silence. Nobody knows who and even those who know, are either afraid or unwilling.” He said if residents encourage others to arm themselves for criminal pursuits, they (the residents) are just as unpatriotic as the killers who pulled the trigger and fired bullets into the boys.
Dr Rowley urged residents to give the authorities information to head off the planned activities of criminals. “If you have that information and you don’t want to let the authorities know who did this...then all you are doing is protecting them (criminals) to do more and do worse. To the families who are today bereaved they can say, ‘today is my day (of grief)’, and to those who know and encourage it (lawlessness), we could simply say, ‘your day will come’.” “We cannot as a people continue to encourage wrongdoing in this way and simply determine that the solution is the police or Government.
In many instances the solution begins and ends in the household.” Rowley urged people to share any information on crime that they have with the police. He vowed to do what is necessary to bring safety to the people of TT.
“To the criminal element, I can say to them that as ridiculous as your actions are — you talk about ‘war’ — this is not war, this is unpatriotic, destructive action, because war usually involves a response from a combatant but certainly not innocent schoolchildren. So, if there’s anybody taking over the streets — in Laventille, in Enterprise, in Tobago, in Diego Martin — it will be the security services of TT. With respect to who will do what and who is planning these actions, the National Security Council has met and we have determined that we’ll do everything that is within the law to gather the information required so we can take the necessary action on the minority who terrorises us.” Asked what would be different this time around, he said soldiers will remain in the hotspots working with the police, declaring, “This time, they’ll stay”.
DILLON READS RIOT ACT
Dr Rowley hit out at, “the nastiest of comments”, posted on social media by purported bloggers which he said involved indecency and possible breaches of the law. “I simply want to say to such persons that we are not prepared to allow that kind of behaviour to go unnoticed and insofar as we are able we will respond appropriately.” (See Page 5A) Dillon said he had earlier “read the Riot Act” to heads of the Police Service (Ag Commissioner Stephen Williams), Defence Force (Brigadier General Rodney Smart) and Prisons Service (Commissioner Sterling Stewart). An intelligence- led tact would be run by the National Operations Centre (NOC), integrating the work of all security agencies, especially to stem the flow of guns and drugs into the country, he added. Minister in the Attorney General’s Office Stuart Young, promised to outfit interviewing rooms for witnesses and expedite video-conferencing facilities between the Remand Yard and Magistrates’ Court.
In the question period, Dr Rowley said he deliberately did not list areas for joint police-army patrols, as nowhere in TT is safe from crime which is now perpetrated by mobile criminals. Asked if the use of soldiers is lawful, he said the question is a non-issue.
“This is a non-issue. The laws permit the Security Services to secure the State, especially when the State is under armed attack as we are now from a small minority of our own citizens who can quite properly be labelled a ‘cancer’ as cancers are human cells that turn on their own. We have within our national community people operating as cancers on their own community and it falls to the community to respond and the State’s response either by the Police, Coast Guard or Defence Force in general is quite authorised as long as they conduct themselves within the laws of TT.” Replying to Newsday’s query, he said he’d loved to hold crime talks with the Opposition. Is the law strict enough against illicit gun possession? He replied, “We have most of what we require in that area, but we have to make it effective to work for us.” Young said the laws are adequate, including two Bail (Amendment) Bills, that deny bail for 120 days, and are in place up to August. “There are sufficient laws to keep known criminals off the streets.” Dr Rowley added that the failure of the system is that perpetrators are confident that evidence against them will not be forthcoming, as he urged households and communities to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities and not to encourage criminal conduct.