On May 8, Imam Hassan Ali, the 28-year-old son of one of the leaders of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, was arrested in Trinidad on suspicion of “gang related activities.”
In a subsequent interview with the Sunday Express, he claimed the police had actually detained him in connection with the murder of former independent senator and senior counsel Dana Seetahal and not for gang-related activities.
Seetahal had been fatally shot four days before Ali’s arrest.
Ali, who was not charged with any of the mentioned crimes, has been managing an arm of Trinidad’s Ministry of Sport’s Life Sport program, itself now under investigation.His arrest serves as yet another example of how the Anti-Gang Act can be misused. It has also raised much debate about what exactly constitutes a gang.
The Trinidad and Tobago Anti-Gang act defines a “gang” as “a combination of two or more persons, whether formally or informally organized, that, through its membership or through an agent, engages in any gang-related activity.”
“Gang-related activity,” according to the act, means any criminal activity, enterprise, pursuit or undertaking in relation to any of the offences listed in the First Schedule acquiesced in, or consented or agreed to, or directed, ordered, authorized, requested or ratified by any gang member, including a gang leader.”
This week it was announced that a similar Anti-Gang Act had been passed in Saint Lucia. The Act, No. 4 of 2014, seeks to criminalize gang-related activities including gang membership, facilitating gang-related criminal activities, advising gangs, and recruiting for gangs.
Still it remains unclear what is a gang and who makes that determination?
The Saint Lucia Anti-Gang Act defines a gang as a group, however organised, that (a) is composed of three or more persons in or outside of Saint Lucia; and (b) has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation of a criminal offence or the commission of a criminal offence.
During a recent sitting of the House when the Act was debated, opposition leader Gail Rigobert raised objections it citing possible harassment of individual “hanging out on the block.”
Said Rigobert: “This piece of legislation, in my opinion, will entrap most of the young men in our communities who simply sit on the block. So the question must be asked: Is there an inherent class or geographic prejudice in here that the form of recreation that some persons, depending on their social circumstances can afford, is really to sit on a block?”
Castries Central MP Richard Frederick also had issues with the bill.
“I see this piece of legislation as a lawyer’s paradise,” he said. “Lawyers will make a lot of money off this piece of legislation because there will be challenges left, right and centre . . . quite a number of the sections are indeed draconian.”
This was prime minister Kenny Anthony’s response: “I’m not saying that this piece of legislation is perfect. As a matter of fact Richard Frederick may be right that the lawyers will have a field day with it. But I would prefer that the legislation be in place and they have a field day than it is not in place to deal with the problems that we have.”
It would certainly not be the first law passed by the Anthony-led House that later proved unconstitutional.
The Act makes it an offence for a person to have a bullet proof vest, firearm, ammunition or any equipment, instrument, material or other device, whether lawfully obtained or not, with the intention that it may be used in committing an offence for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a gang. A person convicted under Section 4 is liable to a fine of $100,000 and ten years imprisonment.
“We have to tackle this matter head-on,” said the PM. “It cannot be that this is occurring in our society with impunity: that people are being murdered by gang members.”
Anthony said the courts would determine suspects accused of committing an offence were indeed members of a gang.
It is to be noted that our police have been accused during Operation Restore Confidence of being responsible for the deaths of individuals who were ostensibly gang-related. A related investigation has been underway several months now.
During the famous case involving a dismissed police commissioner and a young man shot to death at the Pigeon Point causeway in the early 90s, the DPP famously employed local vernacular to make a point. Addressing the accused, Dane Hamilton said: “Oh, so when is ‘one of the boys’ drinking their rum and having a good time at the beach is a beach party? But when the boys come from Morne DuDon or Grass Street is a gyang?”