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Minister of Local Government Faris Al-Rawi has vehemently condemned her words, stating, “I am deeply concerned that Trinidad and Tobago is at present being encouraged into a form of behavior that can lead to immense problems for the people she is speaking to.”
The prime minister contends that the opposition leader’s words constitute a racial dog whistle meant to rile up the UNC’s Indo-Trinidadian base. ” … the Opposition Leader sees an opportunity to incite her political base by stoking anger and promising ‘guns for all’ and a crime policy that says ‘shoot first, ask questions later.'”
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But criticism is limited neither to members of ruling the People’s National Movement nor to the political arena. Former PP government minister Devant Maharaj has charged Mrs Persad-Bisessar with exploiting fears surrounding the escalating crime problem. “Her statement exploits the fears of most citizens and reflects the growing concern among citizens about their safety and the perceived inadequacy of law enforcement in dealing with crime.”
Criminologist Daurius Figueira has denounced the comments and accused the opposition leader of engaging in elitism, “The only clips I have are hair clips. How many of us have clips to empty? So that is an elitist position.”
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Deputy Commissioner of Police Curt Simon, while not directly addressing the statements made, instead urged citizens to “ensure that their defense is within a certain remit which the law already prescribed.”
All the criticisms laid against the opposition leader’s remarks suggest, to the casual observer, the majority of Trinibagonians have soundly rejected Mrs Persad-Bisessar’s words, but this is far from the truth.
In a culture dominated by “Trinibad” music and a news cycle consumed with daily stories of murder, gang violence, and horrendous atrocities perpetrated against innocent members of the public, Mrs Persad-Bisessar’s words have struck a deep chord in the minds of many, especially among the younger generation in T&T.
The viral nature of her words shows this to be true. Her comments have flooded social media feeds. Countless memes positively depicting the opposition leader have been made. The view put forward by Mrs Persad-Bisessar only works so well because the citizenry of this country, to put it bluntly, is fed up with living in fear for their life. Her words appeal to all those who want a fighting chance against murderers and robbers equipped with all manner of weaponry, to all those who see videos daily of assailants, armed to the teeth, ready to expunge the life of an unsuspecting victim.
Her statements, to give credit, appear to be an excellent bit of campaigning in the lead-up to what is shaping up to be the most hotly contested Local Government Election in recent history. They emphasise the hardline stance on crime that the UNC has made the foundation of their electoral manifesto. To this end, the UNC leader has promised to open up the FUL process and ensure that more law-abiding citizens can access legal firearms.
The comments made by those that do not support the opposition leader’s position, while made in good faith, completely misread the pulse of the general public. When Ministers with a security detail rubbish the idea of stand-your-ground laws, it only serves to incense a population that feels as though not enough is being done. That is what actually reeks of elitism.
Instead of quick condemnation, strong policy measures need to be put forward and enacted by the government and the police service to tackle the crime epidemic. Tangible drops in crime rates need to be recorded and felt by the public. Otherwise, sentiments similar to those expressed by the opposition leader will only continue to snowball and gain traction.