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It’s the ‘who’ not the ‘what’

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Only a month has passed since the shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada and America is once again a nation in mourning. On Sunday, November 6, in the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs, a lone gunman entered a church during its service and killed 26 parishioners. This incident is just the recent addition to a long and growing list of gun-related tragedies. As always there was an outpouring of “thoughts and prayers,” but no solutions to prevent it from happening again.

But such passivity is a stark contrast to another event of mass murder that occurred the week before. On Tuesday, October 31, a 29-year-old man in a rented pickup truck drove down a bicycle path in Manhattan, New York City, killing eight people in the process.

The assailant was a Muslim immigrant who had been living in the US since 2010 and allegedly committed the attack in the name of the Islamic State. It was immediately labelled an act of terror and the president immediately announced drastic measures to curb immigration, including increased vetting of residency applicants and ending the diversity visa lottery programme.

Two similar situations and yet two completely different reactions. It brings into question how the perception of “who” commits a crime can overshadow the actual crime itself and determine how it is ultimately dealt with.

Less than two weeks ago, here in T&T, a cell phone video of two teenagers boastfully brandishing a pair of handguns went viral on social media.

A day later one of them was arrested and (at the time of writing) the authorities believed that the second individual would soon be in custody. It’s a safe bet that citizens were relieved by this news; after all, these two Afro-Trinidadian males were probably seen as bandits in the making, and would probably end up using their “shiny toys” in all sorts of criminal enterprises, including murder. But let’s put aside the assumptions and the stereotypes—at face value, these are just two juvenile offenders who were caught in possession of items that violated the Firearms Act.

If they are found guilty after a proper investigation and a fair court proceeding, then they should receive the appropriate punishment.

However, considering their socio-economic class, as well as the current social anxiety regarding crime, it is possible that an example could be made of the accused. Meaning that the carriage of justice, while in the right, would be most severe.

Now let’s compare that to the scandal involving the attorney general’s children when photographs of them posing and training with military-grade assault rifles came to light in October 2016.

To date, he has never addressed the accusations directly but has instead bemoaned the whole affair as an intrusion of his privacy that could jeopardise the safety of his family. The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force would later confirm the identities of the children and the circumstances under which the photographs were taken.

Regardless of the meaningful intentions behind this incident, it bears the similarity to the one involving the before-mentioned youths in that it is a violation of the Firearms Act. To make matters worse, it also violates a provision of the Children’s Act.

Even after a board of inquiry revealed that proper procedures were not followed, were there any arrests or suitable consequences to those involved? No, of course not...

Again—two similar situations and yet two completely different reactions. The argument here isn’t that the AG’s children should be considered a threat to our nation. But much like America’s implementation of draconian measures to one act of terror and ignoring the other, it can send the message that some citizens will be automatically treated like criminals while others get a free pass.

This will not only widen the existing societal divide, but it will add credence to the belief that while all are equal under the law, some are just more equal than others.

Ryan Hadeed


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