Janelle De Souza
AN UPSURGE in gang violence in Carenage by “homegrown” gangsters has reignited a history of violence which has marred the tiny fishing community off the Western Main Road, leading to Chaguaramas – home of visiting yachties and passage to Down the Island homeowners.
A rash of murders over the past three weeks triggered a high-level meeting with police and defence force aimed at restoring peace and calm on the hills.
Head of the Homicide Bureau Snr Supt Rishi Singh told Sunday Newsday the area had gained a reputation for “negative behaviour” over the years but admitted that, to his recollection, recently there had been a “significant reduction” in violence which was interrupted by the murders over the past three weeks.
There have been three double murders in Scorpion Alley, including Neyland Glasgow and Dayna Joyles on July 30, Leon Sylvester and Elijah Brewster on August 14, and Joshua George and Israel Letren on August 15.
Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation Sigler Jack, a former chairman of the Diego Martin West constituency office, said he was saddened by the level of crime and criminality in TT in general, especially among young people. Carenage falls in the constituency of Prime Minister Dr Rowley.
He said he could not speak about crime in Scorpion Alley itself but the situation seemed to be “homegrown” and that violence of that nature had to involve some kind of conflict with the weapon of choice being the gun.
“It bothers me that it is happening in the region I represent as the chairman, until sometime next week when the new mayor is sworn in. I know those dealing with the situation must be overwhelmed.”
He said he was not happy about the situation and wished it could just go away.
During a visit to the community last week, most residents of Scorpion Alley who spoke to Newsday said they were disturbed by this uptick in violence but continue to carry on with their lives in an almost casual manner while taking precautions such as staying in their homes if they do not have to be outside, even during the day.
One resident said the killings did not bother him as he had previously seen a lot of blood and gore after when his cousin and another man were killed in front of him.
“I normal. It’s not like I never see murders before, just not at this pace (frequency).”
Resident Donna Mark said the recent murders hurt her heart so much so that she could not sleep and some of the elderly in the community had the same problem. She said the situation brought back haunting memories of her sons, Brent Noel and Augustin Mark, who were killed 12 years ago on the same day in a “gang war.”
She recalled about three years ago there was a peace walk where villagers came out, even the “bad men,” and there was “peace and love” in the community for a while.
Mark said she did not believe the violence was linked to anyone living in Scorpion Alley but by people outside the area who were connected with it.
“It’s not a perfect place. It have a little fighting, a little envy, but it’s a different kind of love here.”
Mark said she fears for the lives of the young men that her own as everyone in the community knew her and would attend events hosted at her home. She said the young men supported and respected her.
“But I understand. In that world, everything is a reprisal. But it’s sad for everybody.”
When Newsday visited the area on Wednesday a police vehicle was parked a few feet away from where the brothers, George and Letren were shot dead in their home on Abbe Poujade Street. As that SUV left, another police patrol arrived a few minutes later.
Mark said the police had been keeping a presence there since the double murder on Tuesday, the night after the local government elections.
“I’m glad of the police presence but they need to do more. The government needs to do something. My stomach is hurting and the pain isn’t going away having to deal with this after having peace in the community for so long.”
She said after this, Carenage needed two things: a cemetery to house all the bodies coming out of the situation, and a councillor who actually cared, who would listen to the needs of the residents, especially the youths, and try to help them.
Another resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, believed the rivalry between a gang from Upper Haig Street/Scorpion Alley and another from Seaview Hill, Carenage which gained control a small portion of the Scorpion Alley area is directly linked to the recent murders.
When asked about the validity of residents’ claims, Singh said Mark may be correct in saying someone from outside the area was doing the killings in Scorpion Alley.
He said TT was a small place and prison was even smaller. In general, people in communities connect with one another and incarceration provided a “unique social opportunity where people with similar ideologies gravitate to one another” allowing for gang members to make affiliates outside of any given area.
“Our intelligence indicates that two former associates from within the Scorpion Alley catchment currently have a rift which now fuels this rivalry resulting in those recent killings.
“Though the rift is, in fact, between two people who are actually from the area, those persons are not necessarily currently in the area. So the actual rift may have started behind the prison walls, and persons are using their external affiliates to deal with the targets purported by information from persons who are actually within the area.”
At a police press briefing at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain on August 17, acting deputy commissioner of police intelligence and investigation Curt Simon said an AR-15 rifle was recently recovered in the area, and the TTPS was working with the Defence Force “to bring some calm back to that area.”
Singh said the state and the police had a responsibility to respond to so many killings in a short period of time. As a result, with the help of the regiment, patrols and exercises in the area were increased to help protect the community.
He also confirmed that, on the night after the murders, the Western and Port of Spain Divisions conducted exercises based on intelligence and the rifle as well as several rounds of ammunition were recovered. Investigators hoped ballistics from the weapon would lead to “advancements in lines of inquiries” in several murders.
Asked about challenges to solving gang-related murders, Singh said the biggest challenge when it came to investigating was fear of witnesses.
Usually, the witnesses as well as the suspects and their affiliates live in close proximity. Because of that, residents had an idea about the gang members’ illegal activities and were often generally bullied and intimidated by the gangs.
That left them fearful and unwilling to give the police information even though they were not being threatened directly, and that attitude was more strongly enforced if they actually witnessed a murder, he said.
“All of these thing are compounded by the fact they are openly telling you now, ‘These people are going to get bail for murder and come back right here you know boss.”
“So our officers on the ground who are canvassing and trying to bring solutions are additionally impacted, of not only the affiliates being outside, but the likelihood that those fellas going to come back outside and they will be right there.”
He said communities like Scorpion Alley usually do not have CCTV cameras and there was usually very little evidence to be found at crime scenes.
Singh said another challenge for the police was people posting details of crimes on social media which undermined people’s confidence in the police. He said those people had no regard or sympathy for the family of the people they were posting about, and that both witnesses and suspects had the right to private and family lives.
“For one reason or the other, we are witnessing a lot of unsanitised police information ending up on social media. This further complicates the relationship between the police and the citizens who want to support because they think that there’s no confidentiality between what the police is exchanging with them and what is ending up in the media.”
In addition, he said when “intimate details” of a crime scene surfaces in the media, those involved in the activity were given an opportunity to prepare answers when officers questioned them.
“So you find that we lose strategic opportunities when too much is revealed too quickly to the media.”
He admitted some “exuberant or inexperienced” officers may pass on information “inadvertently” but that was something the police was working on addressing.
Asked about the murder toll, which reached 372 on Saturday, Singh said as citizens with the responsibility of protecting the country, it was not something the police were pleased about.
However, he said the police had already charged 40 people for 36 murders that occurred in 2023, and charged 57 people for 56 homicides for this and previous years.
“Despite the fact that we have this large amount of homicides, we have a very active, working, driven staff, motivated to bring results to the nation by solving as many homicides as we can.
“It’s a heavy burden for the (homicide) bureau collectively because we don’t only have to manage the response to and investigation of the homicide, we must also manage the response, the pre-trial issues and the trial issues.
“When you see that our detection rate is ten per cent, it’s a very scary figure. But when you put that in the context of the numbers in any country where you have all of these circumstances coalescing to challenge the homicide officers, it is still quite phenomenal to have, within the first six months of the year, this amount of prosecution instituted already.”