Cudjoe: Make parents responsible for children’s crimes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Selwyn R Cudjoe – Photo courtesy Audrey Stevens

PROF Selwyn R Cudjoe is advocating for holding parents accountable for the criminal actions of their juvenile children as a means reducing crime in Trinidad and Tobago.

Cudjoe said 2024 should be declared as the “year of crime,” so all energies and resources could be directed to stop the crime surge.

He made the statements during a speech at the UNC’s anti-crime platform at Chaguanas on Monday night.

A professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, USA, Cudjoe has put forward a 16-point plan to assist in arresting the challenges, including the “cleaning up” of the police, strengthening the judiciary and attending to the economic needs of black youths who represent the majority in the murder statistics.

A member of the PNM, Cudjoe said he felt compelled to appear on the UNC platform “not because I love my party or my political leader less, but because I love my country more and feel compelled to speak out against the brutal slayings of so many young black men every day, and the unease that so many citizens feel about what is taking place in our society.

“We, the members of the public, must intervene to stop this carnage. We can start the process if we dialogue with one another in peace and sincerity despite the spilled blood and mayhem we see every day.”

In his almost one-hour long discourse, Cudjoe spoke of an “iron-fist” approach to crime and criminals whom he said “are not afraid of the police authorities, so we must not be afraid of them.”

Cudjoe recalled a saying he had heard while growing up in Tacarigua: “‘If you eh ‘fraid to dead, we eh ‘fraid to kill you’…

“You call that the principle of street justice.”

Cudjoe believes such an approach might incur civil and human rights claims, but said, “It is the price we must be willing to pay if you wish to regain our society.

“We have to give it serious consideration. We must have the courage to act boldly now.”

Quoting his late mother who used to say, “‘Don’t take flambeaux to look for something in the night which you could find in the day,’” Cudjoe said, “We know what the problem is.

“The question is: how do we, of course, protect civil rights? But we have to have a surgical approach to that problem.”

One of his proposals to the counter the crime surge, is holding parents responsible for the crimes their juvenile children commit.

He referred to a matter in the USA in which a mother was found guilty of involuntary murder for her son’s gun rampage at a school which left four dead. The boy was sentenced to life, but the parents who gifted him the gun he used, were found culpable.

While one cannot evade the question of self-responsibility in these matters, Cudjoe said parents, especially absent fathers, must be held responsible for the violent crimes their children committed. He added they must be made to pay for neglecting their parental duties.

“Today we are faced with a crime situation that has gotten out of control – murders, home invasions, robberies, and rapes.

“It is only our people, acting collectively, without thinking about our race or class, colour or social rank, but acting as sovereign beings, who can solve this problem.

“Fighting crimes and criminals is a national challenge to which all of us must be committed and in which we must all be involved. Each and every citizen, from the youngest to the oldest, must know his or her role in this important endeavour.”

For this to be successful, he said Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher would have to cleanse the police of its rouge element.

“We are not likely to curb the rising crime rate unless the public has greater trust in the police service. A lot of work must be done to re-establish public trust.

“The public is afraid to provide the police with information about crimes that take place in their communities and the criminals who commit them.

“That tells us a lot about the distrust they have for the TTPS (Trinidad and Tobago Police Service). They do not feel safe in taking complaints to the police, out of fear that the confidential information they give to them is likely to get back to the person about whom they complain or are likely to testify against.

“It is well known that the hands of the criminal reach out from behind prison bars to revenge those outside the prison bars to deter co-operation with the police and to exact revenge on those who ‘snitch’ on them.”

Cudjoe was critical of the Prime Minister’s characterisation of the UNC’s anti-crime talk as a “pappyshow.”

“And herein lies the linguistic contortions, or even intellectual dishonesty, of the Prime Minister’s approach to this important problem and his lack of respect for civic engagement.

“Solving our crime problem should never be reduced to a discussion between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. This issue concerns the well-being of a severely traumatised people that needs to be nursed back to health as quickly as possible.

“This anti-crime conversation should never be characterised as a pappyshow. It is a public performance taking place in a public arena where citizens are encouraged to make their contributions in an open and transparent manner.”