October 23, 2020

NEW GANG LAWS: Tattoos, colours and hand signs will be a crime

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Commissioner David Baines and Governor Duncan Taylor

Boosting the battle against gangs, local police will seek “deeming” legislation to criminalise hand signs, dress, tattoos and other identifying features marking members of criminal organisations.

Speaking to iNews, Commissioner of Police David Baines said part of wider efforts to combat the growth of gangs would be to tighten old laws and write new ones, making it easier to detain suspected gang members, charge them with criminal activity and prove their guilt in court.

Facebook pictures, for example, were insufficient for a criminal charge, he said, referring to photographs posted by West Bay’s “Logwoodz Dons” gang, displaying putative firearms beneath cloth coverings, hand signs and written slogans.

“We have looked at it to see if we can use it, but at the moment it is not sufficient to charge anyone,” Mr Baines said, calling for more rigorous laws.

Meanwhile, Jamaican authorities on Monday charged Reggae Dancehall star Vybz Kartel with murder, conspiracy to murder and illegal possession of a firearm in connection with the July killing of 27-year-old promoter Barrington Burton.

Mr Kartel, whose real name is Adidja Palmer, has been linked to Cayman’s gang activities, initially sparked by a long-running feud with fellow artist Mavado,  whose correct name is David Brooks.

Gangs posing on social networking sites may face criminal charges

The rivalry is alleged to have fueled mob attacks by their two “Gaza” and “Gully” factions in Kingston’s inner-city neighbourhoods, inspiring similar divisions in West Bay.

Cayman’s gang laws are modeled after those in the UK, but have been used only four times in Britain. ”We have gang legislation, but it has been in for six years and never used even once,” the Commissioner said, meaning “we need to look at it”.

Explaining, Mr Baines said he was lobbying the Governor and legislators to make it arrestable to display tattoos, gang colours, signals and phrases that would “deem” an individual as part of a gang.

”We’re discussing what might be necessary to make it more appropriate to what is needed in Cayman,” Mr Baines said, hoping to strengthen sections of the Penal Code, inserted in 2005 by People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) legislators.

“When we were in office, there was nothing, and we had a spate of violence, so we did three sections,” said PPM leader Alden McLaughlin.

The clauses make it an offence to be a gang member, to possess a bulletproof vest or be released on parole. It also deems anyone to be a gang member who affects body markings, dress, symbols and mannerisms identified with the group.

“The criteria of criminal enterprise and association, to date, has not been found sufficient to charge anyone with gang membership since its inception in 2006,” Mr Baines said. He sought a “threshold” for criminal acts, acknowledging it “requires reviewing to make gang signs, tattoos etc. an agreed component in evidence to secure charges.”

The Penal Code also prohibits firearms and “restricted weapons” such as baseball, cricket or softball bats, machetes and knives.

“That piece of legislation under review relates to firearms possession, i.e. a firearm found in your car, under your bed etc., is deemed to be in your possession,” Mr Baines told iNews. “Recent results in court have seen persons so charged acquitted as ‘deeming’ legislation is not incorporated.”

Vybz Kartel who has been charged with murder in Jamaica

The “deeming” legislation is part of a review that, according to Governor Duncan Taylor, will encompass a range of laws.

“Government is currently examining a number of criminal justice legislations with a view to effecting some amendments,” a spokesman for Mr Taylor said.

“The Governor will elaborate more once cabinet has given final approval. The proposed amendments will be subject to the usual consultation process, including with the Human Rights Commission and the law associations,” he said.

Last week, Mr Taylor told a Chamber of Commerce gathering that the Attorney-General would assess laws relating to “firearms, gangs, public order, parental responsibility, and we may decide to make customs fines far greater.”

At the same gathering, Mr Baines told the audience that “we have looked at the legislation, and the gang [laws] have issues.“

Other jurisdictions, he said, make it illegal “to be a member of a proscribed organisation, things like the Irish Republican Army and Muslim fundamentalists. The Attorney-General is looking at this and we are working with the Legal Department.”

As one top-ranking police official said privately: “We are a modern country with antiquated laws.”

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