Helenvale community leaders are calling for the establishment of a special Gangster Court in a move aimed at protecting law abiding residents from brazen gangsters who have no fear of the law enforcement system.
“It seems the kids (young gangsters) are no longer afraid of jail. The druglords pay their bail out of cash in their back pockets; released gangsters go and shoot witnesses; there are retaliatory shootings and court dockets disappear,” said Helenvale councillor Nico du Plessis at a community meeting at the Helenvale Resource Centre yesterday.
In a rare show of solidarity, about 38 religious leaders (leaders of some of the estimated 55 local churches and a few Muslim leaders) attended a meeting called by Du Plessis to discuss a community response to the gang-related crime and shootings that have gripped the Port Elizabeth Northern Areas suburb in recent times. There have been eight shooting incidents in the past two weeks and an innocent 11-year-old boy was badly injured in crossfire in one of the shootings. The meeting elected a delegation of 12 people to approach senior Justice Department, Correctional Services, and SA Police Services representatives with a request for the creation of a special gangster court.
In an interview today Du Plessis said the delegation was seeking an integrated approach to the gangster problem as the safety and dignity of the community were not being taken into account in the current law enforcement system and a vicious cycle of arrests, releases and violence was taking place.
He said cynical older gangsters were using teenage and preteen children to sell drugs and to engage in drug turf war violence. When the children were arrested and appeared in court, prosecutors and magistrates did not know them and were not aware that they had been arrested on numerous charges. Prisons were full and did not want extra prisoners. So the courts were treating gangsters as child offenders, granting low bail fees for serious charges, and releasing them into the custody of their parents. But their impoverished parents did nothing to stop the drug dealing as their children provided much needed household income. Often the children stayed with the druglords, who had no interest in their future. The released children engaged in further acts of violence. All of this was disheartening to the police who faced danger arresting gangsters.
The vicious cycle also extended to prisons, where dangerous gangsters were granted parole without considering the wishes and wellbeing of the community. “The very day they are paroled the violence starts up again,” said Du Plessis.
He believed that an integrated law enforcement system that included a special gangster court, would help to break the cycle.
He said that other proposals that were put forward at yesterday’s community meeting would also be followed-up. These suggestions included:
- Churches should “adopt” gangs and disciple them
- Hold services in front of druglords’ homes.
- Carry out ongoing prayer walks.
- Organise regular youth activities and skills development programmes.
- Educate parents about the need to stop enabling their children’s criminal activities.