Home Columnist The lack of respect for law and order
Issued : Tuesday, February 21, 2012 12:00 AM
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The lack of respect for law and order

Edition: February 23, 2012 | Volume: 40 | No: 7

The increase in crime in Puerto Rico has become the No. 1 concern in our community. For the first time since I started getting involved in public issues, control of crime is our people's greatest concern. Whoever can convince them that he or she and his or her political party are the best alternative to provide safety for our families, particularly our children, will probably win the election.

Our people want to, once again, feel safe in their homes. They also want to be able to go out at night, drive on our streets and walk on our sidewalks without fear of being held up, raped, robbed or killed. The insecurity and fear that most citizens feel in Puerto Rico today has begun to develop in us a willingness to accept controls and limits to our rights and freedom from government interference, which could bring about an increase in the government's infringement upon our privacy and our daily lives.

There can be no doubt that the increase in crime, particularly in violent ones, is a direct result of the increasing loss of respect for law and order that we have witnessed, especially since the beginning of the new millennium. It started with small things such as parking on sidewalks and disregarding street signs, stoplights, speed limits and other rules of the road. Every day, we see more people throwing cans, bottles, paper and other refuse while walking, driving or enjoying our parks and beaches.

New York City went through a similar deterioration of law and order. However, New York managed to stop the increasing wave of violent crimes and the growing lack of respect for law and order when Rudy Giuliani, a former federal attorney, was elected mayor of New York and began enforcing the law at all levels. He began with not only violent crimes, but with enforcement of litter and prostitution laws on the sidewalks of the city, penalizing illegal parking and other traffic violations, and many other minor crimes.

When Giuliani left New York City Hall, the crime rate had been reduced substantially and New York was considered a much safer city than what it was before he was elected mayor. Today, New York is still much cleaner, orderly and safer, and there is a new sense of pride in the city.

I have made reference to what happened in New York because I firmly believe we can stop, and reverse, the increasing violent crime rate by beginning to enforce all our laws and regulations. But, to do this, all branches of government and all public safety and law enforcement agencies must get together and commit themselves to do their part. However, if all law enforcement agencies do their job, but the judiciary refuses to enforce the law and punish violators, all efforts will fail.

Before we establish any plan to reduce the wave of violent crime and other violations of the law, we must understand how our respect for law and order deteriorated so rapidly during the first decade of the new millennium.

I have no doubt that the single, most important cause for the loss of respect for law and order at all levels in Puerto Rico was the lack of respect demonstrated by Govs. Sila Calderón and Acevedo Vilá, from 2001 to 2009.

From the beginning of Calderón's term she started undermining the system by proclaiming she supported civil disobedience as a tactic to make the U.S. Navy cease all naval exercises in and around Vieques. However, her understanding of civil disobedience, which is a nonviolent means of protest, included allowing for the destruction of property and throwing rocks and other objects at people who oppose them. The governor obviously prohibited the police from interfering with aggressors who threw rocks and other objects at opponents and from interfering with those who physically disrupted the peaceful rallies and caravans of those who supported the U.S. Navy's presence in Vieques.

When I went to Vieques during the referendum campaign, with the publicly announced purpose of campaigning against the violence and physical assaults perpetrated against the group who favored the Navy's presence in Vieques and Roosevelt Roads, I was personally assaulted by a group of people on both sides of the road on which our caravan was driving. They threw rocks and other objects, verbally insulted us and tried to physically assault me. The police was present, witnessed this and did absolutely nothing. My official police escort, not the police on duty there, stopped the person who physically tried to assault me.

The same "hands-off" attitude of the police was the modus operandi during a demonstration in the Capitol against the Legislature for honoring Julio Labatut, a Cuban exile. The demonstration degenerated into violence. People were beaten physically by the demonstrators, and furniture and historical documents in the Capitol dome were damaged and destroyed by them, but no one was arrested or charged. The police merely stood by and watched. They obviously had instructions not to intervene, for no one was arrested or convicted of any crime although the police had photos of the offenders and video of the vandalism.

During Acevedo Vilá's term, a condominium project known as Paseo Caribe was illegally interrupted by an individual, nicknamed "Tito Kayak," who climbed on a construction crane, paralyzing all construction work. He was actually protected by a judge who ordered that he be sent food while he was illegally obstructing the construction. As a result, the developer and the bank lost several million dollars, and interested purchasers refused to buy and cancelled their options.

When the protester decided to leave, the police was apparently ordered to look the other way and to let him escape without making any effort to arrest him.

During the student protests at University of Puerto Rico, the chancellor of the Río Piedras campus, a woman, was dragged by her hair by a student, and her car was banged up and vandalized. The student who attacked the chancellor was indicted, but even though there were photographs evidencing his crime, he was acquitted by the judge.

I don't know the name of the judge, but it would be interesting to know who appointed him or her and how the judge who heard the case was selected. Was the judge appointed by Acevedo Vilá or Sila Calderón? Was the selection a coincidence?

When Calderón appointed her lover to manage a $1 billion program, she claimed there was no conflict of interest. Despite this obvious, unethical and illegal favoritism, she kept saying she wanted an honest and transparent government. However, instead of setting an example, she kept using her gubernatorial powers to benefit herself and enacted into law a reduction of the capital gains tax to 5%. As soon as the law went into effect, she immediately proceeded to close the sale of her former residence at an undisclosed profit. With such behavior by the governor, how can law and order be enforced?

When Acevedo Vilá knowingly filed false charges against me during the middle of a campaign, a U.S. district judge publicly reprimanded him for his highly unethical behavior. Furthermore, he later committed serious crimes for which he was indicted in federal court. Almost all the people closest to him were found or pleaded guilty, but he spent millions of dollars in attorneys' fees and preparation for jury selection, and managed to get away with a "not guilty" verdict. With such an example, how can people believe in law and order?

Yes, if we want a community that believes in and supports law and order, not only should we follow Giuliani's example, but more importantly, public officials, whether elected or appointed, must be the first to demonstrate that they abide by the law.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000) and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years. He is now a consultant involved in real estate, doing business as CRB Realty. His email address is rbarcelo@prtc.net. Comments on this article are welcome at caribbeanbusiness.pr. Go to Sign in link on the homepage to participate. Emails also may be sent to column@caribbeanbusinesspr.com.

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