Chickens coming home to roost: Millette’s murder must be a tipping point

In 1963, Malcolm X referred to the assassination of President John F Kennedy as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”

He had made this statement in response to a question after a speech delivered in December of the same year. He was suggesting that the failure of the President to address violence had come back to him.

Photo: Late United States civil rights leader, Malcolm X.
Photo: Late United States civil rights leader, Malcolm X.

Are our chickens coming home to roost here in Trinidad and Tobago?

Our inability to wrest the violence within our society has now created a crisis situation. There is an unsettling indifference in the calm with which we report  stories of alleged hits from behind prison walls. Although, there should be no surprise here.

In July of this year, three men walked out of the prison and life went on. It was business as usual or at least we pretended that it was business as usual.

One would hope that the recent murder of Superintendent of Prisons David Millette put that notion to rest. It obviously cannot be business as usual.

The fact of the matter is that there seems to be two States which co-exist and, from time to time, they overlap and we see a side of ourselves that we refuse to acknowledge.

In 2003, there was a drive by shooting at Movie Towne. A reporter interviewed a patron and I will never forget those words.

The young lady said that: “she didn’t expect that to happen here.” She did not live in the State where the violence was. That was somewhere else.

Photo: Another lifeless body prepares for a trip to the morgue.
Photo: Another lifeless body prepares for a trip to the morgue.

Crime was someone else’s problem.

The real issue here is that this is not a position held by one individual. The diminution of a murder to ‘gang related’ has advocated a synergy in our collective consciousness that some deaths are acceptable. Moreso, we embraced extra judicial killings as a justifiable response to a situation which is out of control.

“Kill everybody an done!”

However, there is no statistical correlation between these extrajudicial killings and a reduction in crime. We have justified ‘street justice’ and asked the street not to participate!

Unless and until the State can demonstrate that its institutions are capable of delivering justice then what we are seeing is, unfortunately, only the beginning of worse to come.

I repeat that our embrace of extrajudicial killings has sent a clear signal that even those who uphold the law expect no justice from the State apparatus and therefore it should be obvious that others in the society who are searching for justice would also do so outside of the State apparatus.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago police on the move. (Courtesy Heritage Radio)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago police on the move.
(Courtesy Heritage Radio)

But how did we get here? The question we have to ask is: Why are there  two distinct States trying to coexist?

The answer I want to propose is that there is only one State but we are not prepared to accept that the darkness is also a part of our design.

We hold the darkness responsible for the violence and crime in our society but crime is not an anomaly. It is not some extra-terrestrial entity foisted on us.

The developmental model which has been pursued in our country has led to an inequitable and discriminatory society. This contributes significantly to the high levels of crime which we now experience.

I would like to suggest though that it is not simply the condition of poverty in itself which can lead to crime. But rather poverty that is crafted, through exploitation, which creates a condition of hopelessness in these communities. And some of them begin to function outside of the law because it has been established that there is no justice within the law.

Our reactionary response to the increased crime situation has only seen us plummet into a crisis. If the problem is not correctly defined, it is impossible to arrive at a solution that would work.

Photo: A fiery protest on the highway outside the Beetham Gardens.
Photo: A fiery protest on the highway outside the Beetham Gardens.

There can be no peace without justice.

This mantra of the 1960s civil rights movement can ring true for any society the world over, including ours. The developmental model which has been pursued in our country has led to an inequitable and discriminatory society.

Until we see crime as a national development issue and not narrowly as a national security issue we will ‘miss the boat’ completely with our solutions.

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About Akins Vidale

Akins Vidale
Akins Vidale lectures at the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies and is a UWI graduate with a B.A. in History. He has served as the president of the Trinidad Youth Council and is the General Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN). Read his blog:

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  1. 1. Is the “developmental model” indicted by AkinsOV as the Grand Cause of Crime the same that resulted in low unemployment, labour shortages, heavy transfers and subsidies, and proliferating automobiles running on cheap fuel?
    2. True, the rich have evidently got richer and more numerous—at least to judge by the quantity and quality of new autos. But the poor have hardly been shafted into immiseration so desperate as to resort to murder to live.
    3. Now, which came first: “extrajudicial” (police) killings of “suspects” thought to be armed and dangerous; or the repeated successes of indisputably armed and dangerous killers and would-be killers, whose well-founded reputations induced a shoot-first mentality among police? Why should police superintendents feel less targeted than prison superintendents?
    4. I take UcillC’s point. The chickens came home to roost long ago. The only new factor at present is the new government.
    5. The AkinsOV formulations are so loose and fact-free as to serve, even if not intended, as clap-trap.

    • Akins Vidale

      To answer no 1. Yes. What is this low unemployment? CEPEP URP and persons employed in temporary work such as construction booms? A workforce where one third make less than $5000 per mnth ( the data is there), a work force where many are on contract and have no guarantee of tenure? That is low unemployment? We will have to disagree on that point. Labour shortage? We just graduated thousands of students from UWI and many other institutions many of the will leave because they cannot find work. The so called labour shortage is because of poor planning…the cry is for unskilled low wage labour not unlike the cry of the 1830s which lead to indentureship! Transfers at the rates which we have are not a feather in the cap of any government and in fact reinforce my point rather than refute it. And the go to for spending cuts ‘subsidies’… given the inequitable distribution of our nation’s patronage. the subsidy at the pump is the least which can be done for everyone to benefit from our wealth. The state bailed out a private entity with tax payers money to the tune of billions of dollars for a few members of this society and we want to seriously make a case about one of the few ways that the majority actually take a stake in our wealth?
      On point number 2… If you believe that the poor have and equal opportunity before the law and that they can find justice there then you are free to do so but when an official police report refers to plant like substance and there are thousands of young black men in prison who got no such reprieve then I am forced to believe that there is no justice and therefore naturally there will be no peace. The extent too which a person takes their frustration is based on many factors but an attitude that ‘it no so bad’ is exactly why the chickens are coming home to roost. And the poor didn’t just get poorer…SAPs of the 70s and 80s helped significantly with that…
      2012 Caribbean Human Develop Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
      “The changes in post-independence environments have coincided to impact the region’s security landscape. This includes the economic consequences of structural adjustment programmes in several countries. In addition, the region has been affected by the violence associated with and emerging from political competition, growth in the drug trade and more recently gang-related violence.”
      Those are not my words. Structural Adjustment affected T&T significantly in the 80s in particular the East West Corridor. The development model is not unique to us. The entire global system is in collapse and rather than admit that something wrong blame is cast on individual ineptness.
      Low unemployment is a slight of hand. We count CEPEP URP part time construction boom employees and others as fully employed. A real reflection of those unemployed would reveal a much starker picture.
      I also agree that the chickens cam home to roost a long time ago the fundamental point I made is that no one cared enough to address it. The fact is that in spite of all that we have seen and that we continue to see we will continue on our current path because nothing is wrong. We argue to maintain the status quo. I ask again if the chickens came home to roost a long time ago then what have we done to address it if nothing then we still need to be told that the chickens are coming home to roost.
      I am flattered that my piece caught your attention. and that is a genuine position. However the piece is hardly fact free and I do have my evidence to back up the positions I have taken. If Lasana would allow maybe I would furnish him with an academic piece suited to a journal but I doubt that would do much good as there have been many such pieces which have all come to naught. We differ in our view of what is wrong and that is fine but I will continue to challenge this status quo because in my humble opinion it is here that the real answer will be found.

      • Akins Vidale

        My primary thesis is that crime is a by product of our society. There will always be deviants in any society but what we are seeing is more than deviant behaviour.

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    Thanks for the heads-up Akins Olatunji Vidale

  3. Great piece, now in the am will discuss avenues to address crime as a development issue? Propose approaches? Maybe other societies best practices? I would love to hear more!

  4. Sorry to say but I feel no sympathy when the junior officers report it it is met width a deaf ear so it was only a matter of time before d bandits aimed higher. And yes former officer personal experience

  5. The abnormal behaviour seems to be accepted as the norm and this has to stop but if people are even afraid to report crimes due to retaliation by bandits and even not trusting the police, where are we going as a society. There cannot be a family that has not been directly or indirectly affected by crime and think of how long it takes for matters to be completed in court then also what about people being afraid to be state witnesses. There needs to be a major shake up and wake up pertaining to crime in T&T. Currently I am staying in New York and can honestly say feel safer up here than in T&T….New York has it’s share of crime but ever time we go somewhere there is a police presence and when traveling on Staten Island ferry sniffer dogs used for checking bags before going on ferry. My question is if there was a greater police presence on streets of T&T and better response time, would there be less crime in T&T?

  6. Excellent article,this is exactly what I’ve been saying for years.

    • Akins, Methinks I hear a voice asking in the wilderness, “Ignore ye the power of the druglord?”

      IMHO, Colin, the first respondent, zeroed in on the real issues but completely ignored the complexity of the existing situation that subsequent commenters, Strauss Wylde chief among them, I think, have made clear.

      Solutions are NEVER easy to implement when you have to seriously ask the question King Austin once asked about guarding the guards. And I submit that a cursory glance at the list of heads of boards named in Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing moves that question squarely into the centre of any discussion about the way forward.

  7. Hence I didn’t join in the congratulatory nonsense when I tagged u

  8. And until the public is truly capable of placing real pressure on their leaders across party lines we will continue to go round in circles.

  9. We going round and round the same old bush

  10. As was and (to a somewhat lesser extent) is the case in New York the little street thugs engaging in the murderous mayhem are but the visible ten percent of the iceberg, the overwhelming mass of which remains hidden beneath. On a community level it needs to be determined what the factors are that contribute to youth falling into these gang lifestyles, but even more than that there needs to be a very real effort to find out who are, arrest, prosecute snd incarcerate those responsible for organizing the illicit trades that eventually lead to these acts of murder.

  11. I think we’re long past the point of crime being restricted to certain areas of this country though.
    It literally can happen in any and every neighborhood.
    We are firmly entrenched in attacks on the security and justice systems of the country.
    And that too, unfortunately isn’t new.

    • In our case it wasn’t that gun violence was restricted to certain areas, but rather it was largely seen as being restricted to a particular demographic and we were comfortable with that.
      This is no longer the case as we have increasingly seen over the last few years.

  12. I was trying to hold off and thereby avoid getting more licks, but at the risk of once again being cast in the role of ‘foreign used pontificator’ I will venture to weigh in.
    What is happening in Trinidad and Tobago is not unique or even new, it’s happened before in many other countries, we simply did not notice of refused to acknowledge and prepare.
    Too often this type of violent crime isn’t taken seriously by mainstream society until it is no longer relegated to low income crime ridden neighborhoods.
    I tried pointing this out some years ago using an example that was currently at the time taking place in New York. For a long time there was a type of street violence that was almost exclusive to at risk minority communities and the authorities seemed content to contain it there. Community leaders begging, pleaded, complained and protested to no avail …… it was viewed as a community problem that concerned the nobodies who resided in the black and brown skinned no man’s lands ……. that is until it finally spilled out into Manhattan’s iconic Union Square and Time Square where tourists and the upper classes play, only then did the city genuinely begin looking into ways in which it could be addressed.

    • Americans always changing the tone of the conversation when the problem gets to the white suburbs.
      I was reading the other day how the drug problem is no longer a crime problem but a health problem now that it’s a big part of suburbia.

    • This is the point I tried to make. There is this notion that crime can somehow be confined to specific areas but as you said it is a developmental model. Obviously the guns have to come from somewhere, obviously the drugs have to come from somewhere.But guess who the public will see as guilty until proven innocent if they are brought before the courts. Our prejudice in this country runs deep against some communities and i hear people say they deserve this and deserve that never seeing depressed communities as a by product of a failed model.

    • Akins in New York they were comfortable with the idea that gun violence could be restricted to certain communities, in Trinidad I get the impression that we are comfortable with the idea of it being restricted to a particular demographic.

    • Akins why you painting everyone with the same brush?

      Did you target dummy readers?

    • I don’t think we feel that crime in general is restricted to certain areas. If we did we wouldn’t all have burglar proof encasing our homes and the country wouldn’t be seeing this mushrooming of gated communities.
      I think we see the limitation/restriction only with respect to murders related to the drug business. And quite frankly that’s what we’ve been fed by the powers that be.
      So Akins I think you were wholly correct on your two state concept in that regard.
      I for one didn’t wake up today thinking that I was on anybody’s hit list. That spot belongs to somebody else. Somebody in the other state.

    • Vernal Damion Cadogan We are a post colonial post plantation society. We have very little issue with black on black violence. Of the 7 murders in Tobago which investigation led to arrests? In this chat I am fully aware that persons are not so narrow as to think that crime is in area x or y only. Unfortunately in my view the persons here are not yet in the majority.

    • Let’s see some stats to show how many people think either way.

      I hold that the majority of T&T knows the real issues. And it’s the very vocal minority uneducated who think otherwise.

    • Strauss Wylde Who exactly am I painting?and I ask genuinely.

    • The post I made right before you asked.

    • Strauss Wylde That is the contradiction it is the educated who have their heads in the sand deeper than anyone else,

    • Strauss Wylde the point you make is also made in the article. So we are not disagreeing. you are thinking that I am generalising. Throughout the piece I said we and never excluded myself either from the criticism which I have made. Consciousness without action gets us nowhere. Of course many of know the challenges and many of us know that the country is rotten from top to bottom, many of us know that crime is not about little black boys or community x or y but does the response of the state (where I placed the burden of responsibility in the article) reflect acknowledgement of any of that? What are we doing to act on our consciousness of the true nature of our crime situation?

    • Well maybe it’s not what I wanted to read. That’s not directed at you though.

      ie we are too long past trying to establish or set up an argument to lead readers…

      It’s time to be straight up and aggressive in #mainstream media, if they were not owned in some way by those running the country.

      Our laws are different here as well. We can’t really call names like that casually.

      On a related note. You know Grand Bazaar was an illegal structure? But highways and connected roads are built to facilitate it.

  13. And that is the problem… So I really don’t know what the solution is.
    We can start with transparency re: party financing. So we can all see who is financing who… But after that what?

  14. These “businesses” CANNOT be shut down. They finance the party they want to win elections.

    And the government, after they win, has to pay back.

  15. The public face of crime never looked like it belonged to the poor to me. That’s just it.

    Whoever saw that face was delusional. I never did.

  16. I think he meant the public face of crime belongs to the poor and hopeless.
    But it’s true… Crime is big business owned by the wealthy and socially powerful so if we don’t want people employed by the crime sector, we need to shut down the employers.
    I can only hope that we’ll see some movement in that direction over the next five years.

  17. Vidale still beating around the bush in that column.

    It started correctly but shot in the wrong direction. T&T crime is not about the poor. The feeling of hopelessness is not the force pushing people towards crime.

    The problem is much bigger and has a few external forces pulling and tugging. Forces linked to our controlling families that control the economy and support the party that benefit them. These family chess filter down. The illegal drugs, guns, turf wars.

    These people own high ranking members of society. It’s corruption from the very top. If you disappoint or don’t want to play then you’re dead – police, judge, business man, minister, doctor, banker, immigration officer, prison officer, senator, journalist.

    We have mafias representing every major race… And I typing for too long :/

  18. Sadly, I agree, extrajudicial killings are highly encouraged/accepted by Trinidadians and Tobagonians and it seems that crapeau is about to smoke we pipe! We must take a close look at how the prison system is overseen because I sense that extrajudicial punishments might be a major problem in T&T prisons, as well, hence the killing of these prison officers.

  19. I honestly never felt more hopeless about the crime situation than earlier this year when the escaped prisoner was found dead and the minister of national security at the time said something to the effect of being glad that “they” got him.
    The statement was wrong on every level.

  20. Lets try that again. This should have been the tipping point. A 47-year-old Woman Police Constable attached to the Morvant Police Station, her 48-year-old husband, 20-year-old daughter and a man said to be in his ’40s were gunned down by four masked gunmen, who stormed into the Pelican Extension, Morvant home of the officer around 8.30 pm last night. ..back in 2007.

  21. TThis should have been the tipping point.A 47-year-old Woman Police Constable attached to the Morvant Police Station, her 48-year-old husband, 20-year-old daughter and a man said to be in his ’40s were gunned down by four masked gunmen, who stormed into the Pelican Extension, Morvant home of the officer around 8.30 pm last night.THis shpould have been the tipping point.

  22. CAISO Trinidad and Tobago

    We sang this same chorus last year May too, as we left flowers on O’Connor St.

    We can solve concrete problems. Maybe these are the first few.
    • make the prison system have rules and officers and inmates follow them
    • punish rogue police and prison officers (ent Faris want to hang?)
    • offer selected offenders plea deals that put them into training and restorative programmes
    • one year at a time, retool an education system that creates losers out of the majority of children
    • end patronage make-work programmes and put in place serious skill and employment initiatives for young people
    • use force to disarm key communities (collateral impacts likely)
    • partner with other states and take down the crime financiers who fund both political parties

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