Noble: T&T society is too unbalanced for harmony; only bitter medicine will bring crime relief

As a young boy, I learnt that Buckley’s cough syrup was the cure when your cold turned into a cough that wracked your chest. It tasted awful, but it worked!

The makers were making a product that cleared up your congestion and colds. They were not interested in creating a good-tasting product. As a nation, we face a troubling situation with crime and must decide whether we want to cure it. What will we do?

It tasted awful… but it worked!

When we see that we have had multiple oil and gas booms and nothing has changed for the better, what should we do? The lives of many of our citizens have not changed after living in the shade of enormous wealth. Multinational companies have taken our wealth to places unknown to most of us.

The crop may have changed from sugar to gas, but the effect is the same. We are living on a plantation—not even the locals, who have benefitted, care. We have not a shred of an excuse since George Beckford, The UWI academic, warned us in 1972 that the result would be persistent poverty.

The dismal picture of a deserted Frederick Street at 7.30am on Carnival Monday by David Abdulah reminds us of the disappearance of Ispat Mittal. Just when we believed we had something worthy, the mask slips off, and we are left barehanded.

We are left standing and wondering, like the naughty boy who ran away to Scotland, only to discover the ground was as hard and that the yard was as long. The planters who enslaved our ancestors got rid of the sugar estates, and the bauxite mine owners left Jamaica high and dry, so why do we expect something different?

Steel tycoon and Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal is the owner of ArcelorMittal.
His billion dollar empire started properly in Trinidad.
(Courtesy Rediff)

As a point of reference, in the 1970s, bauxite accounted for more than half of Jamaica’s GDP. Now? It is barely 5%! Is this the template for our energy sector?

But the problem is not only that of the rape by the multinationals. Our own people discard us like an orange sucked of all its goodness. We are relegated to holding the ropes to keep our brothers out of the available pittances. We have regressed.

In the 1950s, the elites had their version of Carnival in The Savannah while the plebs paraded themselves in Marine Square—now known as Independence Square. The elites were then on trucks. Today, we, the plebs, care for their every imagined need.

Do we only exist for their pleasure and comfort? Is there no mercy? Some live tormented lives so that others may live luxuriously. This structural imbalance sets the stage for our crime situation.

Security workers ensure that a high-end mas band can party without any intrusion from outside their circle during the 2016 Carnival season.
(Copyright Mark Morgan)

Our politicians of every stripe have accepted this state of affairs. They lifted not a hand to help the impoverished. Building tall buildings on our Waterfront does not constitute development. While the energy technocrats negotiated reasonably well, what did our politicians do with the receipts they got?

How were our lives transformed? Was conspicuous consumption in the boom years worth it?

Not every wrongdoing is punished. When our men and women are broken by their labour in our workplaces, who should care for them? When some shareholders manipulate the stock market for their benefit, who sends them to jail?

When we underinvest in some schools while, with the blink of an eye, we bestow a lab or a whole school building for others, what do we expect? When schools do not help our children get an opportunity for a better life, when the hospitals cause us to wait 24 hours or more to see a doctor, how do we keep hope alive?

St Mary’s College supporters celebrate their triumph over Trinity College East during a Secondary School Football League (SSFL) contest on 9 September 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/ Wired868)

By these actions, we are setting the conditions for violence. The neglected residents become more aggressive, more likely to carry weapons and act without thinking. This hopeless uncertainty about life triggers more violence.

When companies speak about corporate social responsibility, what are they describing? As John F Kennedy said: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

There is no desire to transform lives or communities. We gratify ourselves with the obligatory press release and retreat to our coves of comfort. We permit our towns to burn because we foolishly believe that does not affect us.

When we unleash the police with no accountability, we do more harm than good. Police misconduct disconnects the police from the community. The residents no longer view the police as potential allies and neither provide tips nor report crimes. This silence leads to the rise of more violence and the impeding of justice, leaving all our communities unsafe.

Police officers square off with Morvant/Laventille residents after protests against the police killings of Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(Copyright Trinidad Express)

To break this cycle and stem the violence, we need to gain an awareness of ourselves and our place in the world. We have to gain self-confidence to get the will to tackle our structural problems.

It is not a question of acquiring skills—our nationals run the plants on behalf of the multinationals. Only as we prioritise our interests will we ensure that our institutions and politicians serve us. It is the route to a society that values its citizens in a manner that ensures their well-being.

Are we willing to take the required medicine? Or will we continue to ramajay and not move an inch toward a safe and prosperous society?

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One comment

  1. A very interesting and informative article with more questions than answers. I am in agreement with a lot of the points raised. However I am yet to understand what is the metaphorical Buckley’s in this case
    From my limited understanding of history, part of the crime problem which pervades port of Spain and environs is due to several factors one of which is the scenario of children making children without proper ability to provide the requisite guidance that these future adults need. How do we provide those children with hope in education and the hope that they can come out of the ” ghetto” when crime is all they see and any flame of hope to walk the righteous part is quickly extinguished by a community leader who sees the child as a potential soldier in his army to help enrich him? Will the community leader see a potential doctor in the midst and provide them with the necessary tools to bring that potential to reality? We could argue about it not being his job, but it’s also not his job to take advantage of misguided youth either! But he does it anyway.
    The question of wealth trickling down is a difficult one to answer . Will direct payment of lumpsums to poor families better their circumstances in the long term? Or will it just be a short term fix? Isn’t it better to encourage a better mindset among the young people? I have seen people born in humble circumstances be able to improve the lives of themselves and their families through education coupled with an ambitious mindset which improved the circumstances of a generation. The acquisition of a decent home and the ability to support one’s family is no longer seen as a goal, but is replaced by images of people leading luxurious lifestyles and needless comparisons. We seem to ignore that some people are the beneficiaries of getting ” head starts” from their parents/ grandparents and foolishly gauge our success to theirs, when time should be better spent recognizing our progress and keeping going until each coming generation leads an improved quality of life
    We have to stop the glorification and thereby reduce the attraction to the criminal lifestyle.Andvfrom someone who has been at the ground level and often interact with young people it is easy to see the recipe for people turning to crime. Changing the mindset is of paramount importance toward alleviating our crime problem.
    One of the biggest ways I think wealth trickling down indirectly is government subsidized housing. Unfortunately some recipients of such transfer their behavior to these areas and success in creating a new ” ghetto” with modern infrastructure!
    Hope is needed among the young. Unfortunately as soon as a pep talk is given by a potential role model the area role.model will tell the youth ” doh study he”. Guess who has greater influence? If you gessed the guy with the girls, guns ,weed and Hennessy go to the head of the class!
    I sincerely believe there are a lot more opportunities now( at least in central for sure) than ever before in this country. Guidance however is falling short

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