That Akil Phillip was shot ostensibly for his cell phone is sad. But the greater sadness is missed in the midst of the outcry by elements of the wider population against the ‘deafening’ silence of the Laventille community.
They seek to chastise the residents for not ‘making noise’ comparing the response in videos of protests when the Police make a raid or kills someone. That outcry is entirely misdirected.
We celebrate Akil’s shortened life and the promise of an escape from the trauma of his and his family’s existence while failing to acknowledge that in 2019, Akil is the exception not the rule. If you are from Laventille, it takes tremendous effort and discipline to put your foot on the first rung of the social mobility ladder.
Your parents and you have to dream and believe that you can go against the tide. A tide swollen by the fact that most young men in Laventille do not enjoy the chance to have a proper secondary school education and therefore become a compelling counter story which causes others to give up hope.
They hear, see and breathe failure. They do not believe they could be successful given what they see as their reality. What other children take for granted, they cannot.
‘Being in school’ is a massive con game. Both teacher and child modify their expectations. Because of the uneven distribution of national resources, there are unfair avoidable differences.
The Laventille students are more likely to be excluded from tertiary education. Deosaran (2016) demonstrates that academic advantages emerge from attendance at ‘prestige’ schools. This is a structural problem that begins from primary school and results in participation rates of 34% for Africans compared to 61% of East Indians and 38% of Mixed ethnic group at our local universities.
There are institutional barriers, like poor nutrition and teachers without resources, that oppress our Laventille young men. A look at the top 200 SEA student results in the recent past reveals this disparity. These men lack the tailwinds—family and community resources—that could push them to overcome the barriers.
The stench of decay is present in literally every community with residents enduring wretched stigmatised lives. Even if you ‘get through’ and pass the CXC or CSEC examinations, your address works against you. You cannot get a job. Why stay in school? This situation sharpens the sense of injustice. This is one root of the protests against unjustifiable actions taken in their communities.
Laventille is not indifferent to the killing of Akil. The truth is there is no institutional support for upright citizens, who go to work daily and send their children to church and school. The residents know that in the ongoing Clifton Towers battle—where gang members are determined to seize control of that HDC property—their cries for help are ignored. They are invisible to the authorities.
‘House grabbing’ is extensive in Laventille while the Police sit on their hands. The Witness Protection programme, an essential component of the criminal justice system, has all but collapsed. Bill after Bill from the Government cannot stop crime. Only collective actions can solve a collective problem.
In 1991, Buju Banton warned us: “He that keep wret his mout, shall keep wret his life; A bwoy a, chat up mi business you know it nah go nice; Tell him family and friend fi prepare him nine night… Man fi dead, jus mek dem know wi nah save no lead; Gunshot fi buss up inna informer head.”
The big men have their own justice system, complete with death penalties. They have their supporters, who are materially maintained by them, and can be relied upon to block roadways and protest. This is different to the instances where there is patent injustice. We must not to conflate the two.
In Laventille, the killer often stands amidst the onlookers discussing the victim’s death. The police, unconnected to the community and without information, cannot arrest. The police do not patrol unless in furtherance of their personal goals. Why should a resident court death by opening her mouth?
One resident reported that a policeman, on arriving at a crime scene, called out her telephone number and asked for her by name. She had reported the crime. The Crime Stoppers programme has an uphill battle in the face of such behaviour since residents are unclear whether this is just another means of delivering their identities and their deaths.
When will the shock and horror of Akil’s death fade? Games of Throne resumes this weekend, guess what will occupy the thumbs of social media?
Take a test. Does anyone remember the names De-neilson Smith and Mark Richards?
These were the Success Laventille Secondary School boys, slaughtered three years ago? Do we still care?
Like then, we will seek some nefarious ‘reason’ to explain Akil’s killing, but the truth stares us in the face. We have a systemic problem of neglect that creates a factory producing criminals. Fix that. No pious gallerying needed.