Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Noble: The Sad Story of slain Akil Phillip, victim of T&T’s crime factory

Noble: The Sad Story of slain Akil Phillip, victim of T&T’s crime factory

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.

Photo: Murdered St Anthony’s College student Akil Phillip.

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.

Photo: Akil Phillip collects a prize from his dad at the Laventille United award ceremony.
Phillip was an avid footballer.
(Courtesy Laventille United)

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.”

Photo: A thug shows off his weapon in Trinidad.

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?

Photo: Murdered Laventille schoolboy De-neilson Smith.

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.

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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35 comments

  1. The answer lies in understanding gang initiation

  2. I am sorry I don’t buy into this root cause argument, this perenial cry of ‘the system’.

    Murdered Innocent Teenager ÷ (excuse + excuse + excuse) = 0.

    Someone shot a little boy to death and it is likely members of that community know who did it.

    • Would you have the community kill the suspected killer themselves?

    • Lasana Liburd certainly not advocating vigilante justice (there is no limit to that)

      Even if we accept the informer argument I find it difficult to believe that the community is so gripped by fear that information cannot be shared safely to obtain justice for this crime. I still hope this is being done.

      I find the article conflated issues unrelated to the murder and painted the community as being disadvantaged somehow.

    • Dayne Brizan you don’t think Laventille really is disadvantaged?
      As regards the ‘informer argument’, I was attacked in the national stadium last December in front of dozens of witnesses. I asked one or two people who saw what happened and the police called about a half dozen others. I think only two people were willing to give statements.
      One person said the “alleged assailant” knows where he lives and he is afraid and his family told him not to say anything.
      And in my case you’re talking about a school teacher.
      They don’t think police will protect them if they say anything.
      If people are afraid of a school teacher with a short fuse, imagine when the perpetrator is an armed career criminal with friends in the TTPS and lives in the same neighbourhood?!
      I think you should give your position more thought.

    • Lasana Liburd there is always an excuse not to do what is right in T&T.

      Your account is demonstrative of the selfishness and sorry to say cowardice of those individuals rather than a systemic problem as the article asserts with Akil’s killing.Sadly,It (your case) didnt affect them so why spare the effort.

      Cowardice is a strong word and I am not attributing it to those residents as all the facts are not known which is why I said it is likely someone knows something I still have hope that some measure of cooperation is happening.

      I would concede that familial and economic circumstances out your control result in advantage or disadvantage but again what are systemic or institutional problems that place them at a disadvantage.

      It is unfortunate that the article didn’t mention how much underemployment there is among degreed persons in T&T or how rewarding vocational careers are. I would challenge anyone to name a community that received more by way of public funding in the development of these skills. I think they have options.

  3. Btw, according to the Anti-Gang act:
    “gang” means a combination of two or more
    persons, whether formally or informally
    organized, who engage in gang-related
    activity;

    “gang-related activity” means––
    (a) an offence;
    (b) an attempt to commit an offence;
    (c) the aiding, abetting, counselling or
    procuring of an offence; or
    (d) a conspiracy to commit an offence,

  4. Apart from poor parenting, the school syllabus is not designed to foster any self pride or patriotism. So we have so many young men led astray by gang culture.

  5. It seems that many of the women in T&T seem to be playing a support role to dominant older men. Dressing up for special occasions but not speaking out for women, children, equality, transparency or accountability. Imo

  6. Until and unless that the powers that be try to see with their hearts and hear with their minds, these, while their eyes are closed, they would continue to have no feeling for such devastation as the senseless loss of lives such as this. And yes, DeNyssa Furlonge, it takes the heartfelt understanding of a mother more than any, to fully express what such a loss truly means. More mothers should be the leaders of our communities and efforts – mothers are given more abilities than any other on earth to act most like God. Ladies, this is the simple truth.

  7. A Corey Gilles & Lasana Liburd
    What does it mean to be a young boy growing up in Laventille?
    Many years ago I made the point, that some children who are born in Laventille, don’t stand a chance to survive far more to live. They are born to die, either by the hands of their parents who are unable to properly nuture and take care of them (poor socio-economic conditions) or by the hands of a young gun toting youth man. Akil Phillip tried against both odds to make a difference. He told his mother that he would make her proud.
    Had we as a society, not make those two odds the norm, jus maybe, Akil Phillip and all the other children his age, who fell victims to these norms, wouldn’t have been a part of our murder statistics. Instead they would have been our success stories here in Laventille.
    #Myheartbleeds
    British High Commissioner to T&T Arthur Snell (2014)He re­ferred to nine-year-old Jadel Hold­er, who was mur­dered with his broth­er, Ja­mal Brath­waite, 15, at their home at Co­conut Dri­ve, Mor­vant, on Sun­day.Hold­er and Brath­waite were made to lie down and shot in the head at point-blank range.Snell said: “What does it mean to be a nine-year-old boy?

    So the mes­sage here is pret­ty sim­ply, ‘Yes, it is sad but it was their fault. It’s not our re­spon­si­bil­i­ty…’ Blame the kids, blame the moth­er, blame the ab­sent fa­ther and if that fails, blame the po­lice. “De­mandthey take tougher ac­tion, ar­rest more peo­ple. Don’t wor­ry there is no ev­i­dence, this has nev­er worked–just do it again. It’s not our re­spon­si­bil­i­ty,” Snell said.

    • “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…These men lack the tailwinds—family and community resources—that could push them to overcome the barriers.”

      Notice how the point keeps being made that this is principally a STRUCTURAL problem — ie, a problem created AND maintained by a system. I have read Deosaran’s book and took down numerous quotes which I am tempted to post again (trust me, it often makes for depressing and infuriating reading).

      But the *real* infuriating thing is no matter what he says in that excellent book, no matter what is said by the minute few who have even heard about far less read David Trotman‘s book on crime in Trinidad in the 19th century and made the disturbing connections to crime in 2019, the predominant mantra will forever be this decontextualised crap about “personal responsibility”.

      This thing about personal responsibility is something I frequently hear from idiots who will call in to i95.5 or 91.1 or Power 102 and articulate what is felt by a great many people, including those who set public policy in Parliament. They’re idiots not because this argument of personal responsibility is irrelevant, but because of the way they speak about it in a stand-offish, self-righteous, individualistic way that removes their own direct or indirect complicity in making places like Laventille, Morvant, Beetham, Maloney , Carenage, as well as Icacos, Erin, Las Cuevas, Cacandee, Carli Bay and other coastal areas where the drugs and weapons are brought in, the crime-ridd en places that they are.

      Furthermore, I don’ t hear the talk about personal responsibility being applied to the business and merchant elites who, in keeping with the ideology and practice of neoliberal corporate capitalism, skimp on salaries and health benefits, are anti-union, flout and disregard the law, often in full view of their employees, and, again with the full knowledge of their employees, get away because they have the resources and connections to frustrate the legal system. Then they flaunt their wealth and their impunity, contribute to the consumerist “bling“ culture and then wonder why the level of violent crime is so high.

      Mind you Sherma, in some respets Power 102 has to take some licks too. WHY, to this date, has that station not made into a podcast the interview of the late Hal “Uncle Roy” Greaves,” one of the most historically and sociologically informative, and disturbing interviews on why east POS is the way it is. That interview was packed with information that explains so much about the various internal and external forces — dispossession, poverty, manipulations and marginalisation— that create the self-regenerating cycles of violent crime we see being played out every damn day. Yet it’s locked away in some hard drive or vault? Really?!

    • A Corey Gilkes you’ve jus reiterated my point exactly! Odds have now become/accepted as norms. Poor-socio economic conditions – we need to fix it now! As of yesterday! It’s d only way out if this madness!

    • Most people can’t see the forest for the trees. They just see the national pie as a zero sum game. More for the poor, means less for the rich and they don’t see the benefit of leaving something on the table for anyone else.
      Education right now is so much more segregated as opposed to 30 years ago. Clearly the idea is to allow certain people every possible advantage in life.
      Problem is what T&T is hurtling towards will hurt all sides: the rich, the poor and the middle class.
      We are creating a frightening ecosystem here. And the rich will need a dozen more Gary Griffiths to have their backs at this rate.

    • Lasana Liburd well said! Sooner or later they would realize one shot can’t solve all our problems

    • Yep Sherma. Too much selfish, short term thinking. We live on two little rocks in the sea in the grand scheme of things, yet think we are insulated and wouldn’t be affected if significant numbers of our brothers and sisters are seeing hell.

  8. This is one my fears, reading one of my babies got killed, I pray for my students all the time such potential and talent but few opportunities and some of the troubled communities they reside in

  9. I remember the earlier two boys.
    This article makes a sadness even heavier

  10. Earl Best

    Impotence, impotence everywhere. How can we be literally and figuratively killing people so and not a finger is successfully lifted to put an end to it?

    And the CoP just keeps on keeping on, basking in the praise consistently heaped on him by the bunglers in charge…

  11. ‘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……and no one seems willing to change this

    • Cleavon I think the people with the power to change it are the ones who benefit from it.
      And those who need it to be changed the most are pacified with the occasional exception to the rule and the feeling that nobody listens to them anyway.

  12. How many more must die in our sweet country Them really good yes

  13. Bad social housing planning and design creates ghettos.