Home / View Point / Letters to the Editor / ‘Strange fruit’ in Heights of Aripo; time to address our women’s pandemic of pain and powerlessness

‘Strange fruit’ in Heights of Aripo; time to address our women’s pandemic of pain and powerlessness

“[…] The Heights of Aripo has long been used by criminals to dispose of bodies and evidence. In a bid to turn their neighbourhood into an unsafe haven for the criminals, the poor, frightened residents are requesting assistance and basic amenities. Nothing fancy, just streetlights, a police post and, maybe, some CCTV surveillance cameras.

“Given the history of the area, is it too much to ask? […] These murder machines would just as soon murder an African, Chinese, European, Indian or Venezuelan. They could not care less about race, colour, religion or politics…”

The following Letter to the Editor lamenting negative issues related to the continuing murder of women in Trinidad and Tobago was submitted to Wired868 by Onika Nkrumah-Lakhan, the founder of women’s group, Speak Out Sisters TT:

domestic
Photo: Keitisha Cudjoe’s lifeless body was found in the Heights of Aripo on 1 February 2022. She was 21.

While our country and the rest of the world faces an unprecedented viral pandemic called Covid-19, the women of T&T are facing an additional pandemic of pain and powerlessness.

The latest in an increasing line of murdered women is Keithisha Cudjoe, discovered dead in the Heights of Aripo on the anniversary of the murder of Andrea Bharatt, and Salina Mohammed. I wonder if T&T now needs a holocaust-type memorial to mark these femicides.

Our women are being murdered by familiar and strange men alike. As a defence mechanism, I’ve suspended reading the dailies or watching the news. While the media must do their duty, the steady diet of Covid and killings is unbearable. Covid fatigue is growing and everyone is desperate for some normalcy.

A ‘Taste of Carnival’ is coming soon, and I understand that, after two years, carnival practitioners and those who make a living in the entertainment and events industry deserve to earn a dollar.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (centre), Port-of-Spain South MP Keith Scotland (second from right) and Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell 9second from left) at the sod-turning ceremony for the Desperadoes Pan Theatre on 17 August 2021.
(Copyright Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts)

The government has the capacity to simultaneously take action to strengthen our criminal justice, law enforcement and surveillance systems so we can more effectively respond to crime while also giving citizens a chance to earn a living.

I am under no false impression that any government can fully put an end to homicide and other serious crimes. These things have been with us from the beginning of time and will be with us till the end. However, we cannot speak about limitations until we have done all that we possibly can.

The Heights of Aripo has long been used by criminals to dispose of bodies and evidence. In a bid to turn their neighbourhood into an unsafe haven for the criminals, the poor, frightened residents are requesting assistance and basic amenities. Nothing fancy, just streetlights, a police post and, maybe, some CCTV surveillance cameras.

Given the history of the area, is it too much to ask that some public/private partnership involving the Ministry of Public Utilities and T&TEC be prioritised as of yesterday?

Photo: Andrea Bharatt, 23, went missing on 29 January 2021. Her lifeless body was found in the Heights of Aripo on 4 February 2021.

It is unacceptable that, one year after Andrea Bharatt’s murder, few of the residents’ requests have been met. And Keithisha’s battered corpse adds to the ‘strange fruit’ of the Heights of Aripo.

Recently, there was a bacchanal surrounding whether G2 was properly appointed to the office of CoP. Wouldn’t our collective people power have been better used demanding that police posts be established in Aripo and other areas of concern?

Salina Mohammed was an Indian mother of two, who was brutally gunned down in a blizzard of bullets in front of her home. Keithisha Cudjoe—who was, I am willing to wager, named after her father—was a young, African mother of one, missing, murdered and dumped in the Heights of Aripo. These two beautiful women had their lives stolen, leaving behind motherless children.

It is said that a people get the leadership they deserve. When I consider our major political parties, I can’t help but agree. A newspaper described Salina’s grieving mother as a ‘UNC activist’. Cudjoe being the anglicised spelling of the Ghanaian Kojo, I would be willing to hazard a guess that Keithisha’s family have voted PNM at least once.

Photo: Salina Mohammed was gunned down in San Fernando on 3 February 2022.

While everyone is entitled to their political views, I mention these bits of trivia only to underline the fact that the equal opportunity killers among us are not too concerned about politics. Unless, of course, the politics is effectively used to create policy that affects them.

Criminals exist at an intersectionality where opportunity and depravity collide. These murder machines would just as soon murder an African, Chinese, European, Indian or Venezuelan. They could not care less about race, colour, religion or politics.

For this reason, our leaders must put aside their petty differences as well.  This outta hand crime situation requires all hands on deck; at some point, we have to put our heads together for the greater good.

We can choose to sit in our ivory towers, holiday homes and safe zones and hope that the plague of pain never reaches our doorstep. But it could potentially affect us all directly and personally, like Covid is predicted to do.

Photo: Teenager Ashanti Riley was raped and murdered after taking a taxi to visit her grandmother on 29 November 2020.

If current killings trends continue, both Opposition and Government have to think-tank a way forward. We, the people, have put them in place to govern our nation’s affairs and to administer our finances. They must show themselves worthy of their pay cheque, position, perks and prestige.

While the politicians play politricks in parliament, our women: our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and loved ones are being savagely murdered. Meanwhile, we, the people, must take responsibility for what is happening in our homes, for our parenting styles and for teaching our sons and daughters proper moral and spiritual values.

After all, these rapists and murderers are not aliens or foreigners; they come from our homes and wombs.

I am Andrea, I am Ashanti, I am Keithisha, I am Shannon, I am Salina. I am every woman.

Let me tell you something about powerlessness. Time stands still. A desperate fear threatens to cut off your oxygen. A sinking feeling overwhelms you. The hair on your skin stands on end. Nausea rises in waves from your gut. You break into a cold sweat. Your legs turn to jelly. Your brain refuses to accept what is happening. Your whole life flashes by in a blink. You think about what you had planned for that day.

Photo: Friends said Shadie Dassrath, 31, was a victim of domestic violence.
Dassrath was discovered beaten to death on 2 December 2021.

How do I know? Many years ago, I had a close call in a PH taxi. Miraculously, I escaped any bodily harm but for many others the story didn’t end so happily.

Unless they can ‘eat ah food,’ the criminals are largely unbothered by party politics. Ironically, however, their criminal actions are a type of politics.

According to American feminist, Carol Hanisch, the term ‘political’ is not exclusive to just State/citizen relations; it can also apply to other power relationships. Using this lens, we can view spousal abuse, domestic violence and the murderous actions of misfit men as politics. It is all rooted in unequal power relationships, the abuse of power.

We cannot afford to wait for the pandemic of pain and powerlessness to arrive uninvited at our doorstep. We, the people, must meet it head on and reclaim our power! Candlelight vigils, banners, horn honking, silent protests are all ways that we honour the dead and commiserate with their loved ones. But they are not solutions!

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC.
(Copyright Power102fm)

Those with the power in society must act decisively NOW. We cannot simply sit idly by and wait for another name to be added to the list.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to visit Onika Nkrumah-Lakhan’s blog.

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