But while we scratch our collective heads, we should recall that these are not the first children involved in murders. In 1993, Prisons Commissioner Michael Hercules was shot in the chest three times when he refused to hand over the keys to his car to two masked shooters. Hercules killed the 21-year-old bandit, but the 19-year-old survived.
The very next year, Chuck Attin was 15 years old when together with an accomplice, he killed two women in Westmoorings.
According to newspaper reports, 8,000 persons, including the then Prime Minister, attended Hercules’ funeral. On both occasions, there were loud cries for the death penalty.
But 29 years after, in 2022, the killings are multiplying, and the age of the offenders remains shockingly low. Our collective voices have turned to mourn rather than anger. Frustration is rife. Why do we continue to lose our young men as victims and perpetrators of crime? Why is nothing changing?
Since the infamous Parliamentary spat between Dr Morgan Job and Dr Keith Rowley about the political ability to handle crime, we have become more partisan and unable to deal with the roots of crime. We keep looking for a Messiah. At least Dr Job fingered poor schooling as a contributory factor.
The gun is now the weapon of choice. Before 2000, less than a third of the murders were gun-related. By 2006, it had more than doubled (74%)—comparable to our Latin American neighbours. More than half (59%) of the victims of fatal firearm assaults were males aged 15 – 34 years.
A UK longitudinal study running over 40 years (Farrington, 2001) supports that a life of crime starts at 14 (when the parents lose influence) and ends around 23 (when romantic interests emerge). These times of maximum acceleration and deceleration in prevalence draw attention to periods in male lives when significant life changes may be occurring that influence offending.
The study explains why the Fyzabad four would be on the same mission. No different from what obtains in Laventille or elsewhere.
“[…] Co-offenders tended to be similar in age, gender and race […] and lived close to their addresses and the locations of the offences…”
Significantly, it described the issue of older boys leading younger ones into crime: a pattern evident locally.
“[…] About one-third of the most persistent offenders continually offended with less criminally experienced co-offenders, and hence appeared to be repeatedly recruiting others into a life of crime…”
We often read in the local papers about the failure of the single mother in raising sons. This perspective does not consider the household structures applicable here where other relatives pitch in to discipline and raise children. The longitudinal study posits that spousal conflict significantly influences juvenile delinquency. The quarrels and violence are disruptive to child nurturing.
This viewpoint has been supported in personal interviews I have done in the nation’s prisons. The idea of “staying for the children’s sake” and sacrificing the children for the money a stepfather brings is very harmful.
Often the young men learn violence as a way of solving problems or find themselves being put out of their homes “for peace sake”. This removal is complicated in violent neighbourhoods since everyone is seen as a threat.
Professor Selwyn Ryan’s Task Force (2013) delivered a masterful dissertation on crime and young people. Prophetically, it explained the story of one of the Fyzabad youths: “the educational and financial success achieved by the parents (who sacrificed tremendously) of these Indo-Trinbagonian youth had created a generation of overly indulged young people.”
The report also estimated that only 10% to 20% of Laventille posed a crime problem. Crime is everywhere. Several young incarcerated men have described the initial ‘thrill’ of holding a gun.
With little regard for the recommendations of the Ryan report, the Government turbo-charged the LifeSport programme. In May 2014, an Express exclusive revealed that when the latter programme began in 2012, it was allocated TT$6.6M.
Before the programme was stopped, it jumped to TT$113,502,273M. An increase of almost TT$106.9M! For context, Guardian Holdings Limited made $106M in 2013! No joke.
In a contemporaneous telling comment, Gary Griffith, the then national security minister, said: “If political parties worked with groups to help them mobilise during election campaigns, that is not my business. It is not an illegal act.
“My focus is on gangs and specific gang leaders who have access to state contracts and use their profit not to enhance their community and reduce crime but to use the profit to fuel crime via the importation of illegal drugs and weapons and using naive youths to do their dirty work, upon which they become casualties.” (Express, 19 May 2014)
In 2019, Mr Griffith and Mr Roodal Moonilal belatedly confirmed the existence of a hitherto unknown ‘top secret’ 2014 report that warned of the link between criminal activity, government contracts and suspected gang leaders.
However, in 2013, at the opening of the Duncan Street police post, the sitting Prime Minister, Mr Moonilal and Mr Griffith would not confirm the identity of the contractor involved. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams did.
Since March 2007, a UN/World Bank report told us that our crime situation is exacerbated by political patronage, whereby some communities are the beneficiaries of poverty alleviation projects which the community drug supplier often controls.
That episode illustrates. No party is immune.
Deosaran and Chadee (1997) reported: “No ghetto youth has the connections and the resources to import the amount of guns and drugs […] on the streets. But most importantly, crimes committed by persons from the ghetto are sensationalised, overemphasised, and whole communities stigmatised, while crimes committed by members of the elite are ignored, not investigated and not subject to prosecution.”
Good legal representation, time and money tip the scale.
Shades of Brad Boyce! It took Justice Herbert Volney 15 years to admit that he made a wrong decision. Consider what it took for the Volney confession to be aired. But the pain remains that of the less advantaged.
This month in the wake of the La Romaine murders, a ‘security expert’ suggested that our customs officers turn a blind eye to gun importation. If the priest could play, who is me? Who pays the officers to be blind? No poor boy can pass that kind of money. But he could rent the gun from those who have it. Power by the hour!
Since 2015, the wealthiest 1% has owned more than the rest of the world’s 99%. In a recent US report, the top 1% has a third of the wealth while the bottom 50% has 2%.
The Panama Papers tell us that the wealthy and politically connected put our money beyond our reach.
On the other hand, Singing Sandra and Christophe Grant captured the plight of the demoralised:
“Most nights with sad tales are crowded/Their days with dark clouds are shrouded/ They don’t smile and they never will,/Only vultures get their fill/ Empty promises is what they hear/No running water from year to year…”
Where is the political will to stop the rot? The condition of the schools in the depressed areas and the long waits in the public hospitals tell a compelling story of institutionalised neglect.
Where is the professional support to counsel and guide parents? How do we disrupt the money trail? Can we strengthen the community elders?
Time to stop the carnage of our youths.