“Kill everyone!” was the instruction Dole Chadee gave Joey Ramiah, who then murdered four members of a single family.
How could people be so heartless and cold-blooded? It was a long time in coming. Nothing was ever done to dismantle the networks that brought cocaine to our shores since life was good for some, and money was being made.
In this gruesome case, the star witness got a new life and now lives in Europe, while the case made “millionaires of lawyers, legends of politicians, and fast-tracked promotions for police officers. But for others involved, nothing but eternal misery.” (Express, October 2022)
Today, there is a cry for gun licences for our business people. They are fed up with the crime on their doorstep or wish to protect their property. Let us do a thought experiment: how successful will these business people be against those armed with guns from the drug trade?
Several Central American countries tell us the outcome of such battles. The genie is out of the bottle.
In 1998, we had 98 murders. Today we have six times that total. Why is this happening? What is giving rise to those with anti-social tendencies among us?
These questions are never asked since we clamour for more guns and a John Wick-like character to quash those engaged in home invasions and brutal acts of violence.
None of those who desire gun licences has spoken about the epidemic of school dropouts. Yet there is a straight line between the two.
The majority of the 1998 murders came from two sources: returning deportees and school dropouts. Twenty years before, the country made a fundamental decision that triggered a never-ending cascade of grief.
From the year of our Independence, we struggled with increasing unemployment and a steep rise in birth rates. This desperate situation led several women to migrate, leaving their children behind. They did so with the best intentions, but the migration had consequences.
There was an emotional price, and physical or sexual abuse was a constant companion: this led to low self-esteem and resentment at the neglect, leading to a marked deterioration in school performance. The murderous Sandy gang of St Barbs was the first expression of this plague.
In 1972, we hustled into junior and senior secondary schools, which the World Bank acknowledged as disastrous. The curricula were improperly created, and teachers were perpetually absent and poorly trained. The student leakage from our schools accelerated. School violence and delinquency escalated.
What did we do with our first “oil boom”? We took the windfall and built the Point Lisas estate.
The heartland that supported the People’s National Movement—the home of the “barrel children”—got the Development Employment Work Programme (DEWD).
Up to the end of 1983, none of the large Pt Lisas projects turned a profit. In the case of the Iron and Steel Company (ISCOTT), a further funding request of US$257.8 million (TT$619 million) was granted over three years (Farrell, 2022). No help for junior secondary students and so inequality is baked in.
Some citizens lived well while others suffered. The misaligned education delivery led to more school dropouts.
By 2009, Senator Hazel Thompson-Ayhe described us as living in slumberland and told us that the dropouts were joining gangs. She was right.
The disrespect of Minister Manohar Ramsaran to the survivor of the Chadee murders (“Buckle down and try to lead a productive life, and get vengeance out of your mind.”) was replicated by Ministers Tim Gopeesingh and Anthony Garcia.
The former, in 2011, acknowledged the unexplained loss of 4,000 students but inaccurately minimised it as a problem for 45 years. He had no answers about the whereabouts of these students nor the precipitating causes.
Mr Garcia, in his turn, was equally clueless but was not sure that the children, who in 2019 numbered 5,000, were ending up in gangs. Both ministers promised research into the issue.
We doubled down on our callousness by withdrawing the help the fragile communities needed in the increasingly complex task of parenting (Reddock, 2021).
In 2013, the Ryan Report identified the dangers ahead, but as Dr Lennox Bernard reported, the DOMA folk did not consider the reform of the schools in their area a priority.
Today, the same merchants clamour for guns to protect themselves. The Guardian’s January 2011 editorial fear—“The price the nation will be called on to pay is likely to be enumerated in blood”—has materialised.
The danger is no longer limited to East Port of Spain, but the Caroni educational district is also at severe risk. The age of our criminals gets lowered every year. We face a tense and tortured future as our ladder of social mobility collapses.
We lack basic morals and can only create low-wage, low-skill jobs while haemorrhaging our bright young ones and living with the constant threat of mass disorder. Unless we value each life with dignity, we will be racing to see who can kill who.
The bottom beckons, but we have a choice and can do better. Let us start with the young people in our schools.