Once the land of parang, calypso, chutney, etc, TT has turned into the land of outrage. Outrage after outrage rolls across the public’s consciousness like carnival bands on the
savannah stage. Not too long ago, the theme was abuse at Children’s Homes; before that was The Week of the Drowned Toddler.
The week before – children fighting in school uniform, or women being killed by their partners, or police killings…. The costumes the revellers wear might change but the carnival of outrage goes on forever.
Commentators focus on the state’s responsibility. Children’s Homes should be better supervised! Police should investigate crimes instead of playing all fours in the station! etc. etc. We all know the cliches. What we refuse to know is the source of all the outrageous events: that’s the elephant in the home.
Why are children in ‘Children’s Homes’ where they are open to abuse? Judging from the Sabga findings, they were either subject to abuse by elders at home or given to acting out, probably due to psychological, social, economic or learning difficulties. So why the focus on public ‘Homes’ when the problem originates in private homes?
The entire Caribbean is riddled with child neglect and abuse. Young people begin having sex
earlier than virtually anywhere else in the world. Nearly half of all sexually active girls and one-third of boys had been raped at home or in the outside environment.
The causes of this abuse, according to researchers, are ‘societal acceptance of violence, patriarchal values which minimise the rights of women and children and norms which associate masculinities with domination and sexual entitlement’.
The Prime Minister, who simply says TT is a violent society, throws teacups at opposition members and threatens them to fight on the pavement. Is the violence in the society related to the constant violence in political discourse? Is it related to the open graft practiced by politicians, the sense that life in TT is a zero-sum game: eat or be eaten?
The politicians and police say the violence in TT is a function of gang formation. They identify ‘weapons’ as guns. But many people are being killed with cutlasses in domestic settings. Hot water can be a weapon, kitchen knives, hands, anything and everything. A Trini home can be a dangerous place. And why are teenagers joining gangs anyway? What do they need from these gangs?
The PM lied. Trinidad is not violent in general, but some people act extremely violently. Who are they? Not the rich – unless you are counting economic and social violence. It is poor women who are killed by their husbands, poor kids who end up in Children’s Homes as a result of being abused at their own homes. Even when a child was murdered at an upscale pool party, he was a poor child.
Violence in TT is clearly located in poverty, and poverty in TT is clearly linked with race. Only Indians and Africans end up in jail, and only those at the lower end of the social spectrum. The black-white proportion of people in jail is more extreme than that in the US – although black people ostensibly run the country and inhabit the police force. In fact, I’ve never heard of a white person going to prison in TT, nor a Chinese person, for that matter.
Why? Does a Laventille male have the same opportunities in life as a Westmoorings one, or
does he have to find other ways to assert his strength and so resorts to violence? Is the
violence an expression of the neo-colonial social structure that the outraged leaders refuse
to acknowledge? Do girls at the bottom of the social order have the same opportunities for
economic advancement as others, or do they have to accept whatever treatment men dole
There is a prevalent notion that African males are the primary actors in the violence.
Why is that so? In earlier times, the main criminals in TT were Indian: the Poolool brothers,
Boysie Singh, etc. What factors in our recent history have caused this apparent shift in
roles? How can this be addressed in government policy?
Could it be that social leaders have led the underprivileged astray with half-baked and dangerous theories? ‘My mother who fathered me’ was a much-praised sociological volume among intellectuals in the Caribbean. But is that really a desirable family model?
Fatherlessness has been identified in US studies as a constant element in the development of pathological behaviours amongst youth. The acceptance of this pattern of domestic life in TT needs to be challenged. Instead of tracing every problem back to slavery, it is time that our intellectuals confront today’s issues and create a more effective basis for shaping policy.
There is no need to throw up our hands and come to existential conclusions such as the PM has done. Societies can change. Europe used to be a place full of war, tyranny, banditry, etc. Today, since social equality has greater focus than in earlier times, crime is very low there. Trinidad and Tobago can also address the problem of violence in a calm and constructive way.