Pests, Cockroaches, Wajangs, Animals, Wotless Setta People, Gimme Gimmes, Waste of Times, Pack of Ignorant Fools.
BY chance are you aware that these are the adjectives commonly used to describe residents of Beetham, Sea Lots, Laventille, Morvant, Nelson Street and other crime-prone communities.
It has become an accepted narrative that has shaped our perception and treatment of those who live there. It is a narrative that adds to the problem and one that needs to end.
Last week Saturday, when Noel Diamond, Joel Jacobs, and Israel Clinton were shot and killed by police, the social media commentators did hold back on expressing how they felt.
The police were praised for “eliminating a setta pest.” Those who publicly mourned the three were mocked – “All yuh crying cause mammy’s good boys cah go and rob people no more and buy you gold chains.”
It’s a fair estimate that 99.9% of those commenting did not know Diamond, Jacobs or Clinton. All they knew is that they were three black men from a rough neighborhood in Morvant, so therefore they must be criminals of the worst kind.
Even with CCTV footage that showed one aspect of what transpired, the national community continued to label these men as “criminals” who got what they deserved.
There is a theory in psychology known as Self-Fulling Prophecy. Simply put, if you are made to believe something about yourself or your community, your behaviour begins to mirror these beliefs.
Likewise, if you are made to believe something about an individual or community of individuals, your opinions and actions towards them are guided by what you have been taught, whether it is accurate or not.
Imagine being a young child born into a poor family living in one of the aforementioned communities. As long as you can remember you have been treated with suspicion and contempt because of where you live. You hear people talk about how only gang members and criminals come out of your area, not doctors or lawyers.
Slowly you accept this as your place in life and act accordingly.
On the flipside, let’s say you are born into a financially stable family living in a comfortable neighborhood. You are told that Beetham people are criminals, live off of taxpayers and are a scourge to society.
As such your feelings towards Beetham residents and your interactions with anyone from the area reflect what you have been taught.
It’s a vicious cycle of belief and action that systematically target those communities labelled as hotspots.
So when residents from scorned communities took to the streets this week to protest the police killings, it did not surprise me to see so many people continue the pest narrative.
It also didn’t shock me that many people who supported the George Floyd protests in the US, could not recognise that the protests in Port-of-Spain were essentially the same.
All our protesters were calling for was the police and other law enforcement forces to treat them with the same level of dignity as they would for someone outside of their community.
All they wanted was the right to not be instantly assumed guilty.
All they wanted was to be treated as human beings.
I am not condoning crime or acts of violence. Nor am I in any way attacking the members of our police service; who, like these residents, do not get the respect they deserve and instantly become villainised due to the actions of a rotten few.
I know that Israel Clinton had previously been arrested on the suspicion of robbery and was then acquitted. I am aware gang activity runs rampant in these communities.
I am also aware there are lots of people living in these areas who are neither violent nor intent on terrorising the nation, but as a result of their address they are instantly spat upon in the court of public opinion.
Sadly, our past and present Governments have continuously failed people in these areas. Instead of providing proper job training, they are given URP and CEPEP jobs often handed out by corrupt community leaders in exchange for purchased loyalty.
Food cards and other welfare benefits get thrown at them in cheap attempts to keep their dissatisfaction at bay.
They are often used as inconsequential props for law enforcement public relations -raid this block, rough up these youths, cameras on, police doing their jobs.
They have been used and demonised. The majority of the national community looks down upon them, regards their lives as disposable, yet seem to get too upset when these hooligans ask to be treated with fairness and basic human-to-human respect.
Have you ever wondered what those communities would be like if we treated them the same way we treat those from affluent areas?
If we started referring to the young boys at red lights washing windows as entrepreneurs rather than menaces?
If every man, woman and child from Beetham, Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Nelson Street, Bagatelle and other stigmatised communities were no longer referred to in the most vile ways by the public.
If they were seen as and spoken about as our equals?
Perhaps the first step in creating a better TT is to change the way we speak to and about one another.
You can form all the Committees you want. Hold all the basketball tournaments in the world. Build the world’s largest swimming pool. None of it will change anything, unless we change how talk, act towards and perceive people from these communities.
If we change our narrative, we change our perception, our actions and feelings towards them. We create an environment of growth, acceptance and mutual respect.
All we have to do to start is change our words.
(Special thanks to Denise Johnson for helping me re-educate myself on the basics on Psychology).