Gather around folks it’s story time.
Many years ago, when I was a reporter, I was sent to cover a murder.
Now this wasn’t my first rodeo, I had seen a pretty grim scene a couple months before, but what stood out to me wasn’t the two victims or the only witness, who was a drunk bareback man named Shaky; it was the young girl watching on.
Around the time the crime scene investigators got there a nearby secondary school had now been dismissed. A group of teenaged girls, being the masters of maco, stood by watched the scene unfold as two dead men, with around five bullets each in their bodies, were pulled out of a car and placed onto gurneys.
Being still wrapped in my blanket of privilege, I told the girls they should just keep moving along; no one really needs to see this. Oh my innocent heart.
That’s when she spoke.
“Miss I done see dead bodies already. I living John John, I does see murdered people all de time. We all gonna dead, I might dead the same way as dem one day.”
Blanket ripped off! Here was a girl no more than 16, who had lived her entire life surrounded by violence. Here was a girl who had become apathetic to the loss of human life. Here was a girl who assumed a future based on the circumstances around her.
Despite what our Minister of Denial…I mean National Security…Stuart Young says, it is more apparent than ever that we are in a state of crisis. Sadly, no anti-gang legislations will work, for every gangster arrested there are ten more willing to take his place. No catching the ever ominous Mr Big will work, because again there are ten more criminal masterminds, each hungrier than the last, waiting to take the throne.
In an interview this week former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas noted the current approach to curbing crime through law enforcement is neglecting to address why so many of the nation’s youth, especially those of African descent from marginalised areas, continue to feed into the self-destructive cycle of organised crime and violence. He urged those in power to address our nation’s dire situation through looking at the root of the problem.
Never more I have I agreed so whole heartedly with someone named Reginald. For decades young men and women living in economically depressed areas have been let down by our schools, our public services and our Governments.
If you grow up around crime and violence, if you are regularly told that no one in your country cares about you, that achieving success through non-criminal activities is out of your reach, if the only people who have your back are those who put a gun in your hand, you will accept this fate.
So where do we go? At this time we need to approach crime through preventative methods targeting Trinidad and Tobago’s disenfranchised youth, the young men and women, whom like the young girl at the crime scene, have resigned themselves to the trauma of their environment.
There needs to be more support services in schools and throughout communities. Governments need to stop buying votes by schmoozing with “community leaders” and instead get personally involved in youth affairs.
You know what else we need? More Police Youth Clubs and other organisations that provide a safe space for youth. In 2018 I sat down with Officer Derrick Sharbodi, head of the St James Police Youth Club (SJPYC). He and all of his staff at the SJPYC are true saviours that our country needs. Through education, music, sport, counselling and providing a place for at-risk teens to feel empowered, he has kept hundreds off the streets.
Sadly, his Youth Club and others like it very rarely get the attention and funding they deserve. So if you are a Minister and you are reading this, perhaps bigger budgetary allocations can be made for these types of organisations. They will definitely do more than any swimming pool would.
The Chamber of Industry and Commerce came out in support of any measures to be implemented to curb crime. Hey fellas, have I got an idea for you! How about you loosen your ties and begin offering scholarships or intern programmes or tutoring and extra lessons free of charge for young men and women from high crime areas.
No, not the one or two who go to prestige schools, the ones who are barely making it through Form Two, who have long been cast aside by the educational system. These are the ones who need it the most. These are the ones who need to be empowered and shown, that while the odds may be stacked against them, they can rise up from their difficult situations and change not only their lives but the lives of those around them for the better.
We need to stop stereotyping and treating people differently because of where they live. It doesn’t matter if you are from Hell Yard Beetham or Goodwood Park, everyone is worthwhile and deserves a chance at a better life.
The practice of preying on the vulnerable by Government officials needs to stop.
Our focus needs to turn on empowering a new generation of youth, who truly believe they can do great things in their lives without joining a gang or picking up a gun.
A massive socio-cultural shift needs to take place. We need to bring hope back again.
To that girl (who is now a woman) I hope life treated you better than what you expected. You deserve it and I am sorry I didn’t grab you up in my arms and tell you that.