Perception vs reality


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 03 Nov 03


The Professor of Criminology was adamant. Perception, implied Prof. Deosaran, was reality.


Our response to crime, to the spate of kidnapping, to acts of murder, even if it is one or two a week, is partially hysteria. But, that hysteria is justified if people live in fear. If the entire country feels under siege, if business people are thinking of leaving, of selling property, laying off workers, settling their college children abroad, holding off on investments, watching their backs, then hysteria is understandable.


And no, this time round, unlike 1994-1995 when a wave of crime swelled out at us and seemingly subsided of its own accord, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away.  This time, the criminologist agreed, the crime was a symptom of a society that was coming apart at the seams.


You see it in the fragments, he was saying, in the sprouting of anti-crime groups everywhere. Various business groups, Crime Stoppers, the Guardian Angels, the Hindu Credit Union, seemingly working independently, taking care of their own areas. He said they were forming themselves as alternative little governments and there was no structure to draw these threads together as part of a cohesive crime fighting strategy. This time it was political.


His utterances made me think of the fact that a weak society makes easy prey, and now innocent frightened citizens are being made just that – we’ve turned into formless groups of people clutching at straws, brainwashed into supporting this interest group or that because our concerns are not being reflected by action.


As for the creation of a parallel crime–fighting unit, the criminologist felt that establishing a thousand new policemen means a thousand new problems. His inference was obvious. If we aren’t able to sort out our existing police force, if we aren’t able to ask for decent entry qualifications that will ensure that they are literate, if we aren’t able to provide them with the intensive training they will require to tackle a complex crime situation (rooted in a host of social issues from domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, illiteracy and abandonment) and most importantly, if we aren’t able to get any accountability out of individual policemen or units, how on earth are we going to get anything different out of another 1000 men.


This shredding of society has been going on for decades. The difference is now it’s erupting in our face. Some, like the criminologist, felt its genesis lies at the feet of Dr Eric Williams, who led the nation to believe that independence equalled a land of plenty.


Our people must have misinterpreted Dr Williams. When he said “Massa day done” – he must have felt it was now time for each of us to take charge of our own destiny, act on our own behalf, and hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. Dr Williams, that great intellectual (and none can deny his intellect) must have wanted to say that like Americans who built the richest, most powerful country in world out of a Protestant work ethic, everyone had equal opportunities under independence.


Unfortunately, perception is all and instead of a work ethic, we created a society of ‘Champagne tastes, Mauby pockets,’ hand outs and a sense of ownership that was not rooted in reality.


Perhaps with the coming of our independence we threw the baby out with the bath water. We interpreted ‘Massa day done’ to mean throw out a classical education that spawned renaissance men like VS Naipaul, like CLR James, Sir Ellis. We threw out the very profession of teaching. We became confused about idiomatic English. Is speaking standard English going to compromise our nationalism? We failed to understand that the brilliance of great writers, scientists, humanists, no matter what their nationality, was produced for all humanity, is available to all humanity. That if we speak English, or Spanish, or French, we must do so perfectly; and that should not threaten what is ours but enhance it.


When inchoate gang or religious or political leaders push the blame for crime, for illiteracy, for corruption, on the system; they are right. Lloyd Best is also right. You can grease a population with oil dollars, but it is still not going to teach them to think.


As I said last week, the answers are here all the time. In a teaching system that works, in libraries in every district, in every square mile, in well thumbed through books on world literature, politics, philosophy, art, history, in the homes of our leaders, so they can develop longer vision – in education.


Out of education will rise a political system that is inclusive and not top heavy. Education will remove mindless crimes.


The man who chopped a woman to death was a self-confessed illiterate. The boy who said “I’m going to rob up” somebody will instead have ambitions to become an engineer. Where is this going? I don’t know. You tell me.


But the crime we see today is the manifestation of that shredding that has been going on bit by bit. The only way we can get ourselves out of this mess, is to educate ourselves out of it.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur