T&T-a nation in perpetual mourning


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Category: Trinidad Society 16 Jan 11

Dear Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, you look like a sincere and ambitious man, the sort that takes pride in getting the job done. I’ve seen you, running at a pretty fast pace, pushing eight, even seven minute miles. Not bad. Clearly disciplined and driven, you would do well in a marathon. When you were appointed Commissioner of Police you could not have known the reason for the apathy you must regularly encounter in this country, both in and out of the police service. The truth is, Commissioner, we’ve seen it all. The headless bodies, the raped women, the men with a hail of bullets through their bodies, the homes set on fire, the blank stares of boys with the eyes of old men with nothing to lose. You are not looking at apathy, but a nation in perpetual mourning. Nothing ever changes in this banana republic Commissioner. This is one game no one expects you to win.


Last month when I went to Laventille, a woman, a grandmother, without a trace of emotion told me how the gang that got her son into prison “falsely” and were now harassing her daughter were eliminated. “They were all shot” she said “all five men, and the girlfriend of one of the men.” “Why the girlfriend?” I asked, “Because she was a bad influence.” People are shot for being a bad influence, for a gold chain, for a pair of shoes, for wining with another man’s woman, for a bad drive, for being sacked, for not being given the job. Can you fight a mindset like that with PR, uniforms, or patrolling? A policeman with a gun is no deterrent to boys whose lives are as cheap as a pair of shoes for 699.00 dollars. You must have met Stephen Cadiz, the honourable Minister of Trade, another good man. A businessman, he was once the Chairman of the “Keith Noel 136” Committee named after one of his employees who was murdered, the 136th of the year. In October 2009, the honourable Minister said in a newspaper interview that his “committee was not going to go away until the crime situation was brought under control.” Cadiz organised a death march through Port-of-Spain, saying Government “didn’t know what to do” vowing that “if no action was taken he would take it to another level.” I am hoping the time for that is now.


You must lie sleepless, waiting to see what bloodshed the dawn will bring, listening to the unaccustomed chorus of tropical insects, away from your native Canada where you take safety for granted, wracking your brain on how to “stop the murders.” Our bloodshed is making world news. In 2008 while murders were up two per cent in Jamaica, they shot up “a staggering 38 per cent in T&T” with the consequence T&T has overtaken Jamaica as the “murder capital of the world.” The net is rife with travel advisories which portray us as a wild dangerous lawless banana republic. You must know this: With every gang member or murderer you ‘catch’ there are fifty others being bred in our own version of Madrassas, rapidly multiplying cancerous cells, consisting of illiterate boys flattened by our education system, neglected by fathers, mothers who had them when they were children themselves, and gathered up in the arms of gangs who offer them more power with the barrel of a gun than they will ever have in their lives. You’ve a good instinct. You met with the genial and brilliant Dr Tim Gopeesingh who has told you there are there some 4,000 secondary school dropouts in T&T who may be contributing to school violence. They are “missing.” That’s 4,000 potential bandits sir.


The Minister of Education will concur that 2,000 children a year in the 11 plus (SEA exam) score less than 30 per cent in English and Math and leave school illiterate. You know too, that gang members recruit boys as young as 14. Your main headache is to locate the source of the guns and drugs worth millions of dollars released like a slow poison to the young dispossessed victims of family, school and state, dispensable puppets. But the woman you should really meet is Paula Lucie-Smith, a former teacher who has single handedly prevented more crime in this country than the entire police force. Through her adult literacy foundation, ALTA, Paula discovered years back that up to 23 per cent of our population is illiterate, unable to fill out a form or shop. Do the math. That’s 250,000 illiterate people over the age of 15. Add to that number the 32 per cent of the population that is functionally illiterate ie they are not able to read or write a newspaper article like this one. That’s another 320,000 people. 250,000+320,000 =570,000 people. Add the failing children to that, who have no parent at home or remedial teachers in large classes. That’s another 8,000 children over four years.


Unless you are prepared to monitor roughly 576,000 dispossessed people, you will not be able to make a dent on the murders. Since their inception, through her foundation, which has over 50 centres throughout the country, in remote and depressed areas where few ventures, Paula Lucie-Smith has taken back over 15,000 of these neglected citizens of ours with little or no government support. In a letter to the Editor in 2004 Paula Lucie-Smith wrote “Every day at secondary school students are asked to read and to write. This means that some 8,000 teens are currently in our secondary schools being humiliated every day, becoming more and more frustrated and hopeless every day, getting angrier and angrier every day.” Paula and her band of volunteers who she tirelessly trains everyday will tell you that its not poverty that makes us a criminal society. It’s having no sense of self-worth, combined with a crippling handicap of illiteracy of not being able to operate in a largely urban society where you need some level of education to do well. Paula’s yeoman service to this country has been ignored by politicians for 17 years. I have personally seen successive Education Ministers elbow her out in a bit to hold on to that turf. I hope Dr Gopeesingh will be different. I hope you both will work with Paula. Her email is Alta.altapos@alta-tt.org. Or get ready for more school violence and get your officers to keep a watch over 500,000 people with nothing to lose in sweet T&T “the murder capital of the world”


Yours truly,

Ira Mathur


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur