By any measure, last week’s joint funerals of three young men, who had been shot dead by police in a single August 17 incident, marked a poignant occasion in contemporary Trinidad and Tobago experience. Rising to the occasion, remarks by Pastor Kirby Jackson of the La Horquetta Gospel Foundation merited attention wider than the pulpit of the church from which he delivered his homily.
The pastor’s message resonated with a T&T public that likely stands in some danger of becoming inured to the prevalence of violent death. According to the toll of murders maintained by the Express newsroom, figures approach 300 even before the fourth quarter of 2014, about an 11 per cent increase over the same 2013 period.
The clergyman lamented the absence of a “sense of sadness” that used to attend popular attitudes toward violent death. With candour, he cited present sentiment to the effect that “people now believe automatically that whoever was killed had that coming to them”.
Pastor Jackson was likely referring to the telling admissions by family members about the “bad company” that their late loved ones had been keeping. It is obviously needful for older and wiser people residing in troubled communities, and others working with their members, to speak up on behalf of solid values concerning life and defendably law-abiding behaviours.
“Our young men must know that being disrespectful and joining gangs is wrong,” Pastor Jackson preached. He might have added that anti-gang laws, though sometimes flawed in application, at least contain potential for criminalising what family survivors euphemistically called “bad company”.
Three La Horquetta men, 28, 23 and 19 years old had been killed inside a Freeport apartment by police gunfire. Police reported the occupants’ possession of guns, ammunition and bulletproof vests.
About this, the pastor worried aloud that some officers “believe they must fight fire with fire”. The stage is set, then, for ever more deadly confrontations between armed officers of the law understandably apprehensive about their safety, and heedless young people, also armed, but imbued with a sense of having little to lose but their lives.
All of which Pastor Jackson said, creates “more anger in our people, and the cycle of violence continues (leading to) more funerals like this”.The preacher’s expressions of sadness and wisdom of his observation, focus and expression are evidently welcome, and worthy of wider adoption.
Beyond the public hand-wringing and the shedding of funeral tears, audiences everywhere should remain receptive for soberly relevant reflections. For their part, the police must answer allegations capable of undermining moral authority. They must therefore credibly answer the claims, on behalf of the three young men, that their money and valuables later went missing in the Freeport apartment where officers had shot them dead.