A killing took place in my sleepy community over the weekend. That may not seem like such a revelation but where I grew up is a place time has not touched. The village is small and comprised of a series of very large families and a sprinkling of non-related people who have been there so long they are like family.
Many people do not have fences or gates, a neighbour can still borrow a cup of sugar or a pound of garlic. New people have not moved into the community for many years and at night the areas shuts down at seven o'clock, any vehicle on the roads late at night elicits a flurry of phone calls and curious window peeping.
It is a place with its problems but where people still look out for each other, care for each other and was until this weekend untouched by crime. This is a not a piece about lost innocence and shattered peace but rather about the callousness that has come to engrain itself in our mindset as of late.
Reading the comments on the story I noted a disturbing string of comments where people were attributing the killing as a form of "bad man" killing and in effect was nothing to be concerned about. In essence the right people; that being the "bad ones" are being killed.
The evidence to attest to the insensitivity and dangerous mentality I speak of can be found in the comments section of our online newspapers. They can be heard on the radio call-in programmes and sometimes even found in the editorial sections of newspapers. The story seems to always be the same: "He/She was a bad boy/girl and it was only a matter of time" or " they had to be involved in something", or sadly " another problem one down, let them kill each other".
This manner of thinking, this absolute acceptance of the cheapness of human life, this wanton disregard for victims is something that is most worrying. This sort of thinking plants the seeds of societal discord and disharmony. The country is being divided into those who are "good" and those who "deserve to die", into the criminals and the "rest". Any killing is being regarded as just one "bad" person killing another. No room is made for innocent victims, no consideration is being given to innocent bystanders and no regard is being given to the deceased.
When we as a country take it upon ourselves to ascribe no value to those who may be involved in criminal activity and end up being killed we are failing as a country and losing all of our humanity. I will not go down the road of ultra leftists who seem to have the ability to blame everyone and everything for criminals instead of the criminals themselves. Rather I do believe that at some point environmental and circumstantial factors stop and a level of personal responsibility begins. At some point criminals chose to engage in criminal activity fully aware of the consequences and the outcomes. Some people sadly make the choice to go out and rape, kill, steal, assault etc. but does this make them then deserving of death?
It's a hard question and one that we must ponder together. Undoubtedly many of us will wish and hope death upon the fully grown man who rapes a two-year-old child or the mother who drowns her children intentionally. Undoubtedly we will not shed a tear when notorious criminals and terrorisers of neighbourhoods are killed. This is natural human emotion and to try to prevent it would be futile. However we recognise that justice cannot be left up to emotions, and crimes cannot be tried in courts of public opinions. Instead we engage in the judicial process where innocence is presumed until guilt is proven. This process is not only to grant a fair hearing to an accused but also to guarantee and reinforce our dignity and humanity. We defer our raw emotions and anger in place of process and sometimes mercy because we should not spiral into the same murderous, evil mindset of those we hate.
Famous German Poet Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, "He who fights with monsters needs to watch out that he himself does not become a monster". It is this I fear most for our beloved country. We are indeed becoming monsters. We have hardened our minds to the suffering around us. We are unconcerned when people are killed as long as they are not our kin or friends then they "looked for it". We no longer stop to help anyone in distress for fear of being attacked. We are living in communities that are shut off from the rest of society and are becoming more and more exclusionary. We already believe that crime is a geographical phenomenon. Many already think that only Afro-Trinbagonians, poor and uneducated people are involved in crime. We have basically condemned a huge swatch of our population who also happen to be young to a life of crime and death. We, it seems, are quite happy to let them kill each other.
This is however false comfort and dangerous thinking. Like my quiet village crime will not remain at bay, it will touch everyone someday. No amount of privilege or wealth can protect against a stray bullet or a desperate person. One day it may be your loved one killed and the pain and hurt you feel will be accentuated by the uncaring and judgmental society that is being nurtured in our country.
This cannot be allowed to happen, we must guard against this and guard against division. Every life is important no matter how wretched or undesirable. We cannot become those monsters we hate, if we do this we are doomed as a people and a country. All of our wealth and education and privilege will mean nothing if we lose our humanity.
Rajiv Gopie won the President's medal in 2006 for business/modern studies. He is an MSc candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics.