In the tumult of our times, with distraction the one consistent theme, it is the children who are being called to pay the price of our loss of centre and self. To lose five children to misadventure in one week is no random, arbitrary series of events. Something is deeply wrong when our eyes, trained over millennia to watch over our young, keep losing track of them.
The place is too disturbed, too desperate, too distracted by a clattering emptiness loud enough to drown out the sound of bullets being pumped into children. Yes, people, children. When did we become a country in which children are executed? When did this become a place where two- and four-year-olds are tied up and trussed like chickens, even by thieves? When? And we just kept on going like so? Easy like that? Without even marking the moment of our descent to this new level of depravity?
The leadership vacuum in this country must be really deep when the buck has to be passed all the way down to the British High Commissioner. Perhaps he looked left and right, and seeing no hand up, felt obliged to step out of his crease, throw caution to the wind and let loose a tongue-lashing on us about our callousness to our children. When a diplomat could speak in such terms, about the public and the media, without evoking a single comment about sovereignty, we get a true measure of the state of public life in these parts.
Perhaps it was the ring of truth that muted the response to his words. Or the choking fear that our problems may now be well and truly beyond our own best efforts. In such circumstances, who better than Her Majesty’s representative to tell it like it is to these former colonials, pretenders to responsible government?
But let us allow Mr Snell the privilege of speaking as the father of a son born into 21st century Trinidad and Tobago. He, too, has a stake in this. In his rather undiplomatic turn at the Rotary podium last week, he spoke perhaps for Britain but also for us. Especially for those of us whose tongues had been silenced by ambivalence over the execution of nine-year-old Jadel and his 15-year-old brother, Jamal.
Although it was the killers who put the bullets into their heads, it was the rest of us whose silence sanctioned not only this deed but others to come. Media reports about them being bad boys who terrorised people provided the perfect excuse for exonerating ourselves of the crime of having failed them and for passing the blame onto their childish shoulders.
Clearly, they had looked for it. How ironic that the media which had taken the acting Commissioner of Police to task for adducing journalistic irresponsibility as possible cause in the death threats against journalist Mark Bassant should so willingly be party to nullifying the horror of the execution of Jadel and Jamal, mere children under the law. No surprise then that, until the High Commissioner spoke, their mother could find no pity in trying to raise the money to bury her sons. For we had already rationalised away their execution and consigned them to their fate.
With Jadel and Jamal, Trinidad and Tobago may be slipping towards the gruesome world of child soldiers, where innocence is stolen and tender hearts are turned into steel within a framework of lawlessness and order.
Like other children in dangerous places around the world, childhood is not for them. Who knows what horror Jamal might’ve witnessed or even been party to by the age of 15? It is not enough to know the details of his doings. Far more important to the future of this republic is an understanding of the road that carried him there. If we are to rescue other children now on that highway to hell and grab them up before they enter the belly of the beast, we must engage the problem and work our way down to its roots.
When a desperate Michelle Holder collared her troubled boys and carried them to the Morvant Police Station looking for help, the system completely failed her family. Instead of getting the specialist intervention needed to turn their lives around, they probably got some tough talk and threats about jail before being sent home. At that moment their fate was all but sealed. Before taking one step further, we need to completely dissect this case and evaluate our responses at every point- from the police, the community, social services, children’s affairs, the MP, the media and other elements of the system in which these boys were shaped and doomed to an early grave.
Jadel and Jamal are not only our children and our responsibility, but our victims as well. The war zone of Coconut Drive is our creation, sponsored by political protection money, happily supported by one government after another with our collective collusion.
The delusion that this is Morvant’s problem will last only as long as it takes a bullet to pierce our comfort zone. Lest we forget, we will be so reminded, over and over again.
Lazy stereotyping is what keeps us blind to the reality of the other war zones mushrooming all over the country as successive governments spread the disease around in response to our upside down values that put money before all else.
This is the reality of T&T. Not that parade of politics and empty ambition designed to distract and conquer. Let’s focus and keep it real to give ourselves a fighting chance.