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$4.5m exercise in futility

What change will the Laventille Family Day bring to that beleaguered community? The event took place last Sunday at the Queen's Park Savannah at a $4.5 million price tag and, even before the fact, Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams asserted that this was money well spent. "I think it is a small investment in trying to make a major difference in the lives of people who have been exposed to challenges for so long, long a period of time,'' said Mr Williams in announcing the event last week. But whether an investment is small or not depends on the return it generates. In this case, the expected returns are social — a reduction in violence, particularly homicides, in that community.

But neither Acting Commissioner Williams nor anyone else involved in this initiative has explained its rationale nor how they will be measuring the return on this "small investment" in a day-long lime. Mr Williams only spoke vaguely about improving police-community relations, as well as job offers from state and private sector.

This latter appears not to have been fulfilled. But, even if it had, jobs alone would not solve the real issues which bedevil Laventille and other such communities. The Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and the three-month-long Colour Me Orange programme are mere plasters on a long-running sore which may, indeed, have exacerbated the problems. The real solution is to equip with marketable skills persons who depend on the URP, but the fact that this has never happened in the half-century this make-work programme has existed shows that politicians prefer to keep the Laventille demographic in a state of dependency.

As for the short-term goal of improving relations between the police and residents, it remains to be seen how this one-off event would accomplish this. It seems unlikely that a Family Day alone would fundamentally change the attitudes held by both sides. After all, the root of that mistrust lies mainly in the belief which many Laventille residents have about police killings of young men from the community. Without rigorous investigations which either clear the officers so accused or which convict them of murder, trust-building initiatives are naught but exercises in futility.

Given all this, healing Laventille's wounds will take long-term and well-thought-out initiatives. Flinging money willy-nilly is counter-productive. Mr Williams' "small" $4.5 million could have been better spent in gathering data to update the 1997 sociological study of the community. Applied to recent findings in social engineering, the millions of dollars could have been used to plant the seeds of real change.

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