In 1962, I, a San Fernando boy, entered the famed halls of Queen’s Royal College. Along with me were several Laventille boys, including Carlton Layne, as good a mathematician as any I have met, as well as Rollo and Russell Huggins, the latter to become a minister of national security.
In 2013, I returned to the same assembly hall with other little boys from Laventille in the Neal and Massy “Boys to Men” programme. I asked one of them who sat next to me and who was taking Secondary Entrance Assessment exams, “Where do you want to go to school?” In spite of repeated prompts, the best he could offer was a shrug.
This is the reality, the enormous gap that is the fracture of the society, young men who now have no dreams, no view of the future. While others motor on, the youth of Laventille are quagmired in hopelessness. In the intervening years, I am personally aware of some who have struggled to get through exams but cannot find jobs because of the stigma of their addresses.
Why should you stay in school if you have to deny who you are and cannot find a job?
In 2009, a man was shot by the police, the residents protested and the initial claim that he was a bandit was rubbished. The story barely rippled the surface. The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) promised an intervention. What has been the outcome? Nothing has because George Ashby was from Tabaquite, which will not disturb our lives if they shut the place down.
In 2013, a man is shot by the police, the residents protest, but rage bubbles up from the wider community. Why? Because the place is the “Beetham” and the immediate sentiment: he was a bandit and he must have done something wrong, one less bandit to worry about. Then it is because they blocked our roads to and from the city, they live in a place we try our best to not see as we rush past in our chariots.
The solution? We should build high walls to block them in. We would not see them and they cannot rob us, never mind that Christopher Greaves was not “known to the police”. The police and soldiers should kill them—rid us of the troublemakers. Shades of apartheid in the shadow of the much-celebrated anniversary of the March on Washington?
The very weekend we sang “Here every creed and race find an equal place” we divided the country by our actions. An editor can with impunity front page a composite picture to shame the people who are in grief. The message is clear: they, like Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, are irritants to our good life. Just like Jack said on another occasion, we are saying, “why don’t they hurry up and dead?”
As a society we have options. When you purchase a pack of Orchard juice and you are unhappy about it, you either stop buying it or complain to management in the expectation that it will change. The latter would inspire brand loyalty. As a citizen, you either protest/complain—the people of Chaguanas did that through the vote.
In this instance, like in the case of Sea Lots, the residents are leveraging the situation the only way they can. If we as a society fail to listen and change, then they may choose to stop buying. We already had a close skirmish with that option in 1970. If it returns, will it be the same? Do we really believe the police and soldiers have enough arms to deal with that? Do we want that?
The blacks of America showed us persistence and organisation will overthrow the rules of society. In our case, because this and other communities may choose to stop buying our story and then our society will be out of business. We all would have paid the price for being deaf.