Twenty-two murders in nine days. At this rate it will be 892 for the year. This is the reason why Trinidad and Tobago is ranked No. 13 on the United Nations Global Study on Homicide listing. Families are suffering as a result of these deaths and the emotional pain will last for generations. We must help them.
Our society consists of two sets of citizens at this time, the perpetrators (or potential perpetrators) and the victims (or those who at any time may become victims). On one hand, for most of the population, there is growing trepidation as the circles of control continue to shrink and it is only a matter of time, God forbid (as a Trini would say), before someone you know will be affected. Everyone is looking for a solution and when there is none this creates a growing anger and rage.
This is worsened by the perceived sense of inequity and injustice felt by many, and the resulting disconnect and growing feelings of being marginalised from the majority of society.
The three standpoints are—the perpetrators—the first group who feel the injustice of their situation, position and circumstance which they consider to have led them to become criminals in the first place (no child is born a criminal) and the others—the second group—in the society who feel the injustice of having their right to free movement and conduct taken away from them.
There is a third group in the equation: the observers; those who would stand on platforms in mock indignation, plastering images of the dead and the hurting with little regard and an obvious sense of distance, brandishing statistics like badges and making calls for reform, intervention and a plan of action to be envisaged and enforced.
The solution to our problems lies neither in the lack of plans nor the lack of will. Plans and policies are abundant and at every public outcry there is renewed commitment and vigour.
It is people who commit acts of violence against people. An increase in crime statistics indicates either there are more people committing crimes or the same number of people committing crimes more frequently. What are the root causes in both scenarios? It is one and the same: the sense of inequality in society.
Violence is bred from hate and anger. The value of life has decreased so much that it is easier to end someone’s life than forgive a grouse or personally work on the issues, bringing your own self to a state of peace. In fact, peace of mind is so far from reality that it may now be considered an alien concept.
In the case of gang violence, turf wars and gang rivalry occur primarily because of the struggle for wealth and power. Society calls on the police to control the activities of the gangs but how can the police regulate gang activity when the gang leaders have more power than them? When the gangs are better equipped than the police and the police earning potential is so far below the pushers and dealers, the normal distribution is skewed in favour of the criminals
While the onus is on the government to bring about reformation of legal protection and ensure that enforcers of the law are empowered, another fact that we must face is that the government cannot be specifically held responsible for the actions of every citizen.
So while the natural tendency is to seek an agent to blame, the movement should be towards managing and taking responsibility for yourself and to those around you. It is through individual efforts, taking a conscious decision to do the right thing, that slowly society can be corrected.
In simple things like not letting your friend drive home drunk from a party, reporting when there are signs that your neighbour’s wife is being abused, calling a social worker when a child in your class shows signs of trauma etc. that we can see some correction of the ills that plague society. It is this policing and vigilance by individuals that will cause the criminals to be wary.
There is need to bring back and develop a civicmindedness where the country and its people take some high level of priority and then through consolidation, the power margins are shifted back in favour of the law-abiders. We need to build a nation.
We must bear in mind that the power to change belongs to the people. The leaders of our society must understand that by their words and deeds they signal to the people the standards by which we will look after one another. The time in the history of Trinidad and Tobago for all to make a change is now, when all law- abiding citizens must choose to demonstrate, by their actions, that we believe in the possibility of a better Trinidad and Tobago.
Safety and security is a shared and sacred responsibility. And the change begins with each of us.
Renuka N Kangal