By Raffique Shah
November 9, 2017
Two Thursdays ago, at around 11 a.m., one of my brothers was robbed at gunpoint as he pulled up at the entrance to his home off Beaucarro Road. He had returned from First Citizens Bank in Couva where he had withdrawn a few thousand dollars to pay farmers who supply him with hot peppers. Three young men, one armed with a gun, rushed him and threatened to kill him. They searched his pockets, stole the cash, his wallet (with vital documents) and phone. After seizing his keys from his car and telling him to run for his life, they bolted to a car parked nearby and made good their escape.
Why am I writing about this? After all, I am aware of the fundamentals of journalism: dog bites man, no story, man bites dog, big story. Another routine robbery, one of maybe a thousand committed that day, hardly merits newspaper coverage, or, indeed, commentary.
Which is precisely why I am addressing it. Crime has grown to epidemic proportions in this country, so much so the society has become inured to its deleterious effects, its numbing of our sensibilities as human beings. It has imposed a level of anxiety on the citizenry such that we accept its inevitability. We expect to be violated somewhere, sometime.
My family had hardly absorbed the distressing news about my brother when, a few days later, a thief broke into a nephew’s vehicle, smashing a window and stealing his high-tech phone that is critical to his professional life. He had earlier conducted business at the same branch of First Citizens (the bank’s security may want to check if some gang is targeting its customers), and had stopped off at the nearby Couva Regional Corporation’s car park to return a few books his children had borrowed from the mobile library.
That would take less than five minutes, so he left his phone and laptop in the vehicle. As he returned, he observed a man walking away from his vehicle. He unlocked the car-to see the shattered window and missing phone. He shouted at the man, who ran off with another person, presumably an accomplice. Someone in the car park told him such break-ins were not uncommon.
And later that day, a niece who had attended a funeral at the Waterloo cremation site returned to find her vehicle’s rear glass shattered and a few valuables missing.
Now, I can only conclude that such thefts and banditry are commonplace in Central Trinidad, likely all of Trinidad, and that many of the minor incidents go unreported. I should add that the police did respond promptly to my brother’s report, but it is highly unlikely that any arrests will be made.
What bothers me is our reactions to these violations of our persons and properties. My brother and the family were thankful that he was not harmed. In other words, we have reached the stage where we accept the bandits’ rights (I can’t think of another word) to relieve us of our hard-earned money and valuables, once they spare our lives.
We should be angry, outraged that a few thousand young louts armed with seemingly easy-to-obtain guns, can make our daily lives a living hell. We should be fuming, fighting back, hunting down the predators and taking them out by any means possible.
But that is not going to happen: I realise that I’m thinking of another lifetime, of my youthful days when I didn’t need the police to intercede when I felt violated.
Jouvert morning, Carnival 1968, upper Frederick Street, the 22 years young army officer in the midst of a mass of humanity entranced by the sweet music of Despers, chipping with my then fiancée (now wife). I feel a hand sliding slowly into my side pocket where I have a few dollars. I allow the hand to go deep enough, grab it and whirl with lightening speed. In a flash, the culprit is down.
“What the *%$# you doing in my pocket?”I shout. A kick to the butt. Other revellers add some punishment and order: get out of the band, you thief! A virtual blip—and the jamming continues uninterrupted. Seems like a lifetime ago, eh?
It is. Today, the thief would more than likely shoot me, and revellers might join to loot the fallen corpse. There were other, similar incidents in which I took matters in my hand, not bothering the police with relative trivia.
But note from the Jouvert episode, it was an era in which the community, in that instance Despers’ fans, joining in action against the criminal.
It is that vital element that is absent from today’s crime-ridden society. Families and communities not only breed criminals, they also shelter and protect them. Hell, many of them share in the spoils of the lucrative criminal enterprises, not just the cash, but those who buy the stolen items, the jewels.
While the bandits and burglars may number a few thousands, the enablers are many more, spread from the slums to upscale residential enclaves to business districts.
They have no scruples, no consciences, no compassion. They are why we are mired in such an unholy mess.