A Deadly Virus Called Poverty

By Michael De Gale
May 24, 2006

Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

PovertyThe escalation of violent crimes in T&T has politicians, business people, the police and concerned citizens not knowing which way to turn. In this climate of criminality, the Government has squandered millions in state of the art technology, promised action plans which failed to materialize and most recently have invited foreign police officers to arrest the problem.

At the time of this writing, the homicide rate in T&T stood at 150; 13 more murders than the number of days in the year so far. If that does not constitute a social crisis, at the very lease it should provoke moral outrage. With notable exceptions, I believe that the average Trinibagonian families are “normal” people who will be content with a roof over their heads, food on the table, ample opportunities for education, employment and social interactions. In the absence of these basic necessities, people will choose to live lives of quiet desperation or resort to any means necessary to ensure their own survival. Unfortunately, these things that other affluent societies take for granted are not readily available to the average citizen. As a consequence, this dog eat dog society becomes a fertile breeding ground for pedophiles, perverts, predators, psychopaths and thieves. This is not a prophecy as the escalation in crime indicates clearly that that time is already upon us.

In desperation, people are calling on God to put a hand and stop this insanity. To gain access to the almighty they summon Benny Hinn complete with smoke, mirrors and money bags. But neither Benny Hinn, Billy Graham nor Benedict, could stem the manifestation of what is essentially a tide of social discontent, as the society continues to spiral into moral and social decay. Like Dante’s Inferno, we are stuck in this living hell, a hell that is created by a Government who seems incapable of responding effectively to the anguished cries of pain and suffering. Obsessed with power and saturated with pride, they are preoccupied with fighting personal battles while squandering the opportunities to create a model nation. Sadly, there is no viable opposition or emerging political party that can be expected to perform better. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Unlike Dante it seems that we may never emerge from this living hell. In the meantime, the most vulnerable among us must pay the price of a Government’s failure to order a just society for the greater good. It is the weak, the poor, and the innocent that must bear the burden of our failures. It is Akiel Chamber, Dane Andrews, baby Emily and Shawn Luke who like Jesus; would have died unnecessarily and in vain because we failed as a society to make adequate provisions for vulnerable children.

It is shortsighted, narrow minded and cold, to believe that economic growth alone is the full measure of a prosperous society. The measure of any successful society cannot be predicated simply in terms of dollars and cents. It must by necessity factor into the equation quality of life and access to goods and services. Whether the economy doubles or triples within the next few years, if the benefits of that growth cannot be enjoyed by the lease among us, we would have essentially created a failed society. If bread and milk cannot find its way to my table at a cost that is affordable, then economic prosperity means nothing to me. If access to education, justice and social programs are not accessible to all, again economic prosperity will mean nothing to me. If in this land of plenty, the spoils accumulate only to a few, then I have to make some decisions. In the absence of opportunities and programs that will allow me to escape this hell, I may refuse to suffer in silence, for poverty is not a natural condition. In this scenario, my hunger, anger and frustration could conceivably place me on the other side of the law. It is easy to connect the dots and conclude that as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen as the economy grows, so too will the problems of violent crime, injustice, social and moral erosion.

There are many things of which the people of T&T should be proud but poverty, crime and discrimination overshadow these accomplishments and leave a nasty scar that stains the nation’s fabric. As economically prosperous as the country is, the reality of life for the poor and working class makes T&T look like a backwater republic. The absence of a dependable social safety net makes it difficult for the average Trinbagonian to survive economically and to feel a prolonged sense of pride. On the one hand, beggars roam the streets in nakedness, street children are everywhere and citizens live in daily fear of being murdered. On the other hand, the wealthy live in grand style, flaunting their affluence for all to see, blatantly practicing racial discrimination and robbing the country blind. The sad reality is that it does not have to be that way. Like the Government, people are becoming cold and uncaring as they battle for daily survival. Focused as they are on finding their daily bread, they fail to make the Government accountable for its actions or rather inactions. By the same token, the Government appears to have cultivated a culture of entitlement and feels itself unaccountable for mismanaging the nation’s resources. Until we put in place sustainable programs to allow the lease among us to enjoy a modicum of civility and access to opportunities, T&T will never be the paradise that it is capable of becoming. Prolonged poverty is a deadly virus that stews in the cesspools of the nation and like all deadly viruses, poverty kills.

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8 thoughts on “A Deadly Virus Called Poverty”

  1. Very well written and articulate, my thoughts exactly!!!

    I am a Trini working as an Internet Engineer in London and I watch in amazement as Trini degenerates daily further and further into a quagmire of lawlessness and anarchy.

    I have recently been back home and my experiences have not been good at all, we have some of the most careless, rude and aggressive drivers in the whole world, they overtake on the shoulder, around corners, blind hills etc.

    No wonder the body count on the roads keep mounting, not to mention the wholesale genocide of the young black men in Trini, imagine a young woman got killed for answering a mobile phone during a robbery in Point Fortin recently.

    (Well not to be insensitive to her relatives, but I think answering a mobile phone whilst in the middle of being robbed by armed bandits, is not such a good idea, call me back later!!)

    And what about the so-called leaders in society?

    We have a government who is very inept and incompetent, not to mention the opposition who conducts their affairs like a veritable animal farm, their Political Leader (or whatever post he holds)is a convicted felon and is still before the courts on another charge, the executive and the Opposition leader fighting against the political leader, not to mention one of their deputy political leader fighting with a BBC reporter in the airport in full view of the press and public!!! What kind of crap is that?

    I wish I had the answers but I don’t as many times I have tried to put a little wrong right and have been met with “Wha happen to you boy this is Trinidad, this is how it is, wha you playing?”.

    So I guess the mediocrity and laissez faire attitude to any and everything by the average individual in TNT will continue, as this seems to be a cultural thing, no wonder Trini is in the predicament it is, and it looks like things will get a lot worse before they begin to get better!!!

    I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, “To change the condition of a people you must first change their minds”.

    Good luck to the individuals in TNT who are now tasked with such…

    One Love,

    King of Kings (London)

  2. Strain theorists would argue that societal factors, contextual and structural, combine to create an uneven and rugged social terrain, plagued with cultural, economic and political obstacles that deter some individuals and groups within society from skillfully navigating the road to success.

    The road to success, in a capitalist existence, is about climbing the opportunity structure, equal opportunity to acquire monetary success and middle-class status.

    Therefore, macro social forces, structural and systemic, such as concentrated poverty, relative depravation, inferior education, and job market discrimination, the failure of public sector institutions, irregular socio-cultural patterns, categorisation, stigmatisation, and segregation from mainstream frustrate/strain some individuals and groups within society.

    Without equal access to the formal economy, such frustration/strain forces them to enter an informal and illegitimate economy where delinquency is business as usual and crime is about getting paid.

    Therefore, if we deconstruct structural differences in certain communities, using economic displacement and social isolation as a spy glass into criminal activity and crime rates in those geographical spaces, we may discover that these communities may be exposed to more criminogenic structural conditions and are not genetically more criminogenic.

    Hey, it is just a thought?

  3. ….and a deep thought too. Renee, drawing from a number of related academic disciplines. you have given us even greater insight into the relationship between crime and poverty. As you rightly concluded, the proliferation of violent crime in certain areas and among specific groups is structural and not genetic as many people will like to believe. It has deep roots in history and a socio-economic structure which continues to support it. To date little has been done to dismantle that structure nor to eradicate the root causes. Consequence, the problem manifest itself in large segments of the population affecting the society as a whole. In the absence of a concerted effort to get to the root of the problem once and for all, no amoung of police enforcement will adequately resolve the issue.

    What you say Renee. Thanks for expanding and deepening the discussion about this cancerous issue.

  4. Michael,

    A Marxist interpretation of crime tells us that crime is a normal economic activity and that labor market incentives influence crime levels and the supply of young men to crime. In the US, in the 1980s and 1990s, a depressed labor market and the collapse of the job market for less skilled men contributed to the rise in criminal activity. The economic rewards from crime rose relative to those from legal work.

    Young men responded significantly to these rewards. Drug dealers turned into legends in many communities across the U.S. and just about any young cat coming up on the streets wanted to be a dealer, quick cash, cool car, plenty of chicks, and bringing home those big bucks for mama because one night daddy said he was going to the store and never came back. It was all about “getting paid” in a time when no one was hiring.

    Demographics of the criminal population, in any country, have a telling story: persons with low legitimate earning prospects are more attracted to crime. Joblessness and crime are corelates. Areas with high unemployment usually have high crime rates. Many youth, also combine legitimate and illegitimate work, office boy by day, and marijuana dealer by night. Therefore, crime is sometimes a “hustle.”

    Deterrence (laws) and crime control (law enforcement) cannot be the only approach. While absolutely necessary to maintain law and order, deterrence and crime control policies must be combined with economic and social policies that channel young masses into the work force.

    Vocational rehabilitation, job development, job training, and old fashion apprenticeships are a worthwhile cost effective investment that reap long term rewards, and will be particularly useful in T&T, where the largest percent of the population seems to be between the ages of 17 to 27, jobless and with truncated life chances. Media reports attest to that.

    Crime is an endemic product of class and the patriarchal nature of advance industrial society, competitive industrialization and aggressive masculinity that create exploitation, unemployment and poverty, of course. Therefore, in examining the root causes of crime, and there are many, we must look at inequality and injustice in the wider social structure. Individualism and discontent lead to crime when individuals feel marginalized socially and politically.

    On the issue of more police…or the idea that a visible police presence deters crime, you are quite correct, and there is empirical evidence to substantiate it. In 1994, the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act (U.S.) authorized millions of dollars to support the hiring of 100,000 additional police officers.

    To test whether or not such a plan would be effective, criminologits conducted an experiment that examined the effect of different levels of police patrol on criminal activity.

    The experiment divided a police district into 3 groups:

    1. Proactive beats received 2–3 times the normal level of patrol

    2. Reactive beats received no patrol

    3. Control beats kept the normal level of patrol

    The experiment revealed:

    1) the level of patrol had no effect on crime

    2) crime didn’t increase in the reactive beat where there was no patrol

    3) people didn’t seem to notice the difference in the level of patrol

    4) fear of crime didn’t go up in the reactive beat nor did it come down in the proactive beat.

    Therefore, it became very obvious that police agencies were wasting time and money.

    So yes, you are on point!

  5. But like allyuh on a date? One setta love letters back and forth!! Well excuse me let me put in my two cents.
    Articulate and intelligent dicussion all boils down to ole talk when you don’t provide any creative solutions.
    Foreign based trinis are now turning the internet into a rum shop to show off how far they reach (eg. Boysie UK/ Myra Chicago).
    We visit for carnival, get robbed, book de next available flight out and leave the “task” to those in authority. Well guess what once rum flowing the authorities not going to do a damn thing about the state of our country!
    We all know the problem. Let’s put foward solutions. Here’s one…set up some accounts for well-off expats to contribute a blue note once a month to save babies like amy and sean! (that’s $100 TT however you convert it).
    We callin’ for social reform and not getting it well lehwe set up shop!

  6. Isme,
    Apparently you having difficulty in distinguishing “articulate and intelligent discussion” which is intended to unveil the root of the problem and the socio-economic structure that supports persistant poverty and bears a direct relationship to the escalating crime rate, as opposed to “old talk” as you chose to call it. Leh meh give yuh ah piece of old talk so yuh could see the difference.

    Why you doh send me a cheque for $100TT every month and I go make sure and use it to reform MEHSELF socially.

    Note:(While this is intended to be a piece of old talk, unfortunately it appears to be the prevailing philosophy in T&T.)

    Nevertheless, Yuh see the difference? The last one does crack yuh up and make yuh say”…Dah man could talk s… boy” but the former is an issue that must be taken very seriously as it has a direct and devastating effect on vulnerable people and is often a matter of life and death.

    While your point is well taken, it is not for the lack of money that not enough is being done to eradicate the problem. It is the lack of vision, political will and perhaps a clouded understanding of the role of history and denial of a socio-economic structures that allows the problem to persist.

    Despite the fact that we have been independent for more than 40 years, we have inherited a colonial system of governance that is designed to benefit a particular group and not the society as a whole. Many studies have showed the relationship between crime and poverty, yet the problem persist. While at one time it could be reasonably argued that eradicating poverty was financially impossible and your suggestion may have been welcome, our unprecedented wealth makes it increasingly evident that there is no intention to do so. The only reasonable conclusion then, is that we have simply replaced the puppets of one ruling class with another who happen to bear a strinking resemblence to most of us. An dat ent no old talk but a sad reality
    Thanks for yuh feedback. Ah looking out for yuh cheque in the mail.

  7. It is easy to talk to put all sorts of theories but who wants to stand up and say I will take on the problem as my own

  8. The key to solving poverty as we see is not only the importation of the lastest state of the art technology to fight against crime alone. We have to firstly tackle crime from the top and this would then cause a ripple effect to the lower level crime members However during this process we have to help eradicate crime which is motivated by the desire to satisfy a basic need they may not be able to accomplish and therefore should help them by increasing employment oppertunities which and oppertunities to open small businesses as small businesses provide employment for more than 50% of the population.

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