Violence – The Fruit That We Have Sown

By Michael De Gale
August 01, 2008

ViolenceI yearn for the day when I can look at the front page of any T&T newspaper and see headlines that are not crime related. Unfortunately, I cannot hold my breath until hell freezes over or for the incumbent government to realize that there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime.

As a matter of interest, a study about the roots of crime in Canada was recently published in the Canadian press. I am certain that much of the statistical data provided would be applicable in a T&T context. The study claims that more than 70% of persons who enter the prison system are high school dropouts; 70% have unstable employment histories; four out of every five have substance abuse problems when they are convicted; and two out of three youths in the system have been diagnosed with two or more mental health issues. In Toronto specifically, the data analysis shows that the 10 poorest neighbourhoods have the highest incarceration rates, the lowest income, highest unemployment, most single parent families and lowest level of education. I am not sure if any such study was ever undertaken in T&T, but I am willing to bet that if such a study was indeed conducted, the conclusion will be the same but the statistics would seem pale in comparison.

It is instructive that in Toronto with a population in excess of 2.5 million, 30 mostly young people have been murdered to date. This created an outcry in the city and calls for immediate action to address the cause. Whether deserving or otherwise, the deaths of these young people abruptly ended whatever potential they may have had and essentially robbed society of whatever contributions they may have made under different living conditions. For the last few years, the Mayor and the City of Toronto, private corporations, community organizations and individuals, have banded together in search of solutions to arrest the escalation of violence in the city. “Priority Neighbourhoods” were identified and steps were taken to address the problems that frequently culminate in death by violent means. Solutions included creating employment opportunities in private companies and in government ministries for youths specifically from these neighbourhoods; financial and infrastructural investments in these communities, training and mentorship programs; community policing and investing in early childhood education to mention a few. It is still a work in progress but being personally involved in some of these initiatives, I can assure you that these investments have already begun to pay dividends The transition from perceived “thug” to valued citizen is an amazing phenomenon to witness.

An intellectually bankrupt administration, who fail to tally the true cost of crime in society, will fallaciously continue to view punishment as the panacea to end the problem. This study and many others over the years have all concluded, that for a fraction of the cost of enforcement, investments in poor communities and in early childhood education will significantly reduce this epidemic. The benefits will be clearly evident in economic terms, lower dropout rates, a significant reduction in crime and ultimately, a more prosperous and progressive society worthy of developed country status.

If there is a gene that makes people prone to criminal behaviour, it is inconceivable that that gene should be disproportionately embedded in the DNA of poor people. As I have often advocated and as the study suggest (not withstanding “white collar crime”), poverty is the root of criminal behaviour. The poorest areas in T&T such as John John, Laventille, Belmont and the hills of Diego Martin to mention a few, are essentially incubators for raising criminals. Even if by some miracle the police, army and the criminals themselves manage to successfully wipe out the current batch that is menacing the society, a new crop of criminals are now sucking on the breast of poverty, as the nation’s hand continue to rock the cradle. They too will soon wreak havoc on an uncaring and dispassionate society.

In 1881 Frederick Douglas the great orator, runaway slave, newspaper editor, U.S. Congressman and abolitionist unequivocally stated that, “Neither we, nor any other people will ever be respected until we respect ourselves, and we will never respect ourselves until we have the means to live respectfully”. In capitalist societies such as ours, education and access to opportunities are fundamental to acquiring the means to live respectfully. The scourge of violence that is holding the nation hostage as the rest of the world stare in utter disbelief represents years of neglect and marginalization; first by colonialism and now by a government who mistakenly confuse window dressings with progress. In this once hopeful and now obscenely rich society, it is shameful that violence is the one thing that now defines us. If we fail to invest in poor communities, we will continue to reap violence – the fruit that we have sown.

6 Responses to “Violence – The Fruit That We Have Sown”

  • Michael,
    The kind of tribal politics that is presently practiced in Trinidad and Tobago is narrow and personal, and as a result; filth has become an acceptable alternative to fruitful governance.


  • The education system in T&T has to undergo a comprehensive transformation in order to bring about societal change. Numerous articles have been written about crime and poverty by a string of renowned journalists and commentators; however, few have provided any concrete solutions to the problem. The exception is Dr. Cudjoe, in his Emancipation speech. He strikes at the heart of the matter with his recommendation to change the school system. His focus was African students, but some of what he said has relevance for all students in the system.
    Schools in T&T are still run on the factory model of the age of Industrialization. The exam driven, cram for tests system is failing the students and resulting in high failure rates. The misplaced focus of ranking students and schools, without critically analyzing problem schools and reasons for failure, really serves no useful purpose.
    Many of those young people committing crimes are products of an ancient, outdated education system which worked well in the past, but no longer meets the special needs of a changing population. The failure rate is probably no higher among African students. The difference is that Indian students are fortunate enough to be offered employment in family businesses, as mixed farmers, truck drivers, salesmen, clerks, etc. Many African students are not as fortunate because they were not afforded a head start.
    Also, an education system without a committed, caring and qualified group of teachers is doomed to fail.
    Educational reform might be the answer to reducing crime. T&T has the money and the expertise, but lacks the will because those in positions of power continue to perpetuate arrogant, traditional and elitist attitudes.

  • At some point, we have to stop blaming “tribal politics” . When I volunteered at the St. Mary’s Children’s home in the summer of 2007, there were children there who were part Chinese, part Indian, children who were part Indian part African, and some who seemed full blooded members of the major ethnic groupd. Certainly the tribal polictis stops at the bedroom door. It should be laughed off the stage everywhere else. Look around, a major part of our population is quite mixed up. If a change has to come, it has to start now before we lose another generation-this, a new race of mixed blood children.Who will we blame then? Education can change the polarization, if we stop assigning every crime and problem to one major group.

  • We are a society of “know-it-alls”, our society has many ills which afflict each of us in different ways and there is no doubt that education plays the key role in how we have to re-habilitate ourselves towards a more open and caring citizenry. Comments on almost every major issue, crime included almost instinctively separate our behaviour into ethnicity, class, religious beliefs or political doctrine. We naturally fight to preserve or criticise what we seek to be in our best interest or what digusts us most about any particular subject. Case in point, the idea of a functioning Equal Opportunities Administration is championed by a certain group that see itself somehow discriminated against, yet when you read commentaries by professionals of that group they appear in general to accept “private discrimination” and reject “public discrimination”, they seem to say it is OK when our religion or religious practices appear or subscribes to behaviour that might make others uneasy or unwelcome. The sum of this belief cannot be equal or can be defined as “non-discriminatory”. There are some religions that use public facilities to display their worship of dieties by implanting flags, bamboos, flowers and other
    signs of public display of private worship to the dis-comfort of others. This kind of behaviour please some yet irritate others. So how do we “educate” our children to accept it. We clamour for excellence in our group of choice and disparage the behaviour of those belonging to other groups that condone “un-acceptable” behaviour. How do we educate people to be accepting of excellence in those other groups that need it just as well? We hate the idea of helping people of districts that might be in need of special caring because of certain inequalities and find funds dispensed to such groups are un-equal in opportunity. The point I am trying to make here is that while we want “equality” it must ALWAYS be on our (group) terms, not with the weighing of advantages or dis-advantages of any sector within our broader society. The education system also leaves a lot to be desired. What have we taught our children of our “recent” history? What have we taught tghem about slavery, indentureship, the trade union movement, colonialism, racism, the 1970 uprising, the 1990 uprising, the black power movement? What do they know about Hugh Wooding, Rudranath Capildeo, Uriah Buzz Butler, Dr. Eric Williams, Professor Arthur Lewis, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King? The answer to those questions are obvious, we prefer our children to learn about R. Kelly or 50-cents than educate them about people who have a more direct impact on their lives. Education should be about reading, writing and arimetic but it must also be on philosphy, history and current affairs.

  • I too share the same concerns for the future generations. When African descendant kids grow up believing that all ills that took place in the country are the result of irresponsible non- caring people that look like them , it contributes to destroying their well being , faith in themselves , and already fragile self esteem. Conversely, when East Indian children are injected some fictitious cultural propaganda as to being born leaders, and ingenious entrepreneurs that can do no wrong- irrespective of the fact that their earlier and present generations were involved in over 70 % of the shady dealings and criminal activities of the country, -they are being dealt a negative hand. They become devoid of the ability to accept responsibility for actions, and the unfortunate inability to become contrite where necessary , show empathy to the plight of others in need, or be magnanimous to others different than themselves that have excelled. Surely , this is not too good a platform for nation building.
    What to me that is most reprehensible are the blatant failures by the prime accusers to accept some responsibility for the calamities that we are in. Without any immediate statistics to back me up, I’ll venture to say that our local prison population is made up almost entirely of Indo and Afro Trinbagonians – in equal proportions. There are obviously many logical explanations for this, one of which is that collectively they make up the majority of our population. One would think that both fractions would work together and attempt to formulate polices aimed and curbing criminal culture, high school drop out, low and under employment, recidivism ,and other central social ills. Instead we are told by ‘victimologist’ gurus that the former is being subjected to racial prosecution, and as a result, the gullible and receptive fan base should grab every penny they can acquire, even if it means stealing it from innocent taxpayers or pensioners ,and run to Miami and Toronto, or Queens Village.
    Pastor Dottin said it quite well in an Op–Ed piece recently, in reference to the recent collapse of the Caroni Bridge- perhaps more diplomatically than I could care. However some of us possess the luxury to speak as freely as we desire on practically any subject or character, unfortunately the good Pastor wants to enjoy his future pension from the beloved and (recently) much maligned SDA Church down the road. He said, “When a wall is flawed, it collapses. When a bridge is flawed, it collapses and cars, vans, trucks and buses could be sent into the swirling, murky Caroni River. But who designed, approved and implemented the process? It is instructive to see the reactions of then political leaders to this tragedy.

  • A picky picky point. Did the bridge collapse all by itself? I thought it was being dismantled, and collapsed because the crane operator was really a dump truck drier, and another drier, drove his truck on to the bridge being dismantled. This is idiocy,not politics.

    I am fascinated by cranes that can lift entire containers of cargo, and swing them on to the ground, without damage, or put them on a ship similarly. A crane, however, is a precision instrument, just like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon. One has to be educated to know what to do.

    We used, in my youth, to ridicule the USA for “having a training programme for everything, including walking the dog” Now we can see that training and education saves lives. When lives are lost, eeryone wants to blame someone else. This is why the goernment needs a bureau of standards that is effective, and a constant re-certifying of skills in every sector of life. In my state in the USA a driver’s licence is automatically renewedevery ten years, until the year after you are sixtyfive, then you need to take a vision test again, list all medications and your doctor. This is to save the poor mother , with her three kids,driving in the other direction who could be estroyed by your driving while on a medication that can cause dizziness.

    But again, in the USA they test too many “silly little things”.
    Education coneys skills needed in the jb market, a sese of dignity and self- worth, and can save lives. tht man who diied should have been nowhere near thta crane. Our attitude to safety helmets used to be as backward. Education changed that, but we still think a kid’s bike helmet is a pretty ornament, so too is a baby’s car seat.

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