Thriving off the ghettos

By Raffique Shah
July 13, 2014

Raffique ShahUpon rereading my column last Sunday, I thought I had gone overboard in my effusive endorsement of the army’s direct intervention in the crime “hot spots” of east Port of Spain and neighbouring districts. I realised that I had written in anger, which is never a good idea. So I apologise to readers who might have been alarmed by what seemed to be a call to wipe out gun-toting criminals.

I am not saying that the troops should return to barracks, since the killings continue unabated. On their own or accompanied by police officers, the soldiers offer a measure of security to the law-abiding residents of those communities who have long lived in a virtual state of siege. I believe they should continue their patrols, serve as a deterrent, if nothing else, to murderous men who make people’s lives a living hell.

While they do not have the powers of arrest that the police do, as citizens soldiers can apprehend persons engaging in illegal activities, or even better, pre-empt crime by their mere presence. They cannot lay charges against civilians, but trained and armed as they are, they serve as a potent anti-crime force.

Still, the soldiers’ intervention has not stopped the killings, and its continuance will be of little effect once the criminals have something to kill for—money from Government programmes, drug dollars, turf, respect and who knows what else.

There is nothing rational about the thought processes of such deviants. You listen to them demand dollars for doing nothing, justifying it by saying that the politicians are “eating ah food”, so why must they starve. Their apologists often blame poverty for them resorting to lives of crime.

But you and I know thousands of poor people who survive on the edge, but who never resort to crime. If anything, such people are victims of a political and economic system that accepts poverty as a norm, that in a country that has the resources to satisfy everyone’s needs, though not their greed, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi.

Poverty can never be an excuse for slitting a pensioner’s throat to steal his or her pittance. By what warped logic do you justify robbing and killing the neighbourhood parlour keeper who is struggling to provide for his family? Or the hard-working taxi driver who barely makes ends meet?

No way will I ever accept such lame excuses for committing heinous crimes.

In my chequered life, I have encountered some evil men (and women!) who were as mindless as I imagine the bandits and murderers of today are. I refer to psychopaths like Mano Benjamin, the notorious “Beast of Biche” who was a criminal all his life. As a boy, I saw (and feared) mass murderer Boysie Singh dressed in a suit, holding a bible, preaching—before he killed Thelma Haynes and was hanged.

In prison, you meet criminals who, however well you treat them, whatever reforms you try, they commit dastardly crimes as soon as they taste freedom. One example was a harmless-looking child rapist who, on the very day he was released after serving five years, raped a boy. He was arrested. He escaped and committed several similar atrocities before he was recaptured, tried and jailed again.

How do you reform such a beast?

Oh, there are success stories, too, but they are few. I know of two “most wanted” men who educated themselves while in prison and went on to lead productive, successful lives.

I sense that many of today’s criminals are irredeemable. I can’t say for sure since, for more than 20 years, I have not been near communities such as John John, Morvant and East Dry River where, when I was younger, I visited friends, limed, partied—and felt comfortable. Up until ten years ago, I used to hang out at the many panyards, unaccompanied.

I don’t know that anyone can do that today. Hell, even the mighty Despers had to flee its home theatre and practise for Panorama in Belmont over the past three years.

Look, I have always advocated social and other “soft” interventions as a means of rescuing young criminals from the twilight zone from which they might otherwise never emerge alive. However, I sense that such approaches are frustrating exercises in futility.

Winston “Gypsy” Peters sang “Little Black Boy” back in 1997. Singing Sandra sang “Voices from the Ghetto” in 1999. The late Father Gerry Pantin founded Servol as far back as in 1970, prompted by the Black Power revolution.

Others have followed—priests, cultural and sports activists, educators, social scientists and more.

I won’t say they have all failed. No. There are many success stories. Pantin’s Servol, for example, spread its wings into other depressed communities and saved many a youth from lives of crime. Pan music, sports, literacy programmes have rescued thousands.

But there is a core of criminals that cannot be saved—let us be brutally frank. Aided and abetted by ignorant parents, opportunistic politicians and the heartless Messrs Big of the underworld, they thrive off and in the ghettos.

It is they and their benefactors that the army, the police and the judicial system must target.

10 Responses to “Thriving off the ghettos”


  • I am not too sure what Raff is getting at or want to achieve by his columns of the deviant behavior of the criminals amongst us. In terms of the use of the Army to restore order and civility, I must admit that I am all for that because it is part of our constitutional functions to aid and abet the fights against criminals. By working in hand with the police to restore law and order and apprehending those who go afoul of the law, we would be fulfilling our legal and constitutional functions, no doubt about that. What I am totally against is this idea to turn the Defence Force into a pseudo police unit giving them powers to arrest civilians (like policemen). When such engagements occur it is usually temporary, a limited period of time or on the occasion of an event that warrants such action. When that is complete, our boys should be sent back to the barracks and not become a civilized institution for political actions or political deployments as the politicians see fit. On the subject of the “ghettos”, I am not too sure where Raff is taking us, other than to say that they are bad people, from bad neighborhoods and they are the products of bad parenting, schooling or upbringing. In the best of societies, there is always a core of “bad eggs” that no amount of reform, enforcement, incarceration or “soft” interventions as Raff puts it will rehabilitate them. My contention is this – government as a matter of policy should NEVER give up on reforming, rehabilitating, educating, law-enforcing and institutionalizing good behavior and practices in those communities that have been deemed ‘challenging’. What this written column seems to be saying is that we should give up on these behaviors because to attempt to us e”soft” interventions might be counter-productive. If so, then we should NEVER sanction a government that would give up on the possibilities that we can change the minds that have gone astray. The use of social intervention is not “soft”. You use social intervention when a studied and documented account is produced about behavior that are deemed unwarranted. There are norms that society expects from each individual, community, office holder, branch of government and functionalities. The word ‘crime’ is used loosely to describe those we conveniently ascribe an unpardonable way of life to, especially those who live in the “ghetto”. The truth is ‘crime’ is just as commonly committed by the ‘respected’ as much as the bad-johns. When politicians go afoul of the written word or spirit of the letter of the word, that is a crime, when an officeholder abuses the use of his tenure or go beyond his powers that is a crime, when tyne peoples’ money is used for personal or non authorized spending that is a crime, when a high office holder deprives a faction of the population to deprive them of the constitutional rights that is a crime. When governments deprive us of the protection we deserve from outside intervention or coercion that is a crime. When the well-connected use their connections to load the dis-advantaged communities with drugs and ammunitions that is crime, the the same use their connection to bring human ‘red meat’ for the purpose of prostitution that is a crime. When there is abuse of the use of funds by officials to use public funds for the enrichment of themselves and their families that is a crime.
    Crime is far and wide but I dare say that if it is not crime of the person we do not care as much. We should all care about the level of crime because it is not something that knows any boundary. It happens in every neighborhood, community and institution in this country and it should be the function of government to work in the interest of reducing it and the way to do so may come in many and varied forms. The so-called “soft” intervention may call for the use of firm, punishable, discreet, persuasive, cuddling and yes, sometimes loving actions to make things work. Firm only may work with some, punishable only may work with some, discreet only may work with some, persuasive only may work with some and in some cases recreational might work but others using a combination of all might work and in some cases might not. But it (government) just can’t sit on its hands and say that these are bad boys who come from bad homes so lets just leave them alone to what they like, or just allow “our dogs of war” to go attack and kill them. Governments must always be looking for solutions to make things better and we just can’t offer a war-like approach to every situation that we don’t like, we must employ the best and tried methods to solve problems. Sometimes before a remedy works there have to be tried and frustrating attempts before arriving at the proper solution but it can only happen when true and honest professionals are employed to perform these tasks that can be very disheartening at time. We should not just look at the criminals, what about the the judiciary? Can we honestly say that they are trustworthy, efficient, hardworking and honest? They are on a roll now to increase their pay but can we honestly say they are working for the money they are looking for. I venture to say that they are not, why?, look at the cases before the courts today, a great many of them are there sitting for as many as ten and fifteen years for lack of a proper verdict. Why shouldn’t the judiciary apt for a more prompt and swift decision in getting rid of cases? The load of cases has to do with laziness, inefficiency, lack of cohesion, lack of professionalism and lack of resolve by the powers that be. Where are the professionals in the judiciary who make it a function to expedite this backlog of cases? There are none! Don’t you think this lack of expediency encourages crime? When high government officials are seen on TV ‘taking a pull’ and their higher ups tell that it is not them we are seeing, don’t you think that encourages crime, when members of the judiciary are judges today and politicians tomorrow with very questionable motives don’t you think that that is an incentive for the committing of crime? We are a corrupt nation with little or no national values, as a matter our value system has deteriorated to the point where we can hardly distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, pious from evil and forward from backward. There is not a single individual in this country that we can honestly look up to and say that that he or she truly represent our values and we look to them for proper guidance and enlightenment, no not one. Where are our knight in shining armor? There is none to behold. Where are the goal setters, robin hoods and moralists in our nation? Who and what are we following, where are we going and what do we hope to achieve? Does anyone know? Let us have answers to our many and varied problems and let us not offer false anecdotes such as fighting wars, locking up, jailing, meeting fire with fire, killing and other such nonsense to replace the cowardly acts of governing by intimidation.

  • Kian makes Shah look like hostile and belligerant, socially unconscionable, and even more so, a very poor thinker intellectually. Kian makes Raff look like a kindergarten school boy at the beginning of the first year just dropped off by mommy!
    The fact that he has to Wheel and come again proves that Raff is not fit to write on the topic from any angle what so ever.

  • Ghettoes are created when there is a break down in family life. Yes Kian kids don’t suddenly decide that a life of crime is the acceptable way to live, you and Shah fail to touch on the issue of single parenting and the lack of upward mobility. The government cannot solve this issue if there is a lack of will to rise out of the culture of indifference. During the first UNC governance Panday threw millions at the problem yet it did not make any real difference. It became a huge black hole.

    Japan is a tiny island earthquake prone, during World War 11 they were bombed and left with nothing but a “shell” of a nation. They did not have any of the metals or resources that most nations have, example oil, yet they emerged as the worlds second most powerful economy. Why? It all has to do with the culture.

    In these ghettoes kids are growing up listening to “gangsta rap” with explicit lyrics and feeding their mind on garbage, instead of feeding their mind on the sea of knowledge that is easily available today. Until the culture changes, the hit man will be the only occupation worth aspiring for…

    • Mamoo, your understanding of the crime problem is that it is caused by the “break down in family life”. As a general notion, there can be no argument with that but I do believe that your comments have gone astray from the narratives which suggests that we can do nothing about and essentially either kill the perpetrators or leave them alone. There is also evidence that you are also suggesting by way of your comments that if money can’t solve the problem then “good” family life should. Mamoo, you are way off course, maybe you need a compass to bring you back to what is the purpose of government, leadership and management. As human beings God has made us a very complex living species, different from all else that reside on earth and as such materialism did not make us or decide who we are or what we are going to be. The complexities of our inherent senses are responsible for what we turn out to be. The advent of government, materialism and leadership is responsible for where we are, for example I am in this location because of slavery, you are here because of indentureship. What we turn out to be individually is a combination of the experience of government, leadership, hate, love, war, conflicts, color and a myriad of other factors. So, when you tell us that Panday threw money into crime to no avail, you are in fact insulting us. When you tell us that because we are criminal because we come from a one-parent family you are in fact insulting us. When you tell us that all we have to do is throw money at the problem and if it isn’t solved then tough luck, you are insulting us. Japan became what it is today because of an infusion of help and know-how from the United States and Europe. Sure, the Japanese were industrious and disciplined enough to teach themselves and move forward. Oh! by the way, the current President of the United States came from a one-parent family, Steve Jobs (Apple), came from a one-parent family.
      Need I say more about that idiotic suggestion? Oh yes!, that rap thing, Dr. Dre (one of the founders of Rap) has become the first billionaire arising directly from that kind of music. It would seem a waste of time to convince you of the absurdity of your suggestions that one-parent family is the cause of crime because my dad (who came from a one-parent family) is the strictest father that I know and he has produced wonderful, productive and intelligent children.
      If you and Raff intention is to tell about how bad and no-good our family is maybe you should dig a little deeper into your intellect to find out what the degrading, mental, traumatizing, dehumanizing effect of four hundred years of slavery have done to our psyche. Inspite of that we were still able to produce men of quality like Henri Christophe, Tousaint L’Overture, Eric Williams, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler and yes our present day President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama, that and many more is evidence that we have come a long way after those with their guns have tried time and again to silence our intelligence, talent and abilities to overcome hardships, hate and discrimination. You are evidence of those who would like us to forget that we tare still overcoming the ill-fate of our forefathers because our ancestors built the cane fields yet other who came after we refused to continue without pay and remuneration came after to claim it as their own. It is disingenuous when people use the typewriter board to say thing that are insulting and untrue about group of people, who are doing their best with what they have or has been given to them just to survive. I would join you if you respect the contributions of those before you and I to make this country a better place but to us your attainment of materialistic gains to confer upon yourself some kind of superiority because your parents were thrifty enough to save for you and others were too poor, too drunk, too confused or too caste out to gather such material fortunes is saying “hey look, I’m a Brahmin and you are a dalit”.

      • “If you and Raff intention is to tell about how bad and no-good our family is maybe you should dig a little deeper into your intellect to find out what the degrading, mental, traumatizing, dehumanizing effect of four hundred years of slavery have done to our psyche” Kian

        Kian slavery occurred over 200 years ago. In TnT the African was made to savor the fat of the land whilst others were excluded from the national patrimony. Such material opulence continued unbroken for almost 40 years. Oil flowed through the nation and with it the African enjoyed the blessings of power and materialism. Throughout PNM constituencies the roads were paved, water available, housing and jobs in abundance. To blame slavery is intellectual dishonesty.

        The problem Kian was not money, wealth or power all that is still firmly in the hands of the African. It is again as I wrote before “culture”. And so I choose not be beat that horse over and over again.

  • “We are a corrupt nation with little or no national values, as a matter our value system has deteriorated to the point where we can hardly distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, pious from evil and forward from backward. There is not a single individual in this country that we can honestly look up to and say that that he or she truly represent our values and we look to them for proper guidance and enlightenment, no not one.”

    The question begs that it takes a few rotten apples to spoil the whole basket of apples.

    Therefore, Raff is right to suggest and identify the wrongs backed up by ditties from the past, so that a mix of corrective actions can be implemented by the servant leader.

    Maybe, the under mentioned is a waste of time based from the rants of the first blogger.

    http://www.us-television.tv/programs/trinidad-and-tobago-3

    • Sometimes we dabble so much in puerility that we take anything to suggest that we are a nation moving forward. Loyaltrini, my quote which you extracted in your post stands to reason, experience and reality. You may call it ranting if you wish but no one can deny the reality. We live in a nation totally lacking in leadership, management of resources, management of personnel and vision, hence the spiralling of crime and lack of conscience. It is an insult to present an infomercial video touting Trinidad and Tobago’s resources, ethnicities, industrial development, harmony and culture to promote tourism and investment produced by the government for international consumption to this here blog, as evidence that we have overcome our adversities and problems with crime and other maladies. There is no doubt that the advertisement (which you render as evidence that we are moving forward) must have cost us over US$500,000 to produce and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A country must do what it can to encourage growth but you and I can similarly produce a video of our “poop” and make it sound as the best tasting ice-cream ever and it will sell in the infomercial world. So, your evidence is in fact null and void as an answer to the problem of crime. As evidence of what you refer to my “rant”, the current situation exists where soldiers have taken it upon themselves to rampage and terrorized certain neighborhoods in the Port Of Spain area, because of the killing of one of their own, when asked to account for their behavior the CoP says he did not give the order, the National Security Minister did not do it either, nor did the Commander of the Defence Force (these are the leaders directly responsible for security). As of this writing, the media is still in search of who gave the order to the soldiers and no one has as yet come forward to say that they did. Maybe you with your sharp tongue can enlighten us as to where the leadership commanding a reasonable explanation of this behavior comes from. That is what the narrative of this discourse is all about, not infomercials with niceties and incecream and fete.

  • Setting aside the infomercial, which have seemed to get your goat would you not agree that the under-mentioned, analyses crime in T&T with clinical vision?

    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/commentaries/Decoding-crime-in-TT-240928051.html

    Newsflash, I love my country, ditties, people and culture and the last time I checked out the international news there seem to be crime taking place all over the world including the ‘Love Boat’.

  • I would be foolish to say all is well in Trinidad and Tobago. You and others may not be in agreement with what I say which are factual in nature but that should not be taken that I hate my country. As a citizens and patriots, we owe it to our fellowmen to call the shots they way we see it. We need to let those in command know when things are not right and similarly when things are going good we need to say that too. Calling out loud the ills could never be bad for the country. Because people get elected does not necessarily mean that they have the solutions. The solutions come when they employ the right personnel to do the right jobs, otherwise they would be putting square pegs in round holes.

  • We sure know how to be happy after being ranked as #2 in the world. The solution is:

    Be optimistic and think positively and we will continue to work towards perfection without attaining such nationwide.

    http://forumblog.org/2014/07/world-happiest-country-gdp/

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