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Crime, Colour & Class in T&T
Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2005

by Michael De Gale

Ayanna, it is good that you have raised the issue of crime, colour and class in Trinidad and the apparent paternalism of The Keith Noel 136 Committee ( 06/07/05). With insight and eloquence, you have struck at the very heart of the crime and race problem that is now a scourge upon the land. The assumption that crime is limited to African and Indian communities is deliberately misleading and conveniently places the focus on the usual suspects.

There is a saying that the encourager is worst than the thief but in T&T the focus is never placed on the perpetrators who import death and destruction at the wholesale level. I find it extremely difficult to envision international drug cartels selling 100 grams of cocaine to a street level hustler or a single technologically sophisticated handgun to a financially insignificant bandit. These weapons of social destruction are sold in large quantities with multi-million dollar price tags attached. Who else has the financial resources to make them available on the local market but the local elites? This is not a mystery to engage the razor sharp mind of a Sherlock Holmes. Why then are the authorities failing to make this connection in their fight against crime? The war on crime must be fought at every level regardless of colour or class. Any strategy to reduce crime in T&T that does not focus on those who are also the perpetrators of economic slavery is a futile exercise and a wanton waste of resources. Despite the admission that "all ah we tief", the myth that the Trinidadian elite is above the law remains. Why is this? What makes them different from the rest of the citizenry? The answer lies in how we historically perceive them in our collective consciousness.

Our colonial past imposed upon us a local ruling elite who were predominantly of European extraction. They occupied the upper echelons of the socio-economic ladder while East Indians and African were mired in poverty, having to survive by any means necessary. Under such circumstances, criminal activity is inevitable. Thanks to the ever-vigilant media, my young mind always associated crime and poverty with people of African and Indian descent. The ruling elite have since diversified racially but they remain economically powerful and from all appearances, legally untouchable.

Imagine my shock as a young man stepping outside the Caribbean and into a larger world that was indeed strange to me. All the things that informed and created my belief system regarding colour, class and crime were immediately turned upside down. Chinua Achebe captured this phenomenon in his remarkable book" Things Fall Apart". On my first trip to North America more than 35 years ago, I was taken aback by the fact that white women worked as waitresses in diners and fast food restaurants. There were white beggars and white prostitutes plying their trade on street corners. Whites were accused of crimes that were common to African and East Indian communities in Trinidad. That realization was a shock to my psyche as whites have always occupied positions of privilege in T&T. I could not fathom this phenomenon for it was alien to my life experience at the time. In a sense, to my young mind, whites were sacrosanct. Many people I spoke with expressed shock and disbelief when they first witness this phenomenon. I recall my brother telling me over 35 years ago, that when he first traveled to England he was approached by what he described as a beautiful young white English woman. She begged, "Please sir, can you spare two pence?" He was flabbergasted and rendered speechless. A young white woman begging? That is preposterous! Poor guy, he couldn't get his head around it either. He went on to travel the world an education in itself. Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Oliver Twist were works of fiction. Growing up in Trinidad, we had no idea that this was social commentary and was still happening in modern time. This realization was unlike anything I could possibly have imagined.

I know that these are not isolated cases but are indicative of a national psyche reinforced by the local media and rooted in the history of colonialism. As I said, this was more than 35 years ago. Since then extensive travel, higher learning and my understanding of history and contemporary social problems have allowed me to develop a more informed worldview. Unfortunately, many people have not had similar opportunities and are burdened by limited education, family responsibilities and the ongoing struggle to survive on a daily basis. This tends to limit their overall development and they view issues surrounding colour, class and crime as "just the way it is." This casual acceptance of the status quo, enable groups like The Keith Noel 136 Committee, whose organizers are primarily interested in self-preservation, to force the Government to focus on crime in African and Indian communities while the CEO's of crime remain sheltered in their gated, mountainous and waterfront communities.

In the past few years, the Trinidadian elite have diversified racially. However, as a social class they remain virtually untouchable. There is no question that they are involved in criminal activities but they never face prosecution when their crimes are revealed. In fact, when their involvement in criminal activity is discovered, it is more bacchanal than a criminal offence. It is good material for national gossip. In time, that too passes and the shameless perpetrator could be seen "winding" in a fete, surrounded by peers and social climbers. This reinforces the notion that the dispensation of justice is predicated on social class. When members of the judiciary are an integral part of the elite, then who are to guard the guards? In light of the foregoing, I suggest that The Keith Noel 136 Committee canvass their own communities if they really want to bring the crime situation under control. It is often best to start at the source.

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