A gang leader in Laventille has 21 "clips" (sub-gangs) and a rough total of 600 young men under his command.He once sold CDs on the streets of Port-of-Spain, has taken over late Laventille "don" Mark Guerra's turf, runs a car dealership in the area and is always well dressed and reportedly drives a Mercedes Benz.
An offshoot of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, this gang leader has "lieutenants" controlling his "clips" in several areas in east and south Port-of-Spain and has been trying to expand his base on Duncan Street. Some of the gangs are comprised of only Muslims."He is one of the most powerful young men in their 20s in the country," said a well-placed source who requested anonymity.
The source spoke to the Guardian yesterday, seeking to explain the recent escalation in crime in the area which caused the execution of two teenagers last week Wednesday.Another gang leader controlling Nelson Street and other places, the other protagonist in the recent gang war, has been making sure his rival does not get a foothold. This second gang leader, in his late 20 or early 30s, has teardrops tattooed on both sides of his face signifying how many people he has killed.
"It all has to do with dollars and cents. It's about controlling turf. With turf comes power, more soldiers."The source said government contracts, some given out by Independent Liberal Party leader Jack Warner when he was national security minister, had played a part in the recent spike in gang violence in the area."In the Colour Me Orange programme, a contract was given to paint the Housing Development Corporation buildings on Duncan Street," the source explained.
At present, there is a contract to build a basketball court on Duncan Street and two others."The shooting the other day was over a Cepep contract," the source said."The giving out of contracts to gangs did not start happening with this government. It has been going on with successive governments."Right now, Laventille gangs are "colonising" the whole of Trinidad, said Hal Greaves, who describes himself as a "violence interrupter" and works closely with gangs in the area.
"If you go into La Horquetta, the crime pattern resembles that of Laventille," he said."Children from Felicity and other places, wearing their pants below their waists and bandannas around their heads and listening to Mavado and Popcorn, are trying to be Laventille bad boys. They are following the example of Laventille.
"Laventille is not a place any more, Laventille is a culture. They are seeing that Laventille defies the system and Laventille wins. 'The teacher tells me I am dunce and puts me out the class but I defy her and make it.'"Greaves, from San Fernando, who played Roy in the popular Roy and Gloria domestic violence television series, began working with Laventille gangs more than seven years ago when he went to do a drama class in the area.
"They shoot up the class and then apologised when they found out who I was," he recalled.Since then he has been working with the gangs with the assistance of government agencies, religious leaders and NGOs."When there's a shooting, to prevent it from escalating I would go in and try to talk to the boys and get them to hold," he said.Greaves said he did his "little part" in the recent gang warfare between Duncan and Nelson Streets but conceded, "It's a slow, hard process."
Government contracts and drugs had a part to play but the recent gang violence was only the continuation of a bigger war, he said.It all goes back to the control of turf."Without alliances, you have no guns, no support, you will get swallowed up. Somebody has to give you backup," Greaves said."If you lose the key to your brain and go unguarded even in a neutral area, you could get killed. Women from Duncan Street cannot go the George Street health clinic. They will kill them."
But Greaves said he had seen a "small improvement" since he began working with the gangs."When I went it there, I was alone. I now have a team of former gangsters working with me."When people have guns, it's difficult to tell them, 'Let's try to resolve this by talking.'"