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Bhoe and Nicki share a moment
When I heard the Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie’s dulcet tones a couple of weeks ago admitting, at the post-Cabinet press briefing, that crime was out of control, and the Government was stumped, I liberally took it as a bottoming out of the PP’s orgy of self-delusion. Then, a few days later, Nicki Minaj dropped the whole “Trini and Liberia are places you’re lucky to get out of alive” thing, as a kind of bleached blonde exclamation point.
Given the Honourable Minister’s previous wuk as director of UWI’s Critical Thinking Institute, I thought (over-optimistically) the State’s sclerotic eye had finally let some light in, and this was the dawn of a realisation that the Government’s approach to crime (like its approach to everything) was essentially the PNM’s with a few commas changed.
We see, with increasing despair, bumbling crime plans, precepted soldiers, and awkward press conferences, with the same results as pre-2010. Not what was expected from a party one of whose members read from Confessions of an Economic Hitman in Woodford Square.
Still, I had hopes a critical thinker might take this initial observation further. He might consider that, first of all, the real problem might not be crime, but that crime was a consequence of a larger problem. The nature of the larger problem is hinted at in the similarity in the State’s approaches to crime, and the nation’s many other problems, over several administrations, which have consistently failed.
And the critical thinker might consider that the real problem is culture—the complex of values and practices that create an environment in which crime flourishes, and the way of thinking which determines how we understand and respond to it. And if this were true, the critical thinker might realise the solution lay not in jackboots and heavy weapons, but changing the culture.
It’s not a unique proposition. Trinidad in 2013 resembles New York in the 1970s, with the graffiti-bombed trains, rampant street crime, gangs and ineffective, corrupt police. Today, NYC is one of the safest cities in the world. That change wasn’t brought about with cops and artillery alone. The first step to stopping crime involved cultural change: first taking control of the dysfunctional environment and transforming, and changing its architectonics.
In general, go from dirty and chaotic to clean and ordered. Get the cops to restore the intangible sense of security by curbing quality-of-life crimes (obscenity, littering, disorder). Redesign the public discourse to project order and calm, not chaos and violence. (Of course, it helps if your media are not populated with corrupt hypocrites who sabotage you at every opportunity (cf SOE). And it especially helps if you don’t provide said opportunities every time you open your mouth.)
A second step was changing of the culture of the police from corrupt and intransigent to efficient and smart. This meant recruiting better-educated cops and prosecuting instead of trying to change the already entrenched ones. (Yeah, we’ve tried that. Thanks to the entrenched bad cops, the TTPS has resisted every attempt to change it, assisted by the PSC and Minister of National Security. A radically smart move would be to apologise to Dwayne Gibbs and invite him back.)
So in sum, the NY solution relied on understanding the dynamics of local culture and having the will to change. The question Bhoe Tewarie’s admission begs is: do a similar understanding and will exist here?
The answer isn’t looking good. The central ritual of Trini culture, from which, culture vultures claim, the nation derives its identity, is Carnival. That complex, as argued in this space, was engineered over 50 years to preserve ethnic and political advantage at the expense of cultural evolution. This has had consequences throughout the society.
First, it has made delusion and denial drivers of cultural logic. Example: despite the fairly graphic evidence, we can’t even admit that Carnival in Port-of-Spain on Monday and Tuesday is dangerous and violent (as the Guardian’s photos on pp 24 & 25 last Tuesday graphically displayed), and insist every Carnival is the “safest ever.”
From that initial delusion comes a chain of delusion. Like in education—increased access to education, but all evade the phenomenon of declining literacy; and healthcare; and child abuse; and so on. The State tolerates and encourages contempt for law, individualism, and corruption, but does not connect these cultivated attitudes to violent crime. Crime is seen as a result of the spectral, unstoppable transnational drug trade for which criminals and police are not responsible.
But the drug trade is in NY and the US too, along with zillions of legal and illegal guns, yet the society is functional. What’s the difference? In brief: You can’t fix the problem if you won’t admit there is one: the toxic society and its dystopian values cause crime.
Here’s where Nicki Minaj comes in. She was here last year to love up de cultyere, and endorsed the official script: Kahnaval, happy, creative, yawn. Then she went back home and said on TV what she (and many others) really thought. Here’s the convergence with Bhoe’s moment—the going off-script, almost inadvertently acknowledging a reality Trinis are contorting themselves in incredible shapes to ignore, and are offended by when forced to confront. This ain't paradise.
Those wounded by Minaj’s expostulation should thank her for the reality check. Until this dynamic of delusion and denial in our culture is banished and we admit how dysfunctional de cultyere, and our practice of it, really are, neither crime nor society is going to change. Bhoe and Nicki should do a duet.
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