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Changing the Laventille story
The news from Laventille hasn’t been good for more than a decade now, but in 2012, things seem to have taken a clear turn for the worse. The first murder for the year was recorded there, the killing of Lloyd Baptiste, shot multiple times while asleep in bed at Picton Road after being firebombed out of his Beverly Hills home. The headlines continued since then in the same vein of bloodletting.
In July, 48-year-old Lawrence Quashie was shot 13 times by gunmen at La Pomp Trace, retribution the police believed, for the theft of five guns, part of a spate of gang warfare that was believed to have cost the lives of at least seven other men in less than a fortnight.
The tensions in Laventille are being both exacerbated and cooled by police and army action in the area, and it’s important to get clear what’s working and what isn’t in the current engagement with the community being spearheaded by Minister of National Security, Jack Warner. Minister Warner has instituted a lockdown of substantial force in Laventille as a response to the outbreak of crime and violence that’s plagued the community recently.
That’s brought some comfort to residents in the most embattled areas, such as Beverly Hills, but the Minister must also be clear in his mind that these are stopgap measures that only address the most obvious indicators of the dissatisfactions, disappointments and malaise that underlie the social rot that’s plaguing the people of Laventille.
These are working class communities that have few meaningful job opportunities available for the young people coming of age in them. In an area of Port-of-Spain that was once the home and heart of the national creative community, spawning sporting legends, musicians, writers, performers, Carnival designers and cultural icons spanning all disciplines, life and career choices seem to have collapsed into minimum wage work and crime.
Education, achievement and the appreciation of genius level brilliance need to be returned to the agenda that Laventille once championed and this is where meaningful State intervention should be targeted. The Belmont and Morvant communities needs study centres, inspirational talks from successful sons and daughters of the space and the cultivation of an appreciation for aspiration as much as it needs sporting facilities, police posts and joint army and police patrols.
This will demand the type of sober, long term commitment to human capital and community improvement that Laventille hasn’t seen in the last five successive administrations. Targeting outbreaks of crime and violence with a firehose of police and army power may deliver immediate results, but it does nothing for the community once that deterrent tap is turned off and the persistent, ever present lure of a fast paced life of crime returns.
There are many living in Laventille who continue to believe that education, self-improvement and demonstrable ability are laudable ambitions, but their voices have been drowned out by thugs and murderers. Minister Warner’s initiative to spend $2.5 million on sporting facilities for the area is welcome, but it’s ultimately the wrong solution to the problem.
What Laventille needs is not more games for its idle youth to play but more mentors and coaches and more training to ready them for meaningful work that will bring sustainable incomes, dignity and pride. The Inter Agency Task Force has been working closer to the problem with its Hears and Minds project which has been working since 2004 with the community to offer alternatives to gun and drug culture through outreach programmes and education.
The National Security Minister is right to target Laventille for intervention, quite possibly believing, a many do, that where that community goes, so goes Trinidad and Tobago. But he must do so with education and training that enable personal improvement and change Laventille through the positive life choices of one wayward resident at a time.
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