Sitting under a tree in Woodford Square, Port-of-Spain, secretary of Fisherman and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) Gary Aboud made a tearful plea to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to mediate with
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Too much self-deception
Looking at homicides across the nine police divisions in the country, FABIAN PIERRE found that most of them occur in urban areas compared to rural communities. In this third instalment, he says experts say there is a dark secret that many young people don’t know is responsible for the current state of the country.
“There is too much self-deception that’s happening in T&T regarding the issues leading to violent crime and homicides,” says social worker and psychologist Monique Achong-Lindsey. “Fathers are being blamed, mothers being blamed but there are a complex interconnecting number of factors that lead to these issues.” Lindsey spoke with the T&T Guardian about police statistics on homicides across the nine police divisions which show the majority of these crimes occuring in urban areas along the East-West Corridor.
Self-deception, she said, had only led to the focus on strong policing tactics that did little in the way of addressing the genesis of the issues surrounding violent crime and homicides. But, she says, there is a deeper and darker past that has pervaded the society and largely infiltrates urban areas in most if not all cases, unknown to those perpetuating a seemingly endless cycle.
“Let me paint this picture for you: Go back to the days of slavery and indentureship. For African slaves brought here, they were ripped away from their lands, bound, chained, humiliated, beaten, stripped, raped, dehumanised and told they were worthless and made to believe it. “They were housed in cramped, demoralising conditions, continued to suffer physical, mental and emotional abuse.
“Now, even though slavery ended, the ideas behind submission and racism continued.” Suddenly, Lindsey said, there was freedom but there was no information that taught those who had been freed what that meant and how to use it. There may have been some voices who spoke on rebuilding and mobilising, she said, but largely no one understood the meaning.
“Now take the indentured labourers. They might have been brought here and not lived under the best conditions but they were still paid a wage, and that is a critical part in all this. “That wage said something: ‘You are valued and have value,’ and this goes a long way to conditioning someone and their future. You are worth something more than abuse and demoralisation.”
She said the scars of the abuse Africans suffered continued long after freedom came and without realising it, when adults behaved a particular way toward their children in “discipline,” it’s a different form of the same abuse suffered by their ancestors. “Now 50 years ago, you had the more strict grandmother or grandfather and/or parents who had a more authoritarian style and the children are not told why something is being done.
“Years later, these children and maybe their offspring are exposed to a western system that tells them, ‘no, you have rights.’ “Now, you have another type of freedom stacked on the history of freedom from slavery that twice over no one really knows what to do with it because they were not given the tools and information. So now it’s a ‘I’m owed something so I’m taking it back.’”
The rural shift
In a T&T Guardian investigation in 2007 following the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd, former Caroni CEO Chandra Bobart said most former workers have adjusted well. Nine thousand Caroni staff and daily-paid workers were given voluntary separation employment programme (VSEP) packages some four years earlier. “Many of them became self-employed. I interface with them on the streets and in the groceries.
“They have adjusted themselves. A miniscule number of them can be found in CEPEP and URP work,” he said. “Some are driving taxis, working as mechanics or are employed in service of energy-based industries.” But as the T&T Guardian probed, many former workers painted a different picture to the upbeat one Bobart described. Achong-Lindsey thought for quite some time about it.
“As Caroni ceased to exist, urbanisation may have begun to increase due to a fall in agriculture production,” she said. “Here you are taking people who knew the land and knew the community and ripping them away from a community. “That basic interconnect. It still exists in large part in those communities but one thing that westernisation has taken away is the importance of the family meal. “An act as a family. A family is a microcosmic community. When you add up families upon families, you have a community.
“If there is a strong sense of family, community and religion that teaches values as some experts believe, what about cultures within which there is low violent and other crime but the population is largely agnostic or atheistic?” The T&T Guardian asked. “That’s a good question. I don’t know,” she said. Marshall agrees with Achong-Lindsey that without family, the stabilisation effect has been seen to be eroded. He cited Ferdinand Tönnies, a German sociologist who sought to contrast traditional communities with modern communities.
The first, Marshall said, dealt with the community of family values, religion, roles and personal attributes. The second, he said, saw the modern business community as one that was impersonal, alienated and relying highly on rationality and efficiency to underscore its performance. “In the rural areas, family and religion are significant stabilising factors. “In urban areas, a high degree of impersonal and isolating factors are on the loose. Rural living is still peaceful and ‘contented’ living, comparatively speaking,” Marshall said.
“Individuals feel less pressured and there is a sense that traditional values still find fertile ground in these areas. Even when aspects of city life are found in some rural areas, there is a feeling that members of this community tend to marry the both – rural life with modern conveniences.
“The city centre could be a place of opportunity as well as instability for the individual. At the end of the day, it is traditional values that would allow us to discern and control some of the social and psychologically disruptive forces that are at work within the urban areas.”
System or choice?
The T&T Guardian told Achong-Lindsey the stories of Shawn Madhoo, Daren Ganga, Jean-Claude Cournand and Sheldon Alfred and how their lives were spent in different geographies and cultures but resulted in a similar outcome. “Based on their example, does it mean that for others it’s a choice or is it systemic?” the T&T Guardian asked.
“In present day society of T&T, the primary problem with all of this is simple, the social support systems are too weak and do not service the needs of this society in the way that can bring about the necessary change. And this is the self-deception that I talked about earlier.” Achong-Lindsey paused for a moment when asked if this would not continue perpetuating a dependency syndrome. “No,” she said immediately. “It can be done in a way that avoids that. Canada is a near perfect example of that.”
Programmes in place
Both the Ministry of Social Development and the Sport Ministry have several programmes in place for communities in both urban and rural areas. However, when asked about this Achong-Lindsey questioned them. “Yet you still have the homicide figures and gang- related violence. You can have all these programmes but there are many, many other systems that need to be implemented to support a society that produces growth, not dependency.
“You have short maternity leave, you don’t have the care centres needed for parents who are working in a westernised capitalist model of long hours and then they get home tired and frustrated and the child has all this homework and other attendant issues. What support does the parent have for that?” If the parents are away from home at work often, she added, or supervision was not as it could be, then children will develop resentful feelings.
She said human behaviour as relational beings it choose the relationship that is most attractive to them. “The gang or the person who gives you the fulfilment and/or means will be the most attractive,” she said. The system, she concluded, did not foster proper education and providing opportunities for independence of the mind in fulfilling the needs and wants necessary for progress. This includes sporting initiatives, something Marshall says is another crucial factor for youth.
“Sport can be used as a platform for social mobility to engender discipline and responsibility that can carry the youth past their sporting years,” he said. But to guarantee success, the initiatives, like other support systems, must neither be difficult to access nor challenging to sustain Daren Ganga said.
“There are too many one-offs and we need many more sustainable initiatives. Too many sporting events have to beg for sponsorship or funding and it becomes difficult for such an important part of mental development in our youth.” In the final part of our series, experts and the four young men said their story, explain how geography plays a crucial part in violent crime and homicides, why some initiatives seem to work more than others, and how change can come but at a price.
A lecturer’s view
Senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies Dr Ronald Marshall said it was that very lack of information that had increased the criminal footprint. He added: “Unlike the rural areas, urban living suffers from a dearth of traditional values, some of which have been eroded over time by modernisation. “Others have been deliberately ignored and replaced by what are considered contemporary or the ‘in thing.’
“A lot of these values are ephemeral, meant to whet the appetite for more gratifying but short-lived ones. “Individuals in the city centres therefore find themselves living on a treadmill where little time is found for long-term planning and the adoption of more stable values. “Against this backdrop, a sense of self is lost as material possessions and status by association is desperately sought as the alchemy stone.”