A reformed gangster believes one of the ways to break and gang culture in the country is for the police to work with ex-convicts on outreach programmes and mediation aimed at-risk youths.
Desmond Baptiste, 49, of Sea Lots a convicted murderer on Death Row who was freed following a Privy Council ruling 18 years ago, is calling for the return of Project Reason, a programme in which he was involved which he said had been making inroads in gang communities,
“We understand that the police have certain powers and abilities to carry out their functions but them alone cannot stop what taking place here. I talking about mostly up in the hills of Laventille and I have the authority to say that because I was involved in gangs there so I know,” he said.
“I was pulled in by the soldiers to be a part of Project Reason because you need people who live the life from the same ghettos to help to change the thinking and mindset of the more younger individuals who looking to enter that kind of gangster life.
“We already live that and done that,” he added.
Baptiste said he functioned as a violence interrupter, directly approaching gangsters to reason with them and stop retaliation attacks.
He said: “I used to go in the middle of a gang war and be that mediator that one to crack peace because I have that respect to do so. It was doing a great job but they stopped it and I saved lives then and still saving lives because up to today people call me to intervene and that’s what is needed again.”
Pointing to the Laventille hills which can be seen from the waterfront at Sea Lots, Baptiste was adamant that there were no criminal gangs in his community, just a “bond” among the young people.
“Long time the gangs dealt with individuals now gangs deals with an entire village or community which I see will get worse and these youth men in here are under attack and they are just standing in unison with each other,” he said.
“They grow up together, they were hungry together and they suffered together so they will stand together.”
He said the criminal gangs originated generations ago at Block 8 John John in Laventille, in an era he was a part of.
“It have the Muslims that started off the gang wars at Block 8 John John and it developed over time with each offspring but now they using this Muslim thing off key. We now consider them to be the renegades because of the indifferent and brazen levels that they have reached to,” he said.
Businessman Neazam Taylor, a general contractor who has been living in Sea Lots 33 years, said he refuses to move out of the area despite its stigma.
He said he was instrumental in the 2010-2015 period having the infrastructure in the Sea Lots area improved, including getting the roads paved, water and streetlights. His goal now is to educate young people.
“It has already started and a lot of them are pushing themselves more. Some are going to Queens Royal College, St Mary’s College, but more needs to be done. We need to form groups here and the same in other places but we have come a long way,” he said
A Laventille resident, who did not want to be identified, said young people had no choice to join gangs because if they refused they could be killed.
“This gang thing serious and you find most joining because they have no fathers... they have no one to guide them, so when they find what they think is guidance they will follow. Many are approached and they are forced into it until they become accustomed to the life and it is hard for them to come out of it,” he said.
“Here in Laventille we, the elders are forced into silence because we can be killed. Some of the areas here are under siege but we live around it.”