Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert says about 2,500 young men have lost their lives to violence and gang warfare during the past four years. He was making a contribution at A Case For Compulsory National Service at City Hall, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Its theme was Saving Lives: Building Communities. It was hosted by Citadel Ltd. Philbert said, "We have lost about 2,500 young men over the last four years. The cemeteries are rich. We have young men who keep coming back before the courts. We have to reduce gang involvement. We have had to introduce a repeat offenders programme to help them. When we look, we find they have failed the drug test, psychological assessment and evaluation."
While he lauded the large turnout of males at the event, he noted the majority of young men at risk, did not have a father figure in their lives. "They don't know where there father is. They left school early. They dropped out," he said. Philbert registered his angst at the dress code of some young men. "There are young men who can't purchase belts. You are exposed to half dirty underwear on the main streets of T&T." Tattered sneakers, often hanging on electrical wires, were another sore point, he noted.
"They hang them up. For some reason authorities, would not take it down," he added. Philbert said if T&T was serious about nation-building there should not be any partition. Philbert made reference to Dr Eric Williams' famous quote from his 1962 Independence Day address - the future of the nation is in the schoolbags, but Philbert said today, "The bags are carrying guns. "The school bags should have national service. We have to do something if we want the youth to go in the right direction." He also made reference to calypsonian Ella Andall's classic Missing Generation. "We have a missing generation. They have found us," Philbert said, but Philbert was careful to point out that national service could not be foisted upon the population.
It was a point articulated by Guardian columnist and senator Dana Seetahal SC. "There must be legislation," she said. Among the countries she identified who had adopted compulsory service were Austria, Mexico, Greece and Turkey.