The common narrative about crime in modern T&T is that offenders are mostly young black men living in poor, rundown, urban areas, committing violent and drug-related crimes.In previous columns it's been pointed out this narrative leaves out a whole list of crimes, at the top of which is white-collar crime.Often, when we hear about rural crimes, it is praedial larceny–the theft of growing crops–or family disputes and cases of domestic violence.
These two narratives of crime in urban and rural spaces reflect a trend identified by sociologists that says, in general, we understand certain crimes as happening mostly in certain places. Or put another way, places, like urban areas shape our and the media's understanding of crime, telling us where crime happens and where criminals live.
Most recently in Tobago, certain events seem to be complicating this simple narrative. Away from Scarborough, in some of the rural villages up and down the island, a gang culture more familiar to urban Trinidad seems to be growing.One piece of evidence of this change is the recent shooting that took place in Tobago on the night of the nationwide blackout.
Shortly after the lights went out, a gunman shot into a crowded bar full of locals, tourists and other visitors who were trying, under the emergency lighting of a few car headlights, to make a plan for another liming spot. The gunman stood across the road away from the bar and shot a total of six times, hitting a woman in the leg.Initially, people thought it was fireworks. As it was dark, no one knew exactly what was going on. Police recovered five casings and locals pointed out a sixth shell still in the wall.
Eyewitnesses described a scene of commotion. People scrambled away from the bar. Tourists in a restaurant right next to the bar, and customers in a small food outlet, all locked themselves inside. Some are said to have been face-down on the floor and hysterical, since they had no idea what exactly was happening. Remember, this wasn't urban or rural Trinidad; this was on a village green in rural Tobago, slightly off the beaten track and away from where the majority of tourists find themselves.
Speaking to locals to try and find out what and why the shooting happened, these are some of the reasons residents and locals gave: the shooting was gang-related. Two men from another village came to execute the big man from another village. This big man was liming at the bar with colleagues from the village where the bar is located. Locals described a clannish connection between their village and the other village, both through family and geographical closeness.
Locals explained that although the police station is a five-minute drive away, the police did not arrive for over 20 minutes, during which time supporters of the intended victim pulled up in their cars looking for the gunman, who by then, it is assumed, had fled.Now proper research needs to be done into the transformations taking in place in Tobago.
The locals themselves venture one narrative.
They describe disgruntled, young men, hanging around in groups of ten or 20 from village to village. Add in a mixture of violent international media, an illegal tourist market for drugs that is impossible to stem, an employment culture that is limited, an influx of guns and criminals from Trinidad working in Tobago, and locals say you come to understand some of the factors contributing to the growth of what is most familiar in media and politician narratives as urban ghetto behaviour–not idyllic rural greens.
What emerges from this short story tells us many things. A culture of fratricidal behaviour–killing one's brothers–is emerging. Much like in urban Trinidad, it follows the eye-for-an-eye mantra. This culture of violence is always a regular feature on the TV news and newspapers, no doubt in some small part contributing to the growth of this behaviour in Tobago.
Now, it is important that we are careful here not to sensationalise the situation. Tobago is not Trinidad, its culture, history, and social climate are distinct.Yet because we expect different things of Tobago we may be blinding ourselves to the steady and creeping growth of a gang culture we don't expect to find in rural parts of the country, and especially rural parts of Tobago.
�2 Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine