The election bell has officially rung and on August 10, the country will make its choices for Members of Parliament and determine which political party will govern T&T for the next five years or until another election is called.
The calling of an election gives an opportunity for citizens to determine the direction they want the country to go.
It is a far-from-perfect system, as the majority is not always right, but in some ways it’s not even about being right or wrong. It’s about making choices that you feel are in your best interest, that of your family and hopefully, of your country.
It is why people often vote for parties they feel will best advance their cause, even if in so doing, it is merely based on an assumption that if the majority of the supporters of a political party are of your race, then it stands to reason that you have a better chance with your own than with another group.
It is why ethnic voting is in some ways the most natural of voting pattern and why many in the society who rubbish it, pretend not to understand that it is natural human instinct to gravitate to those who look like you or who you feel you can relate to.
In all heterogeneous societies, racial voting is commonplace.
Look at Guyana, Suriname, USA, Great Britain––to see the reality that this country is not unique in its voting patterns.
In homogeneous societies, voting tends to be far more by class, and region, than in plural societies.
Now before I am accused of being a proponent of racial voting, let me make it clear that I feel people must vote for parties that represent their interest and your interest must be more than your race, holding the reigns of power.
It must be your economic interest, your family interest and that of your community and country.
It is why the recent riots in Port-of-Spain, by mainly black urban youths, against a police service that still has a majority of black officers and a government that is formed from a party that gets its sustenance from black voters, is telling.
You see, these young people came out to vent their frustration at being an underclass that the country has ignored for too long.
For too long the PNM has felt that their votes are assured because of the natural feeling of fidelity with a party that perhaps at one time represented their parent’s interest, but in an attempt to remain in power in a changing political landscape, can no longer be that kind of party.
Look at Dr Keith Rowley’s Cabinet and the power brokers in the last government and you will see what I mean.
But what the country must take from the riots is that the status quo of ignoring this growing black underclass, mainly in urban areas, cannot continue, because we will pay a high social and economic price for it.
The police must receive our support in its efforts to take on the criminal elements and anyone prepared to shoot at the police, must be prepared to face the consequences, even if that leads to death in the cross fire. There must be law and order and too many of the people in these communities are complicit in crime and the murder of people in their own communities.
But at the same time, the police must see themselves as upholders of the law, they must act within the law and must work with communities to protect and serve them and not be seen as the enemy who must instil fear.
It is no doubt a very difficult task and often thankless one, but it is the only way to a stronger relationship with the people they have to precinct. But why must this matter to all of us?
There are those in this country who feel we should ignore the streets, ignore the so-called ghetto. They are seen as a lost cause who want handouts and pity and areas where little good can come.
They are seen by some as areas that should be surrounded by walls and their occupants kept away from the rest of the society.
In other words let them do what they want as long as it does not impact me.
A 2014 study by the IDB found that between 1990 to 2000 the murder rate in T&T was relatively stable, but steadily increased after 2000 and reached a peak of 547 murders in 2008.
It noted that murders thereafter began to decline until 2011, when the number of murders was 532. After 2011, murders started to increase again until 2013 when 407 murders were recorded.
It found that the victims and proponents of murders were to a large majority people of African decent.
“In 2013, the majority of victims were young, 74.7 per cent were of African descent, 17.9 per cent were of East Indian descent, and 6.4 per cent were of mixed descent.
“Most perpetrators were of African descent, 26.1 per cent were of East Indian descent, 6.3 per cent of mixed decent, and 0.7 per cent of other ethnicities,” the IDB report found.
In other words, black urban youths were and continue to be killed in hugely disproportionate numbers to other segments of the society and if they are not killed, were likely to be arrested and incarcerated for the crimes since they were the majority or perpetrators.
Some of our most potentially productive citizens are being lost.
The IDB report also showed the impact of gang culture with most of those belonging to gangs are black urban youths.
“The majority of gang members were young adults between the ages of 18 and 45...Of the gang members in the sample gathered by the Besson Street Project, 87.5 per cent were of African descent, 0 .8 per cent of East Indian descent, and 1.9 per cent of mixed descent, while the ethnicities of 9.5 per cent were unknown. Gang members were almost exclusively male (95.3 per cent),” the study found.
According to the IDB study 70 per cent of the gang members lived along the East West corridor with 40 per cent in the Port-of-Spain area and environs.
Each of us have stake in what happens in these communities.
Whether we know it or not, we are already paying out of pockets for the large chunk of the national budget that has to be spent annually on National Security.
The need to spend over a billion dollars annually on the police comes from the consolidated fund.
It is money the country has to spend in this time of high crime but would it not have been much better if we had low levels of crime and part of that money could have been spent on fixing the infrastructure in depressed communities?
Another IDB study titled “The Costs of Crime and Violence New Evidence and Insights in Latin America and the Caribbean” showed that several developed countries spend on crime as a percentage of their GDP was much lower than T&T.
In Germany, the average spend on crime is 1.34 per cent of GDP, in the United Kingdom that spend is 2.55 per cent of GDP while the USA it is 2.75 per cent of GDP but for T&T is 3.52 per cent or well over US$1,000 per capita, the study showed.
The challenge of urban neglect, refusing to put specific programmes in place to lift up and protect black urban youths, is hurting the country more than we instinctively know it.
In other words we are paying for it.
Talk to businesses about how much security is part of their operational costs, ask about the investments in cameras, gates, barricades etc and how that impacts them.
Ask them about the cost of precepted security and the fear of doing businesses, especially in the capital city?
We all know about how crime impacted manufacturers and their ability to run an additional shift, how the fear of crime affects all of us. This is not sustainable.
I know the politicians are going to try to avoid dealing with this very difficult issue.
For the PNM, there is fear of being accused of racial bias and for the UNC there is fear of being accused by supporters of favouring people who do not vote for you.
In response to the recent riots in the US and a call from CNN anchor Don Lemon for him to speak up, American stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle advised Lemon that he did not have to say a word because “the streets will speak for themselves.”
The streets have spoken and we ignore them at our own peril!