Over the weekend 90 young men were rounded up in East Port-of-Spain, arrested on outstanding warrants and for various other offences—a clear show of might and a signal to the criminal elements that our protective services would not be driven underground or forced to retreat. It remains now to be seen just how effective this approach would be because it seems that the criminals and the gangs are always one step ahead of the police.
There is a reason though, why detection rates are low and why residents are unwilling to speak to the authorities about criminal gangs and elements operating within their communities. Gangsters in communities like Laventille and East Port-of-Spain are seen as heroes. They take care of their communities; they defend the weak and exercise their own particular brand of justice. Money flows freely—food, clothing, school books, shoes are bought for families in need and there is a sense of belonging and a strong familial bond amongst these so called “Bad Boys”. The penalty for trying to get out or for betrayal is death and in some instances, entire families are wiped out to send messages to others about the consequences of certain actions. The hold these gangs have on small, poverty stricken communities is strong and almost unbreakable. Solving the problem requires thinking outside of the box and understanding that each community is different and particular and has a unique culture. Applying principles and solutions that work in Maraval to Morvant and Laventille are unlikely to bring the desired results or have the same level of effectiveness. From my own experiences in dealing with the residents and in speaking to them frankly about their needs, one thing emerges — people want to be gainfully employed, they want to have secure jobs that pay them enough to take care of their families — not make work programmes where they work ten days on and ten days off. They want opportunities to own their own businesses and contribute meaningfully to their communities, opportunities for their children to be properly educated, and opportunities for their young athletes to succeed and to make it out of poverty. They want better Community Centres — properly equipped and staffed, health care facilities, better roads —a real investment from the Government that shows they are valued and considered as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. They do not want to be ignored and want to be included in any dialogue focused on finding solutions to their concerns. Successive governments have routinely ignored them and their needs and the problems have been allowed to get out of hand.
Role models in the ghetto are few and far between but they exist; there are young men and women who make small advances everyday towards accomplishing their goals and they need to be recognised and celebrated. In 12 months I have transformed my life through hard work and true grit and I make it my duty to speak as often as I can to other young men and women about the power of perseverance and the need to stay focused and to avoid the pitfalls and dangers of living behind the bridge. We need to use our cultural icons, our sporting heroes, our artistes and performers to reach those most at risk.
We need to reach them through music, through movies and through the electronic media — these are things that they can relate to and understand. We need to use the strength of our culture, our Carnival, the steelpan and our soca, our dance; programmes like Best Village need to be expanded and revamped to make them more attractive to this generation.
What is needed is an in-depth look at the problem and meaningful discourse and inclusive dialogue to find a permanent solution and bring peace back to these communities.
What is needed is a better example from our leaders — our politicians, public officials, church elders and community activists need to get involved and not simply pay lip service or make public appearances when it suits them. I have written countless letters and proposals and I am willing to help because this is a problem that affects me. These are my communities, I live here, I grew up here and when infants are being brutally killed then things have gotten out of hand. This needs to stop!