Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Understanding Violence in my Country

The Gun to our Hearts (first published in the T&T Guardian, December 6, 2017)

Last week, my take on the current, extended wave of criminal violence invoked a metaphorical gun to our collective heads. I related my doctor’s tale. His deep sadness. The pervasive air of impunity, and the desperate prescriptions for brutish vengeance.

Then came Saturday and the lead pellets in little Candy Loubon’s body. On the front page of Monday’s T&T Guardian, the two year old is lying in hospital with two fingers in her mouth, a yellow-sleeved IV needle in her heavily-bandage left hand and a tiny neck brace that prevents her from nodding ‘yes’ to anything. Candy’s eyes are fixed on Kevon Felmine and his camera.

It is the look a stranger gets from a child, just seconds from the crucial breaking of the ice and a transition to either smiles or tears. You can almost tell from her eyes, that Kevon, hard-nosed reporter and decent human that he is, had planned to extract a giggle, a show of scant teeth, a shade of laughter, anything but a look of pain.

The late, great Guyanese poet, Martin Carter, spoke of a “festival of guns, the carnival of misery” – a period in which “the stranger invader (is) watching you sleep and aiming at your dream.” None better than Candy’s image to capture the gun to our hearts and aimed at our dreams.

We should know that none of this started two and a half years ago, around the time of Candy’s birth. Or even after five years or tranches thereof - depending on the twisted imagination of the mindless partisan. It is in fact the rot of social and political aimlessness, and a descent as much rooted in authoritarian prohibition and religious fervour as in the creative disorder of a nation adrift.

How many in the jail cells weren’t whipped and slapped? How many didn’t go to school or church or temple or mosque?

And so pathetic and puerile has been official edict that prayer and flag and ritual are routinely proposed to simulate the impact of reason and science and interventions fed by fact. It cannot be that we are truly serious.

Within these very pages, some weeks ago, we explored the trauma of an angry society. People moved to irrationality, displaying an inability to confront conflict and change. Witnesses to growing impunity and inequity. Emerging from the darkness in Candy’s brace – incapable of signaling ‘yes’ or even ‘no’ to changing circumstance.

Instead, the quick resort to “we” and “them” and violence as if it persists in its own solitary right – a scar without an initial wound. How does the noose or whip really differ from the cutlass or gun in other hands other than being united by the cold blood of revenge of one kind or the other?

Here we are, looking and looking for different faces, different skins, and different places of abode. Punishment barely distinguishable from revenge, yet reaping the whirlwind of collective neglect.
There must have been that moment when we determined that the best way out was through mindful violence. That because “we” can never be “them”, through pedigree, since victimhood remains the psychological domain of one and not the other.

Through this, some have lost the love of our land perhaps forever. Trapped though, by a thin strand, by all there is on offer in this tiny space – bounty upon bounty of music and dance and art and poetry everywhere as in Candy’s infant eyes on the front page of the newspaper.

In this resides our hope, if there had to be any. Those who speak of a “lost generation” do not know what they are talking about, are trapped by the message of terminal political wounds and are out of here anyway.

We who choose to remain do well to look and recognise the guns to our heads and are ever mindful of those aimed at our hearts. To do otherwise would be to die.




The Gun to our Heads (first published in the T&T Guardian on November 29, 2017)



So, my GP for more than half my life is moving out of an office he has occupied in east Trinidad for over 30 years and is devoting all his professional time to patients at his facility in the west. “Abandoning the East-West Corridor proletariat?” was my cheeky question last Tuesday.

Medical doctors have a way of lowering their heads and looking at you from above the upper rim of their glasses. There was a sadness I had never seen in the eyes that appeared from behind the glare of thick lenses. “Have you ever had a gun aimed at your head?”

The following day, a relative was posting on social media about the disappearance of equipment being used to prepare her new home. Then, to keep things rolling last Thursday, Beetham Highway became a crime scene somewhat reminiscent of March 23, 2015 – albeit at the hands of different players.

In the midst of it all, a thread of despair kept turning up everywhere like a pervasive spider’s web. “The guns,” my friend Elizabeth Solomon declared, “are pointing at all of us.” To me, this question raises at least two additional challenges: Whose (metaphorical) guns? And, once we have determined who “we” are: What do we do about this?

Prime Minister Keith Rowley appeared to have his finger on some important elements of the puzzle when he spoke on Friday, following an intemperate outburst the day before.

Some opposition wags, increasingly inclined to gloat over misfortune, held on to Thursday’s blunder even after the PM went on to present his take on one important element of the task before the entire country – that of the universal nature of personal responsibility.

It was an important intervention against the backdrop of the perception that application of the rod of criminal correction is viewed as being uneven across social divides. However insufficient the analysis, it was a significant observation.

However, by his own admission at the press conference, the prime minister had yet to consult meaningfully with senior security officials on a specific course of action to deal with still smoldering remains on the Beetham Highway.

It is important in such matters not to approximate what Canadian journalist, Andrew Nikiforuk, derides in a recent column as the increasingly popular, and deceptive, political creed of “deliverology.”

I am not good at MBA gobbledygook so I do not pretend to understand everything I have read on the matter, except that it sounds like an excellent strategy to promote a notion of accountability even as little can be expected to be eventually delivered.

Last Sunday, I also listened to what Jamaica PM, Andrew Holness, had to offer at his JLP congress. We always seem to trail Jamaica when it comes to such matters – on both the good and the bad points. (By the way, Holness also wants to outlaw all corporal punishment).

He conceded that the heavy-handedness of state security in the past had not only earned negative global attention, but had also not sufficiently addressed the problem of inner city violence and crime.
Holness held out greater hope for the island’s experiment with Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) which, he claimed, had already started yielding results. The enabling legislation is worth a read, since it addresses serious human rights concerns invoked at the time of our ill-advised and bungled state of national emergency in 2011 – “deliverology.”

Another important initiative in Jamaica, which I am certain has been raised here more than once, is the planned introduction of a comprehensive National Identification System (NIDS). Though quite (and understandably) controversial, a database built on information acquired through the NIDS system can provide law enforcement with a sound start in the pursuit of sensible policing.

Holness prescribed three key applications - the law, intelligence and citizen cooperation.
A few weeks ago, I reprised the late Lloyd Best’s admonition to apply “educated common sense” to our problems of the day. Between the anguish and fear, leadership here requires such a quality at this time.







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