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Who is without blame?

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 27, 2020

IF one ever believed the PNM Government could solve the present crime epidemic in the country, one had better think again.

It is unlikely to do so for the simple reason that neither our Prime Minister nor Minister of National Security seems to understand the magnitude of the challenges that face our civilisation or way of life.

Dr Keith Rowley has reduced our crime problem to a breakdown of family life among Afro-Trinbagonians, a micro-unit in our social fabric. He argues: 'Some of the factors fuelling crime include the breakdown of the family unit, particularly in Afro-Trinidadian homes, the lure of easy money and family members turning a blind eye to criminal activities of other people in their homes' (Express, January 22).

A scrupulous reader may want to ask, is this the primary or secondary reason that accounts for the rising crime levels in black communities and the larger community as a whole? Are there any other factors that may conduce to the antisocial behaviour of black youths throughout the country?

Questions: Do black folks commit crimes because they are black or because of the social and economic conditions in which they live? Are Afro-Trinbagonian families self-sustaining entities that are responsible for their own problems or are there other exogamous factors that cause or contribute to their conditions? Must they look to their own resources to solve their problems? If so, why do they elect governments?

The Prime Minister declares that the level of violence taking place in our community is a spasmodic thing. He says that T&T is a violent society and that the 'level of violence flares up every so often, and this is one of those periods.' (Is he serious?) He continues: 'What we are experiencing now is an inability to restrain that violence at every level, among our schoolchildren, at the homes between spouses, in the streets between persons who are actually strangers.'

This sounds to me like a description of a serious social breakdown, but the PM does not see it that way. He sees it as an episodic moment in our violent social history that will pass away on its own accord.

Nowhere in the Prime Minister's remarks is there any suggestion that there may be external factors that lead Afro-Trinbagonians to act as they do. Nothing is said about who brings the drugs and the guns into the community; nothing is said about socioeconomic disparities of this community compared with others; nothing about how we can reduce these disparities and increase the economic opportunities and resources for Afro-Trinbagonians.

Italy is undergoing a tremendous demographic crisis: not enough births to ensure the country's survival. The authorities do not go into people's bedrooms and ask why they are having less sex. They seek to understand the sociological, economic and cultural factors that are leading to Italians having fewer babies.

Mario Valerio Lo Prete, a specialist on Italian demographics, believes 'the driving factor behind the low birth rate is a sense among the young that their economic future is bleak and unstable, not simply a slow economy and high youth unemployment.

'People on the streets are not economists; they are not studying debt to GDP numbers, but they can sense that Italy's large public debt means there will be less money in the future.'

Matteo Salvini, in his foreword to The Empty Cradle of Civilisation asked: 'Are we a country facing extinction?,' to which he answered: 'Unfortunately yes. A country that does not have children does not have a future.' (Financial Times, January 19, 2020) Any study of what affects a country's development or dissolution must look at the internal and external factors that drive its citizens to behave as they do. Afro-Trinbagonians are citizens too.

It is simplistic to suggest that Afro-Trinbagonians are self-destructive people who cannot hold their own people to account and/or report the crimes their children or their spouses commit. Might it not be that they have a better understanding of why their children and spouses act as they do rather than the politicians and their economic exploiters? It is significant that First Citizens made $1.06 billion in profits for the financial year 2018-19.

If we do not understand the magnitude or nuances of the problems one segment of the community faces, it is hardly likely that we can mobilise the tools to solve them.

The danger in the Prime Minister's prescription is this: if one treats the symptom of a disease (such as a rotting toe) rather than the cause of same (diabetes), one is likely to see the slow ravishing of the patient's body which ultimately leads to death.

The violence in T&T cannot be reduced to those who want to commit crimes and make people fear them and a tendency to perpetuate violence. Nor can it be reduced to those people who want to create 'a sense of fear and panic in T&T about what they call the runaway rate of crime.' (Stuart Young, Express, January 17). The crime epidemic that we are experiencing cannot be reduced to the malignant impulses of certain individuals.

There is nothing wrong in offering these young people the promise of something called 'ambition'. But it would be better to listen to what they have learned from their life experiences and what discourages them from striving to achieve a good quality of life. In our trying to understand the problems confronting our children we should not confine our diagnosis to their shortcomings alone or the condition of their immediate family.

Perhaps it would be better to ask how we, the larger society, might have contributed to their missteps along life's way.

None amongst us is without blame.

Professor Cudjoe can be reached He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe