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Raffique Shah


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'Badjohns' who spawned today's criminals

November 23, 2003
By Raffique Shah

BEFORE continuing from where I left off last week, I need to clear up the misconception that in my column I condoned the spate of violence that seems to have overtaken so many of our schools.

Those who read it carefully will have noted I argued that violence in schools is nothing new. The difference today is a much bigger student population, many more schools in more communities, and a degeneration of values in the society as a whole that has led us to this sorry pass.

If anything, I called for the reinstatement of teachers' powers to discipline students, including the administering of corporal punishment. But for such measures to have effect, they must coincide with teachers adopting a sense of responsibility, of becoming exemplars in their schools if not in the wider society. In fact, in the "bad old days" of the "leather-strap-soaked-in-pee", those very teachers and headmasters were exemplars in schools and in communities where they lived. Not all of them, mark you. Even as young boys, we knew who the drunken teachers were, and those who displayed deviant behaviour, hence got little respect.

The tragedy of today's crisis is that many believe posting policemen at schools will solve what is a deep-rooted societal problem. When students are caught with dangerous weapons or dubious devices in their book bags, one needs ask if their parents have any sense of responsibility.

Without wanting to prejudice any related matter that's before the courts, I believe those students who were arrested on pretty serious charges and were released on bail in the custody of their parents were dealt an injustice.

The magistrate should have held the parents in jail and sent the students to the YTC or down to Teteron Barracks. Because one wonders just what kind of parents would allow their children such latitude and if, in leaving the deviants in their custody they (the students) won't become more hostile, more anti-social.

Before I get into the other aspect of violent crimes that seem to have us all "living in jail", I'd like to use a quote from a University of Birmingham worker, used in an Oxfam/Amnesty International Report titled Shattered Lives, following the slaying of two girls there in January. He said: "The men who shot these girls consider themselves outside the law. They carry guns as male jewelry-to be "gangstas"-and eventually they will use them. Unless we find a way to make them feel included, they will continue to kill and maim-because they have no value system other than brand names." Doesn't that sound very familiar, not to add relevant to our crime crisis?

But I had passed the stage of schools violence in my last column. I was onto the crime spiral that has gripped the country over the past 20 years or so.

Let us not pretend, as we do with violence in schools, that it's a new phenomenon. It has grown in intensity because of the degeneration of the society as a whole, our mindless pursuit of American-promoted consumerism (hence the "value system of brand names"), unbridled materialism displayed by the so-called exemplars in society, and the growth in population combined with easy access to information and guns.

The Oxfam Report: "Every day, millions of men, women and children are living in fear of armed violence. Every minute one of them is killed. From the gangs of Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, to the civil wars in Liberia and Indonesia, arms are out of control."

So this end-time violence we are witnessing is not something confined to Trinidad and Tobago. And we are not the "kidnapping capital" of the world. Whatever we may choose to think, and much of our thinking on the subject is coloured by politics, our crime wave is not isolated, or, in fact, alien, to this country. I ended last week mentioning that "badjohnism" in places like Laventille is nothing new. I added that some of those who today call themselves "elders" know well that in their ranks, and among those around them, there are many of the "godfathers" of today's violent breed.

I noted one who was for many years considered the most "advantageous" person in the district, coming out to condemn the youths. Here was a man who would beat innocent people to a pulp only because he was strong and people, at least then, were afraid of him. Now, because some 18-year-old will think nothing of pumping some bullets in his diseased body, he has turned "angel".

He is but one of a long list of bullies and criminals who ruled Port of Spain in a most vicious manner for decades. Think Rudolph Charles and you think Desperadoes and great pan music. But think of Rudy with the hammer, which, as David Rudder sang, he used at times "on a chupid man". Indeed, on many a not-so-stupid-man. Think "Gold Teeth", think "Bolong", think "Utah Blaine -I can go on and on and on.

But to what end? To say that East Port of Spain was always a "cursed" district when it came to violence? What about the West, where the notorious Boysie Singh ruled on both land and sea?

Boysie was so "bad", rumours were rife that he killed children to pluck out their livers to feed his race horses! And the body count of those he made "walk the plank" in the Gulf remains a mystery to this day.

There were sundry others, some of whom are still alive, who were as murderous if not as notorious as Boysie, who often combine their "badjohnism" with bullying lesser mortals. I should note here that most "bad johns" of yesteryear could hand-fight (more kickbox, I'd think), and many such "bouts" were witnessed with admiration by eager, even applauding audiences. But others were plain criminal in intent and deed.

Mano Benjamin, for example, was a diabolical man who was criminal in the extreme. People like them existed in the very districts where, today, two generations later, they have spawned "Rambo" versions of their earlier incarnations.

Such sub-human behaviour was not confined to North Trinidad. Do we really believe the Joey Ramiahs and Dole Chadees emerged from religious sanctums where only good prevailed, but they somehow turned evil? Crap! Harlem, Caroni, has had a long history of very violent men, the most notorious being the Poolool brothers: Raffick and Joe headed a posse that not just terrorised, but traumatised almost all of Trinidad. The old Caroni Police Station, a wooden structure (it still stands, but it's now repaired) bore bullet holes aplenty-all put there by the Poolools. I know because I saw them.

Pt 1

(The saga continues next Sunday)