November 30, 2003
By Raffique Shah
THERE is a perception that the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes in the country are all young Afro-Trinis who live in the slums around the city of Port of Spain. If we make this assessment by the names and numbers of persons who are either victims or perpetrators, or we "zone" crime statistics, we may well find there is much justification for this notion. But there is also ample evidence that shows crime in a different colour, or race, if I am to address in a frank manner the propaganda that’s added to perception to produce a deadly mental cocktail.
In Thursday’s newspapers, for example, two persons, a man and a woman, were pictured leaving court in handcuffs, each facing a 10-year jail sentence. They were convicted of what the trial judge described as the "cold-hearted" murder of one-time Leader of the Opposition, 78 year-old Roy Richardson. The judge pointed out that the duo, having murdered the man, stole from him, bought soft drinks, and then went to their homes "as if nothing (had) happened." The culprits, both Indo-Trinis, are aged 22 and 20, and in my view they were lucky to have escaped being sentenced to hang.
The point here is not to try to show that Indians are as likely to be criminal-minded as Africans or people of any other race (who has murdered more, and the most brutal manner, than the White man?). It is to disabuse the minds of those who are convinced, through their own, self-consuming propaganda, that crime is a race issue.
Last week I mentioned the trail of blood and corpses left behind in Harlem (Caroni) by the Poolools in the 1960s. At the time that village was what one would describe as a "one horse" town. Or from my perspective, a "four-street" village. But in it lived some of the "baddest" men ever to walk this country.
People who know the old Harlem will understand the complexity of that tiny village. Because although the Poolools ruled the roost, and even terrorised the police, there was among them a small group of Africans who lived there and who were almost as "bad", meaning given to violence and crime. Also, in that "brotherhood", race was never an issue: one just had to be "bad", to "have belly", to have the capacity to physically mutilate one’s enemy, or the "guts" to kill in a flash. The Poolools became the most notorious because they were the "baddest". Brothers Raffick and Joe never backed off from a challenge, and never hesitated to liquidate anyone who stood in their way.
But they did not exist in a vacuum. Because for one to exercise one’s brutishness, there must be others who would oppose you, or even better, do battle against you. So from St Helena and Oropoune to Jumbie Piece and Harlem, there were other "badjohns" who either sided with the Poolools or were against them. Many battles were fought in those districts in the 1850s/60s, many corpses lay strewn on the banks of the Caroni river and in paddy fields, and many totally innocent people who got caught in the crossfire met untimely deaths.
Years after Raffick and Joe took their unwilling girlfriends with them on the suicide road to Hell (as a police manhunt for them peaked) in December, 1966, another Poolool, Bhuyoon, was impaled with a crowbar in another nearby village, Warrenville.
The bloodletting went on for years afterwards, and while Indo-badjohns featured heavily, they often had Africans as accomplices. Again, I write with authority since I knew many of these characters personally and indeed used to "ride with the baddest" at one time in my life.
Which brings me back to the recent past and the present. Dole Chadee, Joey Ramiah and the many Tec-9-toting criminals who rampaged through the country since the 1980s took the crime ante up only because of the increased stakes. Cocaine dollars, that is. The lure of really big bucks through dealing in cocaine attracted many small time hoods who realised in the modern world all it took to become a feared enforcer was not bravery or strength, but a "good piece" in one’s hands. So from "Tooks" and "Bull" in the North to Dole, Zimmern Beharry and Mantoor Ramdhanie in Central/South, the new breed criminal was not necessarily a "bad john". His weapon defined his space. And his victims.
But there is a nexus between the "badjohns" of yesteryear and the gun-toting hoods of today. The former, who showed no mercy to those who were physically less endowed than them, sowed the seeds of injustice and naked brutishness that stalk the country today.
Besides living by the law of the jungle, in which might was right, in communities throughout the country, they also engendered a widespread breakdown in family life (what bad john-worth-his-‘wedger’ would have less than 10 ‘sets’ of children?) and children-sans-values. So those from my generation and the one after who could not restore their self-esteem simply buckled under the weight of lawlessness around them, making no effort to fight against a tide of near anarchy.
These negative forces were unleashed on us at a most inopportune time, when the country started reaping nature’s rewards in the form of an abundance of oil dollars. That first oil boom in turn unleashed two other negative forces. Firstly, consumerism became rampant, the mantra of the new breed that lived for and by designer names, later "brands". And on the other hand, it created an elite in the society that did not always accumulate their millions of dollars and expansive mansions by fair means. Add to that the imposition of the global market place, the lure of foreign goods, and what was an ordinary horror story turned into our worst nightmare.
All the characters were in place for the orgy of violence we are now experiencing. Family values went through the window.
Greed all but exploded.
Everyone wanted everything they saw on television, and if it could not be had because they did not have the means to purchase them, then they’d turn a blind eye if "de boy jus’ bring a TV home’. The deprived felt it their right to claim by whatever means what they could not acquire by hard work.
In any case, why work hard when it was clear that the filthy rich often had filthy hands? If they could steal "legitimately", then why not relieve them of their loot by whatever means? And without guilt.
The seeds of inequity and barbarism were sowed many moons ago. Today we reap their bitter fruits with a frightening backlash.