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Terry Joseph
December 19, 2001

ALTHOUGH imagery conjured up by the Mitchell Parrish-Leroy Anderson Christmas song "Sleighride" is deliberately alien to this culture, there's something about the title's phonetics that rings true.

Here in the tropics, no snow is falling. Nor are friends shouting "Yoo-hoo", politicians having tainted this otherwise cheerful greeting with an adversarial aura.

Indeed, nothing about the local version of Christmas 2001 is "like a picture-print from Currier & Ives," the legendary 19th Century lithographers whose winter scenes became the agreed Yuletide visual reference; earning them enduring endorsement in "Sleighride".

What the local version offers is a slide show of blood and gore, daily bombardment by scenes of bodies being removed from mangled vehicles, murder by the dozen and thieves performing as though December 31 is the last day for burglary.

No Currier & Ives frilly stuff here, but these stark images are dead-ringers for the current Trini condition; etching a bizarre backdrop to the joyous seasonal soundtrack as cuatro and cutlass compete for attention.

Make no mistake. We're on a slay-ride for sure, going downhill fast. In the rappel, dismemberment has effectively replaced discussions as a preferred method of conflict-resolution. What used to be a harmless pastime—going out just for fun—is now the ultimate scary-movie for many and staying at home behind steel bars to watch a video in lieu offers no guarantee that similar peril would be avoided.

Upright citizens like Joe Mader, Carlos de Souza, Atwell Sandy jnr, Ria Lewis and three-quarters of the Cropper family (just to identify a few) had their lives brutally snuffed out while they did nothing more than attempt to enjoy the comfort of their homes.

The larger sample only grows increasingly grim with each additional remembrance, some of which reflect a level of evil hitherto uncommon in these parts. On May 6, four members of a Talparo family were hacked to death at home in an attack that ranks for inclusion on a shortlist already containing felons like Jack the Ripper. Among the victims was a physically disabled nine-year-old mute, who was slaughtered in his wheelchair.

This year's statistics have eclipsed the all-time record for slayings per year and the sheer barbarity of recent homicides outweigh any spin that can be put on numbers.

Of even greater concern is the number of unsolved murders. Even first-time killers may develop a sense of security, given the hopelessness of primitive police detection methods and frequent immobility of those willing to assist.

Seniors in any society often find it difficult to comprehend savagery occurring far below their station. But in more cases than we would care to openly admit, the perpetrators of crimes against the person see themselves as no worse than their superiors; finding convenient comparison with unseemly deeds by those who should know better.

This thinking finds comfort in the concept of "If the priest could play who is me," calypsonian Cypher's way of saying "What is good for the goose is good for the gander." We still have to explain to our youth, for instance, how a former Cabinet Minister could end up in jail awaiting trial on a charge of murder.

When we dismiss a murder as "drug-related", it would also be useful to remember that the fight for wealth among those willing to kill for it is essentially no different from a public official who takes a bribe to allow approval of a sub-standard facility that could later endanger life.

In the circumstances, all the programmes and acronyms we can devise will be of little help. Few remember the meaning of LEAP and "rapid response" has become a relative term.

Some police stations actually lock their doors at night, perhaps fearful of the very dangers we have come to associate with doing otherwise. Last year, one of my young relatives was being chased by a gang of thugs intent on relieving him of a gold chain. He ran to a police station in the heart of Port of Spain, only to find it locked and be told through a crack in the door that he should continue running until he reached the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) some three blocks away.

An investigation into police recalcitrance in that episode is still underway more than 13 months later. What is he to think next time? So, my "Merry Christmas" wish for all is simple: That the incoming Government understands the futility of finding ways to increase our disposable income if someone is out there lurking, planning to murder us in our beds for it.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to open the iron gates and sit on the front porch once again, sipping beverages with family and friends on Christmas night? Doesn't that surpass "the perfect ending of a perfect day," they sing about ever so lustily in "Sleighride"?

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