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The Gunslingers

By Terry Joseph
May 13, 2005

Although given to cavalier wisecracks even in circumstances screaming for guidance, a recent remark by Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday on the prevailing issue of escalating crime, in which he argues for giving businessmen the right to bear arms, has been warmly received in several quarters.

Mr Panday's gun-talk is not without merit. As it stands, bandits clearly hold the monopoly on firearms and evidently, supplies aren't limited. Businessmen are primary targets in a war the good guys sure as hell aren't winning. Outlaws triumph daily, while police limp along with inferior hardware and software, rendering their efforts both a laughing-stock and a crying shame.

Now, today's crime dilemma did not suddenly descend upon us, nor was it imposed as a curse or some other pastime of under-utilised demons. It was long in coming and we had ample warning.

Back in what elders still refer to as "the good old days", we had mass-murderers like Boysie Singh and the Poolool Brothers or the senseless variety like that of McDonald Bristol (who was killed for one penny during a dice game). There were professionals on the wrong side of the law, as in the Dr Dalip Singh example and we had career bandits like "The Green-Face Man".

Calypsonians have long brought to our attention the prevalence of guns in the society. The two most popular songs of the 1959 Carnival season remarked upon the phenomenon. Sparrow's "Gunslingers" trotted out the position, while Caruso won the road march title with a posture of intolerance called: "Run the Gunslingers".

And gun-toting wasn't exclusive to low-life. Decades before it was alleged MP Dhanraj Singh drew a gun in front of Tunapuna Regional Corporation workers, a member of the then Legislative Council, Bhadase Sagan Maraj, reports say, did expose a revolver right inside the hallowed chamber.

Calypso seems to have spared Mr Maraj but made the point through those telling songs of 1959. Hear Sparrow's chorus as he quotes the bragging war-chant of weapon-toting hoodlums of the day and see if you're struck by any similarity to the contemporary condition:

"We young and strong

We ain't 'fraid a soul in town

Who think they bad

To meet them we more than glad

We have we gun

And padnah we ain't making fun

If you think you bad clear the way

And if you think you mad, make yuh play."

Now, take a choice verse and the common chorus from Caruso's work on the same subject:


"My father told me

Long time was not so

You coulda walk in peace

Anywhere that you had to go

Whether day or night

They never had fight

And nobody ever uses to be in fright

But nowadays well it isn't so

They will knock you down

For a green mango

And when they do these things

They goes around

Calling themselves famous men in town.


(That's why)

When they hold them

And they arrest them

Do not fine them

Do not 'prison them

Put them in the square

Let everybody be there

Beat them with the cat

All who see bound to done wid dat."

Lord Superior was equally observant, giving authorities ample time to stem the crime surge of the 1950s, seeing no evidence of a return to civility and concomitant rise in lawlessness, citing the entire law-enforcement system and complicity at large as passive contributors to social decline; concluding that, in Trinidad, "Crime Does Pay".

Supie remarked:

"When a bad-john walk-in a nightclub

He gets free rum and whisky

Travelling in taxis free

Chauffeurs 'fraid to take money

He gettin' all the lovely women

Because the women 'fraid them

And for criminal assault

They getting away

So in Trinidad, crime does pay."

It was during that era Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams told us "the future of the nation is in the book-bags of schoolchildren" which, we have come to recognise, was astutely prophetic; given the frequency with which police discover illegal drugs and arms and ammunition hidden in their backpacks and in the latter-day, arson concealed in their heads.

Without doubt, these kids will mature into gunslingers, at which time today's businessmen will be a lot older and even more susceptible to attack. At least if they get guns now, there'll be more time for target practice before that day dawns.

Without personal protection, they might as well contemplate changing their product-base to the manufacture of hand-baskets, since it becomes increasingly clearer with each passing day that this country is going to hell, piece by piece, in precisely that type of packaging.

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