WITH 61 murders, January 2018 has been a record month for killings, and many of those killed were of African descent.
In an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report it was stated that an Afro-Trinidadian male is twice as likely to be murdered as anyone else and three times more likely to be murdered than someone of East Indian descent.
According to the head of the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) and a local police youth club, a greater sense of ethnic identity and more social interventions are required to reduce the high rates of murder of young men of African descent.
The 2017 IDB report The Costs of Crime And Violence: New Evidence and Insights in Latin America and the Caribbean also reported that in TT homicides were highest among males of the 15-29 age group.
ESC chairman Khafra Kambon said he assumed the IDB statistic was a correct one and, even if it was not, many murders were occurring disproportionately in the African community.
“Nobody would be surprised by that.”
He said the problem of the high murder rate among Africans was more serious than it was three decades ago and it continued to worsen.
“It is a downward trend. It has to be arrested or reversed.”
Kambon said it was a very tragic thing for society and it should be acknowledged that a number of societal problems disproportionately affected African communities or predominantly African communities.
“These (problems) have not been addressed. We are looking for military responses to problems which cannot be resolved by military (and law enforcement) means.”
He said when people felt threatened and there was an explosion of crime they wanted quick and ready solutions which were not solutions at all.
“All research indicated that attempts at a purely military solution always leads to an escalation of violence and creates more insecurity in the society.”
He pointed out that, within communities, there was a culture of violence and it was almost necessary for a boy to be violent or they would be stripped of their manhood.
“That is the fruit of decades of neglect even after Independence. If you do not look at these factors and use the military option you will strengthen the culture of violence.”
Kambon stressed that without any diagnosis of the problem, one could not arrive at a solution.
He said while poverty was a factor, by itself it did not create the kind of explosion of crime the country was seeing. He also said most sociological studies cited inequality as one of the most fundamental factors in creating an environment where crime escalated.
“And we are living in a very unequal society (in TT).”
He said Africans were disproportionately below the poverty line and worst off in terms of inequality. He added there were a number of historical and geographical reasons for the situation and the level of inequality was also getting worse.
St James Police Youth Club (SJPYC) manager and founder Derrick Sharbodie said he supported the findings of the IDB report and believed a current study might reveal an even more dire situation.
He cited family life as a factor in the phenomenon and added that someone who had a brother or an uncle involved in a life of crime was more likely to follow them, or be recruited, unless there was some type of intervention.
He said there was a breakdown of family life and few sustainable intervention programmes to work with families.
“African family life is at crisis, more dysfunctional and fragmented.”
He pointed out that in the East Indian community the extended family structure was still somewhat intact and if there was an issue an uncle or an aunt could step in.
“We are not seeing that within the African race.”
Sharbodie said the social fibre was overwhelmed and as a result the country could not seriously address the findings of the IDB report. He lamented that very little was being done on the ground to ensure a reduction in the homicide rate among Africans.
On a qualitative level, he said some young men said they had prepared themselves for death.
“They have their coffin set and are prepared to die.”
Sharbodie said these young men were introduced too early into a life of crime and violence and, for some, it was not a question of choice but they were brainwashed.
He pointed out there were young men who loved their brothers so much they felt they had to follow in their criminal footsteps. He noted the case of SJPYC member Ian Williams who had three of his brothers murdered and the other three incarcerated.
“If we did not snatch him early he would have been of the opinion he would have to live that particular life.”
He said the criminal lifestyle was packaged and glamorised and young boys had an early appetite for it. He also said some parents did not have tenacity, will nor spiritual and mental toughness and gave up. While, in some dysfunctional single parent homes, parents threw their hands in the air in resignation and allowed their children to be in a criminal lifestyle.
Kambon said in terms of Africans and crime there was also a cultural factor. He explained that a strong sense of self and pride could reduce levels of crime, but as an ethnic group there had been a systematic attempt to erase African peoples’ sense of ethnic identity. He recalled as an organiser of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and early 70s, they gave people a sense of hope and who they were historically, and he believed that led to a drastic reduction in crime.
“And not only that, many persons in gang warfare and illegal activities actually became very positive individuals working within the Black Power Movement. Communities on the way down came up.
“There was a whole transformation because there was transformation of the population. We did not have to shoot anybody for that to happen. Just give them hope and be agents of change.”
Kambon contrasted that with the current situation where African people were negatively described “all the time” and denied a job or access to a prestige school if their addresses were in areas like east Port of Spain, Beetham or Laventille.
“When you grow up feeling you are deprived of important material things, that your chances are less, and you are being scorned as less of in society it would create anger. People are growing up with deep psychological hurts.”
Kambon said psychological uplifting and professional therapy are needed for young people. Crime, he said, could not be tackled without tackling the push and pull factors such as corrupt business people and corrupt law enforcement.