THIS PLACE that we call home, this battle zone that tries to kill our hopes and dreams, our spirit and now even our laughter, needs to be reclaimed. I grieve for every person killed in this country. Every person involved in a murder – or any act of violence for that matter – has a story and every murder symbolises something lost on a whole new level.
In many ways, actor/producer Raymond Choo Kong, murdered last week in his Arima home, symbolised our laughter. His murder is so shocking and difficult to accept because humour has always been our bastion of defence.
Here in TT humour has always buoyed our spirit. There has always been a comfort in our humour. We have used it as a way to sweep aside the difficult questions we don’t want to answer. But we can no longer laugh away our pain and sorrow.
When I first came to Trinidad 35 years ago, I really did think this place was paradise. The few murders that made the news were always justified by someone: “Oh, he had a son greedy for land,” or, “She was horning her husband.” There was “Oh, that is gangs taking care of each other,” and “Well, that is a drug war.” They were all poor excuses, and still we tried to convince ourselves – wrongfully, of course – that violence could be justified in some way.
We used to laugh at police in their short pants, and when we felt no one was taking them seriously, we gave them long pants to wear. Then we gave police officers bulletproof vests to wear and guns to strap to their legs and machine guns to sling across their shoulders and we spoke of fighting crime by buying more police vehicles because when we reported crimes, the police always had the excuse they had no vehicles.
Now, we have run out of excuses. We all know far too many people who have been victims of violence. Most of us – including me – know several people who have been murdered. It is time to face that we live in a culture of violence, and we have to reclaim this country.
The laughter really is gone in this empty space void of purpose. Because he symbolised humour, Choo Kong’s murder will forever remind us of this. We don’t have enough burglar-proofing to lock ourselves away from crime any longer. We can’t pretend we are safe anywhere or that this crime problem belongs to government or police or anyone we would like to give it to on a silver platter.
The fact is, our crime problems belong to all of us. We need to take action to solve the problems that plague us, and that always means we have to go back further and dig deeper to get at the root of the problem. We need to start with the irrelevant education system that serves the needs of the top 20 per cent of this country and ignores the needs of the other 80 per cent. Education should be about far more than passes.
Our youth have a problem dealing with anger and disappointment, so our English classes need to teach students how to express themselves. Students must learn problem-solving skills and anger management. School is the place to instil the values we want our young people to have. We want teenagers to graduate from school understanding what it means to be kind, caring, diligent problem-solvers. We need to teach parenting skills in our schools.
We need to tackle the feeling of entitlement that everyone has in this country ,because that trickles down to the feeling that "I am entitled to rob you on the street or break into your house and take what I want – even if it means killing you."
We live in a culture of instant gratification where a Cepep job is thought of as a quick fix for the uneducated and dare I even say lazy people who want a full day’s pay to stand around in a government-sanctioned gang of workers (usually about 15) while a couple of people actually work for a couple of hours and all collect a pay cheque.
Drug addiction needs to be treated as a disease and not solely as a crime. We need drug education in our schools.
We need to make noise about having a justice system that works in a timely manner, but we also need to give the police the tools they need – like DNA testing – to do their jobs. We can’t stuff our prisons with men picked up for crimes with no evidence other their unreliable eyewitnesses. That has been a disaster for some time, and it will take a whole column to explain why that is.
While we mourn the death of Choo Kong and sympathise with others who have suffered from crime, let us vow to work together to solve our problems. There’s nothing remotely funny about life in TT any longer. We all need to face this sobering reality.