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Wednesday 22 January 2020
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Commentary

Death and the 500 – save our streets

Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor -
Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor -

DR MARGARET NAKHID-CHATOOR

INTO THE valley of death rode the 500! If the statistics are accurate, the death rate in TT will continue to climb as we near the end of 2019. Five hundred lives already lost to homicide – whether it is by gun violence, domestic violence, or robberies.

As I read the deaths of the latest victims, those of a father and his 12-year-old son who were shot dead in a car and which pushed the murder rate past 500, the poem by the late Alfred, Lord Tennyson came to mind, this time of a different kind of war. I imagine that in all of the deaths – “Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of death rode the [five] hundred.”

On Saturday evening I had returned from a meeting of the SOS – the Save Our Streets group in Brooklyn – when I went online to keep updated on TT news. A 12-year-old boy shot dead? Somewhere a mother was grieving and a family was torn asunder forever.

Death by homicide is a global predicament but are we concerned about the increase in the murder rate on our streets? The SOS group was formed by young men and women to combat the scourge of gun violence in the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant areas and to treat with the increasing murders of young black men, in collaboration with Neighbors in Action, led by the Rev Kevin Jones.

This pastor had invited me to an SOS Night of Remembrance, attended by more than 120 people who were family members of those who had died or who were there to support them.

Rev Jones wore a grey jersey emblazoned with the words God Bless Our Streets and he started off the evening by declaring that the Space was a meeting place to talk about pain and to be eased of that pain.

Afterwards, a ceremony was performed where the dead were remembered and their names were called. As I listened to the testimonies of the surviving family members, their accounts were relatable to anyone, anywhere.

A young Puerto Rican man in his 20s stated that he was numb but he came to the meeting because he wanted to allow people to be there for him as he had to cope with the death of his brother who was shot multiple times. He saw the importance of a support group to help with his grief and loss.

A woman whose sister was shot dead as she slept in her bedroom stated of the shooter that “hurt people, hurt people” that “we need to get the guns out of their hands! Deep down inside you deal with a trauma that never goes away…I am tired of lighting candles, tired of crying. Gun violence has to stop!”

What resonated with me were the words of a woman who is one of the founding members of a group called the Tree of Angels, an organisation which recognises that the holiday season is a difficult time for victims and their families.

A special event in December is held to honour surviving victims of violent crime and victims’ families by making it possible for loved ones to bring an angel to place on a special Christmas tree. It is their hope that the Tree of Angels allows people to remember, include and support victims of crime.

This remarkable woman stated that “politicians will not speak out about gun violence unless it can benefit them in some way. No political candidate is speaking out on the issue. We, the community, the public, we have to care. Our sons and daughters are being killed. Our neighbours are being killed. We have to care!”

The year is coming to a close and there are many people in our society who have lost family members to gun violence and sudden death. One consolation is that there are still good people in our country, people who care. Let us begin to denormalise the violence.

This season of Christmas, perhaps we can have a Tree of Angels in every office, in every school and/or in every church to remember those family members of co-workers, friends, and classmates who have died. Why not?

Let us rebuild our communities and our people who are broken by this constant grief and death that permeate our country. We can save our streets and defuse the anger by reaching out to those neighbours or friends who have lost loved ones and touch their hearts. Interrupt the violence, if only for a moment.

Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist

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