"DEM FELLAS ain't go do you nutting!" Weak assurances from a community activist leading a much younger me and a TTT cameraman through Never Dirty in Morvant. Youths holding their crotches shot glowering stares and cursed above their breaths. No one wanted their known-to-the police faces exposed.
Yet, residents without warrants needed their stories of neglect told. I made the trip up those hills countless times. I was always faced with startling dichotomies – hopelessness and determination, criminality and virtue, bared teeth and broad smiles.
Malick, Second Caledonia, Canada, Sea Lots, Beetham – these communities aren't homogeneous; the challenges are complex. Admitting that isn't the same as endorsing or excusing criminal behaviour or the lack of personal responsibility.
Still, more than 20 years after my visits to the hills as a hopelessly naive reporter, there is a cruel irony in the immutability of these people’s lot – their circumstances are both the same and worse.
Last week's upsurge of violence was preordained. The communities just needed the push. Judging by comments online, for people frightened by marauders hurling debris onto the road and lighting fires, this was lawlessness that could only be countered with lead.
The mistake many were making was in assuming the demonstrations and violence were purely in response to police killings in marginalised communities. That was just the catalyst that gave expression to frustration over decades of neglect and betrayal by politics. Criminal gangs took advantage of generational hurt to push their vendetta against the police. After all, the only people with the right to kill them are themselves.
The CoP announced the police foiled a plot to seed terror in the city. Minister of National Security Stuart Young repeated an insinuation he made previously that shadowy puppeteers were behind attempts to destabilise the country. The State has "intelligence" that protesters were paid to disturb our peace and tranquillity. What peace is that exactly? Is it the brief lulls between grisly murders and brazen robberies? Among the 72 held in connection with last week's events, the charges being considered were a breach of covid19 regulations, malicious property damage, obstruction and resisting arrest. We have yet to hear of the arrest of the criminal mastermind/s who choreographed Tuesday's conflagration. Much fuss was made about anti-gang legislation and a suite of other laws by the cockatoo AG. Ultimately, law enforcement leaned on coronavirus for an assist.
The PM's words did little to assuage fears, at least among non-disciples. A committee was announced and then, as expected, Dr Rowley miraculously managed to drag the Opposition into the melee, throwing the obligatory red meat for supporters.
This was troubling because if we can't diagnose the problem, there's little hope of prescribing effective treatment.
Here are some uncomfortable truths: communities such as Laventille, Morvant, Cocorite and Maloney have sworn fealty to the PNM for generations. This is an indictment on both the PNM and the people who continue to vote for them unquestioningly, given the perennial complaints coming out of these areas.
Also, politicians actively engage with gangs to secure their strongholds. Gangsters are the street captains of yesteryear, sent out into the warrens of these urban vote banks to keep the voting stock onside. And can we talk about the state contracts oxygenating these gangs, allowing them to solidify their power and purchase firearms needed to enforce their dominance?
If you think this is a Port of Spain problem, you're happily ignorant. Gangs have a stranglehold on communities in Diego Martin, along the East-West Corridor and in central Trinidad. They appoint themselves gatekeepers and politicians, in many instances, must deal with them to secure passage.
For those of you who think it's a simple matter of people in hot-spot areas staying on the straight and narrow, it's not that cut and dry. Gangsters need grist for the mill and often try to recruit children as young as primary school level. These children are often threatened and told they either join up or be considered the enemy. No child has the tools to cope with that.
These are the realities no one wants to face – the grim truth that cannot be shot into submission. An Olympic swimming pool can't unravel decades of political manipulation and betrayal. A new committee to cover old territory will make no difference. We all have to care about the fate of these communities. Last week showed us why.
For now, the fallacy of peace has returned – at least until the next time.