To speak or not to speak
THE RECENT public statements by two pundits, Satyanand Maharaj and Bramanand Rambachan, that urban youths from the east-west corridor (read young Afro-Trinidadians) are responsible for the upsurge of crime in Aranguez and that East Indians (Indo-Trinidadians) have been the targets have elicited a flurry of commentary in the media overwhelmingly condemning the two pundits.
Shabaka Kambon of the Emancipation Support Committee saw the statements as incitement to racial hatred and violence. Vijay Maharaj, the secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, described the statements as race-baiting and dangerous to all.
Lloyd Sirjoo, president of the Inter Religious Organisation, said the statements were irresponsible and could cause a nasty situation in the country. Shatraz Ali, vice president of the Aranguez Community Council, viewed the statements as incitement to racial tension. Clyde Weatherhead warned us to be careful of an ethnic race war which could fuel fire.
The editorial of the Guardian of 29/04/23 lamented the dangerous race talk. Former UNC senator Taharka Obika described the statements as dangerous and divisive with the potential to ignite the flames of racial discord and strife. Columnist Noble Philip condemned the statements as unfounded ideological rants.
The above expressions of condemnation do not address the question as to whether there may be truth in the pundits’ utterances but are worried about the responses which they may generate among the members of the two major ethnic groups, especially Afro-Trinidadians. The issue as to whether there is evidence to support the claims of the two pundits seems to be in abeyance.
Senior Supt Michael Pierre, head of the Central Division, denied that criminals were targeting people of East Indian descent but was unable to say whether in his policing district any one particular group was targeted. He then made the curious statement that “those targeted were the ones who made themselves ‘soft’ targets.”
The senior policeman did not venture to advise on how does a citizen make him/herself a "hard" target, more so in the sanctity of his/her home. It may be a general reflection of the attitude of the police to the victims of crime.
The first issue to be confronted is the evidential basis of the opinions expressed. Israel Khan, president of the Criminal Bar Association, asserts that “the empirical evidence supports the conclusion that the great majority of home invasions in recent times are confined to the homes of East Indians and the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes are young Afro-Trinidadians.”
He, however, does not provide the empirical evidence but dismisses the inference that the motivation for the choice of target is race. If Khan’s contention is true, then motivation is irrelevant to the fearful reality that, apart from the victims of gang warfare, Indo-Trinidadians may be bearing the overwhelming burden of the crime epidemic.
Pundits Maharaj and Rambachan did not indicate whether they visited every victim of crime in the Aranguez area and confirmed their racial identity and the identity/ies of the perpetrators. If their conclusion was based on such a survey, it would provide some clarification. If the statements were not based on empirical evidence but on emotive sentiment, then they are deservingly condemned.
The police apparently do not compile statistics on the basis of the ethnicity of the perpetrators and victims. Then there is the view that the victims of crime comprise all races and the perpetrators are not confined to one race. This assumption may be true but it does not address the question of numbers and the gross disproportionality or otherwise of victims on an ethnic basis.
In addition, there is the rationalisation that Indo-Trinidadians are the objects of crime because of their wealth. This narrative has a long history from the 1970s. I recall that a minister in the PNM government stated in 2006 in Parliament that Indo-Trinidadians are the primary targets of kidnapping because of their wealth. One calypsonian even composed a calypso titled Kidnap Them.
Recently (3/5/23) in the Express, one Terri Teesdale expressed the opinion that “there may be a perception among criminals that there is a sect of richer people that may be vulnerable and they attack whomever they view to be part of that.”
The reference to Indo-Trinidadians seems to be clear because, apart from a couple of Chinese nationals, the wealthy members of other ethnicities have not been reported to be victims of crime on a consistent basis. A member of Parliament has claimed that a TikTok video is currently widely circulating which encourages vicious attacks on Indo-Trinidadians and forced entry into their homes and properties.
Given the social context and the racial and ethnic diversity of the country, two pertinent questions arise: Are the contentious elements in the statements of the two above-named pundits basically true? And, if they are, should they be declared publicly or should they be suppressed in the interest of avoiding the exacerbation of racial animosity and conflict?
In light of the exchanges which have taken place in the media, there is a palpable sentiment of extreme vulnerability among Indo-Trinidadians to criminal attacks with impunity, apart from the random victims of gang warfare.
An unstated consensus among the rest of the society and among many Indo-Trinidadians themselves is that they acquiesce to this vulnerability, accept the consequences and accommodate to the current reality in the modalities of their existence and refrain from any word or deed of protest in the interest of the acclaimed national good of interracial peace.
They may, as the Express editorial of 28/4/23 put it in a wider context, “…nurse their hurt, quell their raging anger, pull together with family and friends and get on with the task in front of them because they know that nobody else is coming.”
"To speak or not to speak"