The murder of the four Fyzabad youths told on the soundtrack of their parents’ sad stories is depressing. These young criminals were in their early twenties.
But while we collectively scratch our heads, we must remember that these are not the first children implicated in murders. In 1993, Commissioner of Prisons Michael Hercules was shot three times in the chest when he refused to hand over the keys to his car to two masked gunmen. Hercules killed the 21-year-old bandit, but the 19-year-old survived.
The following year, Chuck Attin was 15 when, with an accomplice, he killed two women at Westmoorings.
According to the newspapers, 8,000 people, including the prime minister at the time, attended the funeral of Hercules. On both occasions there were loud cries for the death penalty.
But 29 years later, in 2022, the killings are increasing, and the age of the culprits remains scandalously low. Our collective voices turned to bereavement rather than anger. Frustration is on the way. Why do we continue to lose our young men as victims and perpetrators of crime? Why is nothing changing?
Since the infamous parliamentary row between Dr Morgan Job and Dr Keith Rowley over the political ability to deal with crime, we have become more partisan and unable to address the roots of crime. We continue to search for a Messiah. At least Dr. Job identified poor schooling as a contributing factor.
The pistol is now the weapon of choice. Prior to 2000, less than a third of murders were gun-related. By 2006, it had more than doubled (74%) – comparable to our Latin American neighbours. More than half (59%) of victims of fatal firearm assaults were males between the ages of 15 and 34.
A British longitudinal study of 40 years (Farrington, 2001) argues that a life of crime begins at age 14 (when parents lose influence) and ends around age 23 (when love interests emerge). These periods of peak acceleration and deceleration in prevalence draw attention to periods in men’s lives when significant changes can occur that affect delinquency.
The study explains why the four Fyzabad would be on the same mission. Not different from what is done in Laventille or elsewhere.
“[…] Co-offenders tended to be similar in age, sex and race […] and lived close to their addresses and the scene of the offences…”
Significantly, it described the problem of older boys dragging younger ones into crime: a trend evident locally.
“[…] About one-third of the most persistent offenders continually committed offenses with less criminally experienced co-offenders, and thus seemed to repeatedly recruit others into a life of crime…”
We often read in the local newspapers of the single mother’s failure to raise her sons. This perspective ignores the family structures applicable here where other parents intervene to discipline and nurture the children. The longitudinal study postulates that marital conflicts significantly influence juvenile delinquency. Quarrels and violence disrupt the education of children.
This view was supported by personal interviews I conducted in prisons across the country. The idea of “staying for the sake of the children” and sacrificing the children for the money that a stepfather brings is very harmful.
Often young men learn about violence as a way to solve problems or find themselves driven from their homes “for peace”. This withdrawal is complicated in violent neighborhoods since everyone is perceived as a threat.
Professor Selwyn Ryan’s working group (2013) has delivered a masterful thesis on crime and young people. Prophetically, he explained the story of one of the young people of Fyzabad: “the educational and financial success of the parents (who sacrificed themselves enormously) of these young Indo-Trinbagonians had created a generation of overly spoiled young people”.
The report also estimated that only 10-20% of Laventille had a delinquency problem. Crime is everywhere. Several incarcerated young men have described the initial “thrill” of holding a gun.
Ignoring the recommendations of the Ryan report, the government accelerated the LifeSport program. In May 2014, an Express exclusive revealed that when the latter program began in 2012, it was allocated TT$6.6 million.
Before the program was halted, it jumped to TT$113,502,273 million. An increase of almost TT$106.9 million! For context, Guardian Holdings Limited earned $106 million in 2013! No kidding.
This exclusivity designated a group from the East as the main beneficiary. According to reports, threats against the permanent secretary prompted him to flee the country.
In a revealing contemporary comment, then-Minister of National Security Gary Griffith said, “If political parties work with groups to help them mobilize during election campaigns, that’s none of my business. It is not an illegal act.
“I focus on specific gangs and gang leaders who have access to state contracts and use their profits not to improve their community and reduce crime, but to use the profits to fuel crime via importation illegal drugs and weapons and using naïve young people to do their dirty work, of which they become the victims. (Express, May 19, 2014)
In 2019, Mr Griffith and Mr Roodal Moonilal belatedly confirmed the existence of a previously unknown 2014 “top secret” report which warned of the link between criminal activity, government contracts and the heads of suspected gangs.
However, in 2013 when the Duncan Street Police Station opened, the incumbent Prime Minister Mr Moonilal and Mr Griffith did not confirm the identity of the contractor involved. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams did.
Since March 2007, a UN/World Bank report has told us that our criminal situation is exacerbated by political patronage, where certain communities are the beneficiaries of poverty reduction projects that the community drug supplier often controls.
This episode illustrates. No party is immune.
Deosaran and Chadee (1997) reported, “No ghetto youth has the connections and resources to import the amount of guns and drugs […] in the streets. Most importantly, crimes committed by people in the ghetto are sensationalized, exaggerated and whole communities stigmatized, while crimes committed by members of the elite are ignored, uninvestigated and overlooked. subject to any prosecution.
Good legal representation, time and money tip the scales.
Shades of Brad Boyce! It took 15 years for Judge Herbert Volney to admit he had made the wrong decision. Consider what it took for Volney’s confession to air. But the pain remains that of the less fortunate.
This month, following the La Romaine murders, a “security expert” suggested our customs officers turn a blind eye to the importation of firearms. If the priest could play, who am I? Who pays officers to be blind? No poor boy can spend that kind of money. But he could rent the weapon to those who have it. Power on time!
As of 2015, the top 1% own more than the rest of the world’s 99%. In a recent US report, the top 1% own one-third of the wealth while the bottom 50% own 2%.
The Panama Papers tell us that the wealthy and politically connected are putting our money out of our hands.
On the other hand, Singing Sandra and Christophe Grant captured the plight of the demoralized:
“Most nights with sad stories are crowded / Their days with dark clouds are shrouded / They don’t smile and they never will / Only vultures get their fill / Empty promises are what they hear / No running water from year to year…”
Where is the political will to stop the rot? The state of schools in deprived areas and the long waits in public hospitals tell a compelling story of institutionalized neglect.
Where is the professional support to advise and guide parents? How to disrupt the money trail? Can we strengthen community elders?
It’s time to stop the carnage of our youth.