December 7, 2022

Noble: What the Police Can’t Do: How to Handle T&T’s Anger

We as a nation are on the verge of anarchy, but all is not lost yet. It’s up to us to choose.

There is no magic formula or pill to relieve our pain. Only a sense of determination, commitment and a clear vision will pull us back from the brink. But the signs are worrying. What are we going to do?

Soldiers and police try to quell protests after the police killed Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on June 27, 2020.
(by CNC3)

Allow me to share my experiences in what my friend Bishop Harvey likes to call “the belly of the whale”. On Monday, I was in a frustration-filled conversation about a single mother having to choose between food and paying for transportation for her sons to school. Tired of the night shifts, she is about to give up.

I also listened to two teenagers attending relatively good schools in the past two weeks, but both were suspended. Their cases are different, but the same peer pressures incite deviance.

Our teachers are stressed, so suspensions are now a common cooling mechanism. This series of suspensions is not limited to schools in Port of Spain.

Two female students are fighting at school during the current school term.

School performance deteriorates. We saw the results of the common entry, and what did we do? These results are the proverbial canary in the mine.

These results are more damning than misses. But have we stopped to notice?

We see the school fights; do we do a root cause analysis? Dozens of new high school students can barely read. How can we expect them to pay attention in class? How could we ask students to dream big visions when they are hungry?

The Rose Hill video captured national attention, but it is the reality of many communities. Hiding under the bed at night turned into ducking under desks that day.

Children at Rose Hill RC Primary School in Laventille react to the sound of gunfire.

The “borders” are disputed. Almost all schools in East Port of Spain are surrounded by “boundaries” that prohibit parents from attending PTA meetings. Children are traumatized many nights by shootings.

The horror of life in East Port of Spain has been revealed for all to see: will this be a passing moment of worry? Have we observed that school children do not cry? Their composure supports the assertion of the inhabitants of Rose Hill: they live miserable lives ignored by the rest of the country.

Do we see when parents put the addresses of other parents to give their children a better chance of selection in secondary school? The the stigma is palpable.

President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) sits with students from her alma mater, Bishop Anstey High School (POS) during her ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 19, 2018.
(Courtesy of the President’s Office)

It is easy to politicize the situation, but the pain was tangiblewhatever the political administration.

We lack complete information about our criminal situation, so it’s easy for demagogues to follow the vibes of the moment. Murders and gun violence are the things that concern us most, but home invasions are on the rise and we don’t have proper information about their drivers.

We don’t understand other fear-inducing crimes that go largely unreported. In this void of information, we have misinformation and crazy anecdotes that lead to wrong decisions and crazy passions that cannot solve the problem.

Pictured: National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds (second from left) reaches out to Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob (second from right).
(via Department of National Security)

The lack of information on geographic patterns of crime trends means that no one has much ability to assess what social or political factors may be at play. How do we solve a problem we don’t understand?

Inflation has robbed our mothers of the ability to support their boys. Think about what happens when they miss school and are home alone while she works.

When people can’t make ends meet, they lose trust in institutions, especially government, and their sense of control to direct their lives. Children become stressed and tempted to “help bring money into homes”.

An armed robbery calls its victim.

Robberies increase, with some inadvertently turning into murder. Yet in other communities we see brand new multi-million dollar vehicles and people having fun. We review the quarterly and annual reports and note that some inflation costs are impacting the improved bottom line.

Is overcharging contributing to inflation? The laws of our country are only suggestions from all sides – neither the rich nor the poor are innocent. Drive through our streets and see. But it’s easier to blame yourself. Meanwhile, the train of a deep recession is leaving the station and heading towards us.

The Covid has upset many: it has been traumatic, and simple incidents are now degenerating into major confrontations. A feeling of frustration, triggered by the loss of jobs and, sometimes, housing, turned into violence.

Covid-19 has put a strain on mental health across the world.

Mental health issues affect everyone, especially our children. The period of school closures has stressed our teenagers and the uncertainty of life, including the loss of loved ones, is playing out in our schools.

Vagrancy is one expression, school violence is another. Our unsupervised children, who have been home for almost two years, have had a front-row seat to understanding violence as a means of solving problems and obtaining money.

What are our chambers of commerce committed to doing? What will “more boots on the pitch” bring?

We just came out of a nightmare of illegal police actions. Do we want to suspend human rights or is it unjustly killing young black people acceptable?

Morvant resident Joel Jacobs, 37 (background), raises his hands, as does the driver of the car.
The two men and a passenger were shot dead moments later by police on June 27, 2020.

One year after the shooting death of three young people in Independence Square, we are not yet learned what happened. Jehlano Romney was very lucky.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need strong policing. There are people who would kill you, eat a KFC and never miss a beat. They will not hesitate to kill you or your family. These people should be incarcerated, but that does not give the police the right to kill on sight.

It’s a chilling accusation that the schools in Laventille are run down, but we blame the gangs. In 2014, a large commercial bank donated $500 to a school in Laventille in response to a request for help equipping a classroom. Fortunately, a conglomerate stepped in and helped.

Trendsetter Hawks players celebrate after edging the Pro Series to the RBYL U-11 title on penalties on July 6, 2019.
The Hawks attract players primarily from the interior communities of Port of Spain and Morvant/Laventille.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

What will it cost our major companies to adopt schools in the area and help them provide a learning environment? The Ministry of Education cannot do everything. Their security guards are of great service, but there is a huge need for sustained psychological help. How will this be funded?

The Laventille mothers must get up and face the evils that assail them. They have known shooters since childhood. They have the ‘rank’ to fend off the ringleader and his clip. But are we providing these mothers with the necessary financial and emotional support? Are we going to help them do it?

We shouldn’t move the school from Rose Hill, we have to deal with the issues that surround it and are there.

An aerial view of Laventille.

Felicia Dyer-Francis isn’t the only woman killed by gunmen. A mother was shot dead near the rue Besson police station on suspicion of reporting gangsters in her apartment building. There are risks, but women can give birth.

Can we provide meals for their children? Clean the communal trash cans, so the rats don’t run amok! Offer remedial classes.

As a nation, we must contribute by imagining and providing opportunities to lift students out of despair. Relationships and mentoring are critical needs. Everyone can contribute.

What will we do to take back this country? Are we continuing the political duel? The blame game is for politicians’ egos – it will never solve a problem.

Controversial UNC Senator David Nakhid.
(Parliamentary Copyright Office 2022)

Where are the projects? All we hear are impassioned rhetoric and tone-deaf commentary from professional politicians. We need more than that.

No actor or police action can solve socio-economic problems. We can do it if we try a little harder! If we choose to do nothing, the place will burn flat.