Danger in Stereotyping TT Ghetto Youths as Criminals and Bad Boys

Being a TT citizen who’s committed to ”the real deal” as far as possible, I was pleased to accept an impromptu invitation to attend the birthday party of a youth in one of our so-called “ghetto” districts.
My desire to directly experience and appreciate this separate reality has stemmed from a commitment to be able to write and speak with some measure of authority on related matters in which I am interested.
The gathering of about a dozen youths was held downstairs the business place of the birthday celebrant’s boss who is the owner of what seems to be well managed, successfully operated enterprise.
The environment was cool with oversized bottes of White Oak, Puncheon, beers and soft drinks and, except for the music which I personally found to be too loud, the young men and ladies were serenely located in a state of dreamy calm under the clouds of marijuana smoke that hovered in the air from trails of smoke emanating from a few cigarettes and pipes.

Having myself smoked the herb a number of times long ago, I was not perturbed by its presence – nor did I feel the police would have time to find their way up this hill where these boys were not a source of bother to any one.
What really scared me at the core however, was the great state of vulnerability into which most of the males there had unconsciously positioned themselves in terms of their manner of dress, jewelry, tattoos and hairstyles.
Based on the “bad boy” stereotypes we have become accustomed to seeing in the media and on the basis of police descriptions, it struck me that these young men who I know to be honest, hard working, productive citizens, could be easily felled in a sweep of police gunfire without any shadow of a doubt raised about the accounts given by the police that they were “armed and dangerous and had shot at the police first”.
It raises the question therefore about the integrity of a democracy where some people have so much stacked against them simply on the basis of their fashion or the area in which they live.
It seems that in refusing to take the time or put in the hard work needed to get at the essence of the crime, the authorities find it very easy to “take a short cut” and drag in people like these young fellas at the birthday party with full expectation that whatever accounts that are given against them will be credible – quite apart from the very real possibility that they may be dead.
Even as I write, one outstanding example immediately rears its ugly with the reported eruption of “ a fiery protest” by residents of Mango Alley, Laventille on Sunday (September 27) after 18-year-old dancehall artiste Jahiem “Chucky Blanco” Joseph was shot dead by police on Saturday night.
According to the “Newsday” report, ‘Police said Joseph pulled out a gun and pointed it at three Inter-Agency Task Force officers on mobile patrol who went there after they got reports that there were men with guns in the area.
“They say they saw a group of men in front a house. The men tried to escape by running through some tracks and were chased by the police. It was during the chase when Joseph allegedly pointed a gun at them, but refused to drop it when ordered to do so”, the report added.
The “Guardian” stated that “The police said Joseph fell while running and the gun fell out his hands, but he pulled out another and aimed it at an officer causing the others to open fire on him.
Joseph was shot multiple times and was taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital where he died”.

The reaction of residents who will most likely remain the silent minority in this world of stereotyped ghetto people, are contradicting the police story.
“But residents said Joseph, of Trou Macaque Road, was actually performing at a children’s party when he was shot”, the “Newsday” reporter Ryan Hamiton-Davis said.
“They said the party was wrapping up at around 9 pm and those in attendance were about to go to their homes when police arrived to disperse the crowd.
“How the pandemic is, when you see police you move,” said one resident.
“Some people ran. They shot him because they felt he was a gunman. Then they picked him up and pelt him in a jeep and left.”
Residents were adamant that he was not a criminal but a writer and singer.
“He was a talented youth,” said another resident.
“He was always smiling and always respectable. If he was doing something wrong then we would have said so. These police are too trigger happy.”
Joseph, whose songs Beatbox and Nah Play have gained hundreds of thousands of followers, also sang a song dedicated to alleged gang leader Anthon “Boombie” Boney, who was shot dead on September 8 in Caroni. The song is titled Long Live B Man.
In the song Joseph says:
“Some say you a criminal, some say a gang you a lead. But ‘nuff ah dem don’t know how much ghetto youths you a feed.”
Most ironically, another story emerged in the media on the same week-end about Beetham born-and-bred Dr Esther Pope, 26, holder of a Bachelor of Medical Science degree and a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree, both with distinctions.

She has been nominated in the 2021 National Youth Awards, hosted by the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service in the category Youth Leadership: Student Award Ages (18-35) by MP for Laventille East Morvant Adrian Leonce.
The “Trinidad Guardian” writer speaks about Pope’s demeanour, attributes and down-to-earth personality .
“ She is still shy, humble and soft-spoken like when she was a little girl. That had not changed even when she was a 19-year-old national scholarship winner.
She has that quiet, determined ambition and is still not comfortable in the spotlight. However, she inspires residents and children from Beetham Gardens with her achievements in the medical field. They are proud of her, and she is also proud of them’.
According to the “Guardian”, Pope said :”I was born at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. I hail from Beetham Gardens, more specifically Phase 4.
“I grew up in a household with my mother and three siblings but have four additional paternal siblings.
“I want to continue to be a role model for the youths in my community and by extension, T&T. To inform them that they are not defined by their surroundings and hard work pays off.”
Pope revealed that several junctures on her journey were not without difficulty. There were financial issues as her mother worked at a very low-income job and her father was a market vendor.
She stressed, however, that her mother ensured she had what she needed, not only financially but also emotionally and physically.

Currently, Pope is considering furthering her studies in Internal Medicine or Obstetrics and Gynaecology, but her options are still open.
These most recent examples of what is truly possible in these highly profiled “ghetto” districts point sharply to the need for patient, objective studies by professionals who are committed to get to the heart of the problem and turn this thing around.
Which is not to say that the criminal element is absent here. And it did not help when our very enthusiastic Police Commissioner Gary Griffith described certain elements as “cockroaches”.
A message dated as far back as May 2005 in the “Trinidad and Tobago News Bulletin Board” by Tyehimba bears out this notion.
According to the writer in a contribution headed “You can’t Blame the Youths”:

The media and the education system in particular have failed to embrace and put out information that empowers the general population and thus have served to perpetuate the status quo in which the norms, values and beliefs of the ruling elite go unchallenged”.

Some attention is paid to the problem in a Report prepared by a team headed by  Dr Selwyn Ryan and titled  “No time to quit: Engaging Youth at Risk Executive Report of the Committee on Young Males and Crime in Trinidad and Tobago”

It says, in part:

“It became obvious to us that the propensity to crime resulted from certain conditions,  including broken and dysfunctional families, juvenile delinquency, peer rejection, failure or disruptive behaviour at school, gang membership and incarceration.

This is matched by the availability of drugs, numerous opportunities for young men to gravitate to crime as an easy but dangerous way to earn a living, and a marked change in societal values over the last six decades since the promise of independence”.

Thestudy of the problem by Tyehimba is more focused however when it states:Furthermore, the crime statistics of Trinidad and Tobago reveal that it is mostly persons from ‘lower’ socio-economic backgrounds who are convicted of crimes. However, this is not an accurate picture of the crime situation in this country. No ghetto youth has the connections and the resources to import the amount of guns and drugs that is on the streets.

It adds:

But most importantly, crimes committed by persons from the ghetto are sensationalized, overemphasized and whole communities stigmatized while crimes committed by members of the elite are ignored, not investigated and not subject to prosecution.

“ Even in the rare cases that high profile citizens are tried within the justice system, the process is often much quicker and the stigma of crime is not associated with them even if they are found guilty”.

Tyehimba closes by asking:

If the focus is on proper conduct, then any improper conduct, whether it is by a Chief Justice, a wealthy businessman, a government minister or a youth from the ghetto, must be investigated and justice served. How many politicians and other bigwigs are tried or convicted for corruption?”

Roman Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon saw it necessary to jump into the conversation when he likened the problem of corruption in T+T to a “cancer”.

In a “Trinidad Guardian” report,  Kevon Felmine noted  the  Archbishop  lamenting that “the current generation has lost the significance of the value of integrity, God and heaven”.

As the church celebrated the Eucharist of Christ, Gordon told disciples that the most precious gift they could give back to God was the bending of their hearts to his will. 

“We have devalued God so much that we have made God into some kind of nice friend who would always forgive us. Therefore, we should always just do not worry, be happy,” Archbishop Gilbert said.

The question therefore remains a burning one even as a worrisome number of “ghetto” youths fall victim to  police killings and arrests, very likely because of their being  “in the wrong place at the wrong time in the right profiled garb”.

In this regard therefore, any administration that is serious about reversing the currently doomed destiny of  an important part of our nation’s youth  – and  giving full integrity and fairness  to our democratic principles, – will step up on the painful exercise to find the right solutions to ensure there’s a brighter future for all. The Trinidad and Tobago government is known for commissioning a number of studies, the latest being the project by Dr Anthony Watkins to roll back the societal ills.

In July last year, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the forming of a Community Recovery Programme for areas in Trinidad and Tobago requiring special attention. 

Following a week of protests over the police-involved killing of three men in Morvant, Dr Rowley said he understood the frustration felt by protesters. Referencing a programme unsuccessfully set up in 2004 to focus on communities who require help, Dr Rowley announced that Cabinet has agreed to re-launch a new version of the effort. 

“Today the Cabinet approved the establishment of this National Recovery Programme led by a team of persons whose skills will allow that programme to determine the action plans for these areas,” he announced. 

 “The team is to be led by the very experienced Mr Anthony Watkins, a man who owns a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and who has spent his life working in the fields of social pathology, mental health and correctional services and psychiatric forensic assessment; qualified academically and qualified by years of experience,” he said. 

Dr Rowley says this team is set to evaluate and design a path for the way forward for the communities in need. He said the programme won’t just focus on East Port of Spain, but that’s where it will start. 

“I will not be dissuaded by any person who believes that this has to do with race, religion or geography. This has to do with the peace, security and good order and opportunity for all the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” he implored. 

Dr Rowley says it is only right that residents in those areas get a fair shot at success; something that has been far from their grasp so far. 

“Most people in those areas have the same ambition, require the same service, require peace and prosperity. So, hotspot and dismiss is not how we’ll approach this. We’ll approach it as special areas requiring special attention,” he said. 

Rowley says this programme is an appendage of the National Roadmap to Recovery plan which was set up to take the economy of Trinidad and Tobago forward following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And, ever optimistic about the fine possibilities of the nation’s youth, Trinidad and Tobago officially became the first country in the Eastern Caribbean to join Generation Unlimited (GenU) – a global public-private-youth partnership on a mission to skill the world’s 1.8 billion young people and connect them to opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship, and social impact.

Foster Cummings, Minister of Youth Development and National Service, and Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, UNICEF Representative (signing on behalf of the UN) on Tuesday inked the agreement which will see over 500,000 young people in Trinidad and Tobago benefit from Generation Unlimited’s ambitious goal to upskill youth and connect them with employment, entrepreneurship & social impact opportunities.

 Cummings noted that the signing and launch of Generation Unlimited is being closely aligned with Trinidad and Tobago’s national youth strategy which aims at prioritizing young people’s economic participation and empowerment, harnessing their social and intellectual capital, and creating an enabling environment for positive youth development across the nation.

“Our goal is to equip thousands of young men and women with the tools necessary for their personal development; and empower them with the skills that ensure they stand a fighting chance of success in this ever-changing global economic climate,” Cummings said, adding that “this undertaking demonstrates our nexus with GenU, in helping to build the capacity of young people so they can realize their fullest potential.”

Speaking at the virtual event, Dr Kevin Frey, Chief Executive Officer of Generation Unlimited, said that while young people across the globe possess unlimited potential, too many are being left behind by education and training systems that are not keeping pace with developments and by economies that were not offering enough entrepreneurial opportunities.“

Even so, the rate at which a number our youths continue to lose their lives demand that we fast forward and do the home work necessary  to catch up on this vital exercise.

As the Ryan report declared:

Along with the formal system of education, a more imaginative and socially relevant effort is needed. We position the media and those involved in popular culture as partners in this struggle to reclaim the lives of young men. The solutions, therefore, privilege restorative justice and creative approaches at both school and community level.”

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