Violent protest from the Beetham is the new normal! Beetham flared up under the UNC in 2013 and this current flare up in 2017 is under a PNM administration. Despite having a different political party in power, the response has been nearly identical: hold a news conference, threaten stronger action, state that behaviour of this nature will not be condoned and move onto the next crisis while the citizenry retreats to their “safe space” or escapes to the rituals of Christmas and Carnival.
We are on the brink of civil war between those who have power either by the gun, their physical strength or their money and those of us who perceive themselves as having less. The majority of us have neither guns nor much physical strength so we become trapped between the world of the affluent and the world of the sufferer. Old calypsoes sung about violence long before the situation got to this stage. Big businesses may not have physical strength but wield power in a different way to their own benefit. Until we accept that all parties are at fault, we are not going to move forward. We all evolved around each other into this state of affairs.
Successive governments have presided over this continued deterioration and when out of office, threw stones and accusations at those in office. There is little difference between the persons in the Beetham and the average income earner. We are all facing similar situations of deprivation in a society which should have utilized resources in a more equitable manner. If you liken the society to a fish tank, we are all trending towards becoming “bottom feeders” as the one percenters flagrantly continue their lavish lifestyles. Without meaningful interruption, a once thriving society will become unrecognizable. Just glance at our neighbours in Venezuela.
I am not encouraged by the Prime Minister’s statement that a line had been drawn by last Thursday’s “lawlessness” along the Beetham Highway because it is so similar to the statement in 2013 by the then Minister of National Security that “this anarchical behaviour will not be condoned”. In a Trinidad Guardian article on Friday 21st August 2009, it was reported that in response to Beetham residents shooting at police officers, “close to 100 police and soldiers responded and locked down the area in search for the attackers who could not be found”. The lesson here is that “gun talk” and threats of punitive measures have NOT worked. Additionally, several pieces of seminal research have demonstrated that punitive measures do not reduce crime or criminality.
We have to operate on several different levels to have any impact. The police must take the appropriate action and the wheels of justice will spin at its own sweet time but this sticky problem requires a multi pronged solution and I am not hearing any plans to engage a different strategy. This problem is deep and systemic and requires a radical response.
Different approaches are being tried in other parts of the world. The one that gives me hope came to my attention from a TED talk by Epidemiologist, Dr. Gary Slutkin who “applied lessons learned from more than a decade fighting epidemics in Africa and Asia to the creation of a public health model to reduce violence through behaviour change and disease control methods. He is an Ashoka Fellow, a Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a senior advisor to the World Health Organization and the 2009 Winner of the Search for a Common Ground Award”.
I noticed that Trinidad was listed as an adaptation partner in 2015 (see image on this page) which means his work is known to the government My expectation is that the Prime Minister will take leadership on this issue, call in the Leader of the Opposition and account to the nation that there is a collaborative approach to implementing solutions to crime as a national issue.
Beetham by their actions has not favoured either party. They are equally brutal to each. The masterminds behind the protest have learned that the protest must be on both the Highway and the Priority Bus Route to have maximum impact. They have mastered the weapons of the weak. It is in the political interest of both parties to collaborate and begin the process of solving this sticky problem. To do otherwise would be to condemn Trinidad and Tobago to a future of anarchy.