How do you deal with the supposedly criminal elements in a society? For the past month there has been much in the media about the Life Sport Programme. So much so that the programme was removed from the Ministry of Sport and placed under the Ministry of National Security. Additionally an audit is underway by the Ministry of Finance to bring some clarity or to bring to light any allegations of “wrong doing” in the Life Sport Programme. We will address Life Sport from a perspective that is beyond the hype and analysis of the mainstream media and trying to bring all the connected pieces tonight in against the backdrop of the recent debate to censure Minster of Sport Anil Roberts.
According to Sport Minister Anil Roberts over 2000 young men (the majority of whom are “Afro-Trinidadians”) were enrolled in the Life Sport Programme all across the country. He listed over 40 areas throughout Trinidad where Life Sport centers were opened to provide services, which included tutorials in Math and English. In sum, there are allegations out there about the Life Sport Programme, but these allegations including “1400 ghosts,” (still to be proven or not) strikes at the heart of something critical about our developing society and how we deal with crime and the supposed criminal elements in our society.
First, we all know where the “hotspots” are in terms of crime. Sadly these hotspot areas are the most economically deprived parts of Trinidad but economic deprivation does not make them any less citizens of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Economic deprivation is a manifestation of the myriad of social problems that all communities’ face, but when resources are lacking and poor public policy stigmatizes and criminalizes geographic areas and the people who live in them we must examine the political structures and dynamics that has created the troubling things we see today.
Second, Trinidad as a society thrives on bachannal and hearsay. Given this, propaganda almost always trumps analysis (which is often missing). However, at the Tobago Policy Forum we use history as a defense against propaganda and we reject the ideas of neocolonialism (the new colonizers who replaced the British), which has been the dominant political philosophy that has governed Trinidad and Tobago since 1962. Against the backdrop of the racial politics that exists our attention now must be turned to those who have been politically manipulated and blindly misled even to the point of working against their own interest and in doing so creates and supports a narrative that criminalize their own children.
Third, what does political history of Trinidad and Tobago has to do with what is taking place today especially in terms of crime and the hotspot areas? Dr. Kwame Nantambu, Professor Emeritus at Kent State University in an article entitled, Eric Williams: Opiate of the people sheds some light on this matter. He states,
“Africa was their forbidden fruit. It is in this specific context that Prof. Eric Williams did more visible, mental and psychological damage to the psyche of the Africans in TnT compared to the visible, physical damage the Euro -colonial slave- master ever did.In terms of African history, Dr. Williams became the new Euro – centric-colonial Massa. He mis-educated /edjumacated Africans in TnT. During his tenure, African – Trinbagonians “‘ent see Africa” at all, at all, at all” while their historical – cultural glaucoma / cataract still persists and remains unabated, unattended and uninterrupted, as of this writing. During his tenure, the state / condition of the country’s libraries went to the dogs and their puppies, en masse. According to social commentator Dr. Hollis Liverpool:” Eric was ah avid reader lady; now dey close de central library.” During his tenure, Euro-centric historian Dr. Williams never gave Africans – Trinbagoians ” time to celebrate” and internalise their inherent Africanness to its maximum –the Prime Minister’s Best Village Programme not withstanding. Everything African was always posited within a feeling -good, looking – nice, carnival jump – up, having -ah-good-time, nutting serious, one -time -affair, party-time and liming atmosphere and context. It was never presented as anything of serious, sustained, historical, cultural, indigenous value and consequence- and still is not even today. The fact of the matter is that Eric Williams went on along with and/ or maybe initiated, encouraged and sanctioned this Euro- centric trivialization and programming of Africa. Today, everything African is just political mammaguay, congosa and pappyshow -One ah – day Africanising is the game a la Dr. Eric Williams. Prof. Eric Williams subjected Africans in TnT to Euro – centric “brainwash education”; no small wonder they continue to act like “Certificated” fools. Intellectually, Dr. Eric Williams never took African -Trinbagonians out of the European plantation sub-conscious mind-set; in other words, sub-consciously they continue to act like slaves while consciously, they are supposed to be emancipated. Pan African Nationalist, African – Trinbagonian Kwame Ture once stated: “If you don’t know who you are then you would not know what your interests are.”
Fourth, the criminalization of the Life Sport Programme and the blatant labeling of participants as criminal elements within the programme are beyond unfortunate. Yes, the programmed should be audited and the required investigations should be done but should we enter the communities where Life Sport centers were opened, but we must examine the impact it had on the lives of these young men who participated in the programme.
The narrative presented by MP for Diego Martin Northeast, Colm Imbert must be condemned. He used the terms “criminal or criminality” at least 15 times during his Private Members motion to censure Anil Roberts until we lost track and stopped counting. This is where we refocus on attempting to answer the first question we posed above, about dealing with the criminal elements within the society.
Some residents of Laventille who were tired of the crime in their community held a candle light vigil last Thursday. This was commendable because in reality there are people who sleep under their beds and on the floors of their kitchen to avoid flying bullets. We must go beyond vigils to re-education. We must also consider the rather transient nature of these communities whereby there is a core of older folks who have lived in Laventille for many years and over time have housed their children and grandchildren; but many people have left the these urban hills of Port of Spain to take up residence elsewhere in Trinidad and Tobago or even abroad while others move in, often temporarily. The transient nature has removed the community structures (such as the village councils) that have were present in the past.
Nevertheless, there is a political structure that conveniently uses the residents of Laventille then criminalizes the very sons of their supporters after they have failed to provide any meaningful measures of employment and sustained economic development. The same can be said of Morvant, Covinge, and Carenage all of which are areas we have spent time in.
It is unacceptable to criminalize the Life Sport Programme and the impact so far it has made on the lives that might have been previously lost to the streets. We must see through the politics, the propaganda, and the self-serving people who are standing on the backs of exploited people to ride political waves.