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Historic inequality against Laventille

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Historic inequality perpetrated against the people of Laventille—inequality which has ranged through discrimination in educational and job opportunities, in sports and other areas of social and economic life, and in inattention by the authorities to the problems of the Hill community are a few of the factors which have resulted in the creation of delinquent teenagers, gang association and violence now plaguing Laventille. 

What is more is that the behavioural patterns of Laventille have spread through various parts of the country and are now causing disquiet, at best, havoc at worst in the national community. Those are the views of Curtis Edwards as he expressed them to me in an interview. Edwards, a son of Laventille, a teacher, panman and manager of Desperadoes sets out what he sees as the causes of the gang and gun violence that has claimed the lives of many; both in one-on-one battles with one another and when the youth engage in gun fire with members of the security services.

This column continues the examination of the causes behind the criminal culture of Laventille and does so through the eyes of people who are native “Laventillians”, and those who have worked in the area amongst the troubled young men. 

As in last week’s column, the point is once again made that those involved in the gang violence and other forms of criminal activities in Laventille consist of a tiny percentage of the 100,000 people who live on the Hill and in the community sprawls at the foot of the Hill, inclusive of Beetham and the East Dry River areas.

Victor Copeland, president of the Desperadoes Elders Organisation sees the problems of Laventille as being grounded in the spiritual. “It’s a spiritual problem. The devil has infiltrated in the activities of Laventille,” Copeland told me. “If people are aware that there is a supreme being bigger than us, outside of all of us, then we will treat each other with the kind of respect, the sincerity and the love that is required,” Copeland said in an interview, the same one with Edwards.

The converse is also true: in the absence of the above, then it is very difficult to achieve the love and harmony required says Copeland. In response to my observation that over the last couple decades RC priests such as Frs Harvey and Gordon and doubtless other priests and pastors from other religions have been stationed in Laventille working with young people, Copeland says some impact has been made. However, he contends that when the named priests with the vision were moved out of the area, others took time to get settled to restart the work which had been done.

Edwards says control of the Laventille society was lost in the early 1990s; many of the schools in the area during that period were not even getting one pass in the Common Entrance (CE). That resulted in 12 and 13-year-olds on the street and with nowhere else to go; no safety net was put in place to channel and assist these young people into vocations, and eventually the possibility of jobs, observes Edwards.

To compound the situation, mothers, who previously stayed at home to grow and nurture their children, were in the job market, so supervision in many instances was absent. One reaction to the inability to get positive CE results was for parents to move their children to schools in Port-of-Spain; that served the additional purpose of countering the stigma of having been to a Laventille school; it must have meant also that many of the brightest and most ambitious were lost to Laventille.

Into such an environment walked Ras Shorty I’s “Lucifer with a bag of white power, not to powder yuh face but to bring shame and disgrace to the human race.” Guns to protect the trade were brought in by people and organisations with capital and the necessary trading links to sustain the imports and transportation of cocaine. 

“Now this (culture of violence) has spread throughout the country; we could easily say that the whole east-west corridor is a Laventille,” says Edwards. He makes the additional observation that in Laventille, like other parts of the country, “children are making children” who have little by way of values to share with their offspring.

Like Trevor Oliver, educator and teacher and Macky Padmore (man about town) Copeland and Edwards make the observation: “We don’t have control of any boats and seaports where the guns and cocaine coming in; how come my brother getting hold and the supplier not getting hold?”

Hal Greaves has struck the phrase: “Laventille thinks the whole country is up for sale.” “If de priest could play who is we,” Cypher.

While the gang elements of Laventille act out their internecine conflict, shooting, maiming and killing one another, the 99-plus per cent of the community not involved in crime and illicit behaviours remain in “shock and awe.” “He used to lime by me, they used to eat together; but they can’t make a report for fear of when they reach home they hear someone say to them: “ah boy you informing…” 

These are obviously only a few of the causes and consequences of what has been transpiring in Laventille; they give some understanding and appreciation of what is to be done. Next week, I present the proposals from the elders and a young “college boy” from Laventille.


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