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Economic insecurity increases violence

Published: 
Friday, September 30, 2016

Hunger, anger, frustration, trauma and desperate choices all rise. Expectations and needs cannot be adequately met. Low income communities, which are most exposed to these stresses, feel the effects in their homes, schools and streets, and in their relationships with police, social services and political representatives. This, despite their supportive networks, cultural strengths, elders and positive neighbourhood leaders, both women and men.

Success, Laventille. Picton. Upper Belmont. Sea Lots. Embacadere. La Romaine. Samaroo Village. Enterprise. Covigne Road. Cocorite. These communities’ experience of destructive masculinities and gang-related violence, high rates of early parenthood, and intra-family violence are firmly linked to the effects of economic inequality, which are not effectively countered by the “freeness” of hospitals, schools, social programmes or patronage-based jobs.

Indeed, economic insecurity is itself a form of violence. Throwing money at ministries is not the solution to crime, despite today’s headlines. Budgets are critical, but just as important are bureaucratic decisions, processes and cross-sectoral involvement, in this case regarding the Ministry of National Security.

With oil prices down, inflation high, and a significant part of the population dependent on the informal and illegal economy, we have to calculate more than dollars. We have to see whether how, when and through whom they are spent makes sense, directly addressing the oncoming rise of violence within vulnerable communities, and beyond them. 

Over the past eight years, the Citizen Security Programme has been working to create greater peace, and community capacity to address the risk factors associated with crime and violence in 22 communities in T&T. This pilot programme is coming to a close, but it’s crucial that the work introduced and partnerships supported not end. For, more than during past boom years, trust-building, conflict management, mediation, peer-counselling, youth mentorship and after-school programmes are necessary.

There’s now a National Crime Prevention Council, but its approach moves away from a successful CSP model, and requires co-ordination across many actors, suggesting extended start-up delays. Perhaps community peace initiatives should be implemented through regional corporations, but they lack experience. Bureaucratic lag, between when the CSP stops and when this pilot project translates into sustained state roll out, will thus literally result in increased everyday sufferation. 

In the 22 original CSP communities, between 2008 and 2016, there was a reduction in murders by 55 per cent, with the national reduction for the same period being 17 per cent; a reduction in wounding and shooting by 20 per cent, with the national reduction for the same period being 11 per cent; and a reduction in sexual offences by 63 per cent, with the national reduction being 54 per cent. 

Additionally, the Crime and Victimization Survey (2015) found that more residents in these communities felt safe at home, that the authorities were concerned about them, that they could make a positive difference in their community, that neighbours were willing to help and trust each other, and that serious crimes could be reported. 

Here, sustaining the leadership and capacity of communities themselves, and Community Action Councils, was key to preventing crime and violence, and possibly promoting long-term behavioural change between intimate partners, between parents and children, and among residents. More work has to be done specifically targeting youth and children, specifically taking into account gender-based violence, particularly against women, and child sexual abuse. Continuous investment in conflict mediation and redefining masculinities is crucial.

That work has to not stop while ministers, advisers and councils transition too slowly, in the process losing experienced service providers and generating communities’ sense of abandonment and uncertainty. Regional Corporation administrators need extensive training, in collaboration with NGOs and police, if that is the final plan for the way ahead. Timely release of funds is needed to avoid cynicism about the process amongst frontline workers.

There’s some simple adding up here. Economic tightening means worsening risk. Without a national programme to help higher-risk communities manage safety, gains will be reversed. Increased crime and violence will not stay with the imagined boundaries of those stereotyped areas, but eventually affect us all, heightening national trauma. 

Budgetary allocations must be met by urgent bureaucratic leadership and implementation of a effective programme which provides continuity as CSP ends. Post-budget, following monetary proclamations to such a necessary conclusion, is what is now required of us all. 

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