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Don't Blame the Black Youth
By Ras Tyehimba
September 08, 2005
"...you teacher used teach about Pirate Hawkins
you teacher used teach about Pirate Morgan
And you said he was a very great man
you teacher used teach about Christopher Columbus
And you said he was a very great man
you teacher used teach about Marco Polo, so
You can't blame the youth
You can't fool the youth
You can't blame the youth of today."
by Peter Tosh
Crime is a hot topic for discussion these days. In discussing crime, social commentators, businessmen, politicians and academics often take a moral high ground, as if the problem is those 'bad', 'unruly' youths from certain areas such as Belmont and Morvant/Laventille. If it wasn't for those unruly, deviant Black youths from those criminal areas, Trinidad would be a paradise, they seem to be saying. This perspective, which is prevalent in the mainstream, is weak and does not allow people to begin to understand the issue of crime and its connection to other social issues that plague Trinidad and Tobago. Every time someone gets shot in one of these communities, it is almost like the mainstream media delights in reporting that young people are killing each other at an alarming rate.
It is not so much that the present generation is inherently bad or more misinformed than previous generations, but that the context in which young people exist now is very different from the context in which previous generations existed. It is not uncommon to hear people talk about how bad, unruly and unconstructive young people are today, while they reminisce about the 'good old days'. But the young people of today are hardly different from the young from those from 'good old days'.
In modern times, the expansion in access to Western media brings a materialistic lifestyle that is beyond the means of many. On one level, crime is a result of a disparity between what is seen as success and the apparent means to reach such success.
Let us get some things straight. The problem of crime is not something that started recently; Trinidad and Tobago was founded on crime. The original people of the region, the Taino people (often wrongly called Caribs and Arawaks) were subject to genocide and brutality by the invading Europeans. A Catholic priest, Bartholomew De Las Casas then got a sudden attack of conscience, and decided that enslaving the native people was a bad thing, and that it was better to kidnap Africans from the continent and enslave them instead. So the foundation of this country is cast in a colonial (criminal) legacy of violence, economic exploitation, dehumanization, and murder and until those in authority seek to properly address this legacy they cannot get deep insights in how to proceed.
Ken Pryce, in a 1976 paper entitled 'Towards a Caribbean Criminology' remarked that the laws that governed the masses reflected the economic interests of the ruling class among whom politico-economic power remained highly concentrated. He went on to explain how in a social economy of exploitation, racism became institutionalized and continued to play an important function, not only in ideologically legitimating the status quo and fragmenting the labour force, but also in stigmatizing the genetic and ethno-cultural characteristics of Blacks as pagan and inferior. Within this scenario, Blacks were viewed as innately criminal and their institutions were seen as deviant and criminal. He observed that the economic patterns of development enriches a few (through corruption and privilege) and dispossesses many.
The crime statistics of Trinidad and Tobago reveal that it is mostly Black persons from the so-called lower class 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. 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, are not investigated and are 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. It should be clear that the scales of societal justice are not balanced, as persons from financially poor backgrounds have the worst experiences within the judicial system. 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? The recent 600 million drug bust on Monos island, off the coast of Trinidad, is a good example of the biases that exist; soon after the cocaine was discovered, the police investigators, without even concluding their investigations stated that the owners of the property were highly respectable citizens. What they were saying in fact, is that the wealthy owners, are above suspicion.
Clearly not a recent phenomenon, crime in itself is not the problem but rather the symptom of deeper issues. From the beginning, the social institutions including the media, the education system, and religions have not operated with the good of the masses in mind. Rather, they operated to perpetuate and reinforce the social and economic order, which allowed the small ruling elite to continually harvest the lion's share of resources.
The current crime situation represents a failure of institutions to regulate the development of this nation. The norms, values and methods embodied in such colonial-minded institutions have not been able to give people a sense of purpose, of history and have not been reflective of the diverse peoples that constitute Trinidad and Tobago. The political system, the mainstream media, mainstream religion and the education system have masked the true social reality, whether consciously or unconsciously. The veil over the truth has concealed the complex patterns of exploitation, and thus allowed the bogus ideas and attitudes that underlie the functioning of society, to go unchallenged. This state of mass misinformation keeps the masses subordinate and pacified and allows the status quo of exploitation to continue. Some persons have a vested interest in keeping certain perspectives inaccessible and unavailable to the general population. However, if people become more informed, they would understand their own potential for development and work out ways to resist the system, while making better choices in all areas.
It is this context that the words of Peter Tosh, quoted at the beginning of this article, are particularly relevant. The notion that it is a small number of persons in certain areas who are the problem is false. It is a weak cop-out that prevents people from really addressing the deeper issues. You cannot place all the blame on the youths for the decadent state of society, the crop of uninformed politicians as well as the ignorant and corrupt, but the powerful business elite that support them have to take a large measure of the responsibility. The undisciplined, 'don't care' attitudes of many young people is a reflection of an education system and mainstream media that has failed to provide the population with empowering information and perspectives. That the young people have a poor sense of self is not only a reflection of the class bias in terms of access to the education system, but also of the weak and distorted educational content. However, regardless of the shortcomings of the system, we all must take responsibility for our conduct, even though this does not negate the wider social issues that must be addressed.
Even with more resources, the police service cannot really curb crime as the roots of crime are beyond their scope. As long as the crime fighting focus is only directed to certain types of crime, committed by certain types of people, then crime fighting cannot be linked to the wider need for social justice. A group comprising of 16 of the country's most influential business leaders recently delivered an ultimatum to all 36 members of parliament to work together to reduce crime. It is clear that many who complain about the crime situation are not really concerned with social justice and the importance of proper conduct, nor do they understand how their own actions contribute to the decadence of society. It seems that 'crime' only becomes a problem when the more affluent members of society started to be directly affected.
For the many youths in the ghetto, where are the roles models and aspects of history that is reflective of you? Where are the voices of the grassroots youths? Where are the perspectives that speak to their very essence? Where are the narratives in their own language that relate closely to their experiences? Where are the informed people who are given the space to dissect and explain the challenges that face Black, grassroots people? These things are all noticeably absent from the mainstream media and the education system. Until then, you can't blame the youths for the present state of affairs. You can't blame the youth!