Darcus Howe bemoans lawless Trinidad

In Trinidad, even human rights lawyers seem not to care when people get shot

Late last month, in a remote and tiny town in central Trinidad, four men of east Indian descent, aged between 15 and 20, armed themselves with cutlasses. They abducted the driver of a taxi, chopped him once or twice and slung him out before going on a joyride. The police were called and later cornered the assailants. They opened fire on the vehicle, killing all four men. Not a single pistol was found on the scene.

The abduction of drivers and the seizure of their vehicles are commonplace on the island. Hardly a week passes without such an incident. Cutlasses are rare; the transgressors are almost always armed with guns. Usually the thieves go on a robbery spree. When they are caught by armed police or soldiers, they usually surrender meekly and are carted off to prison, where they spend very long periods indeed.

Gun crime and kidnapping (for huge ransoms) are big issues in Trinidad. The predators are invariably young men who live in urban areas and who derive their culture from the urban ghettoes of the United States. They are known as "bad boys" and unemployment is rife among them. Though there are occasional exchanges of gunfire with the police, the high death rate among them has more to do with internecine strife.

My contacts in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital, tell me that the phenomenon is very much on the wane. They attribute this to the heavy patrols of armed police and soldiers. So I was alarmed when a columnist in a local paper, who is one of the leading human rights lawyers on the island, wrote as follows about the incident I have described: "It is our weaknesses and the yielding and compromising and twisting of principles and rules to their untoward and so-called modern ways that have precipitated and now crystallised in lawlessness, disrespect and mayhem. I am referring to things like 'mark' for hairstyle, dark glasses, chains around neck, earrings, big baggy shirts and trousers and sneakers, rap and dub songs and 'dude boy' rankings and the lot.

"These raw-sewage-like habits and modern trends require these youths to have financial resources, which they acquire by robbing, stealing, kidnapping, plundering, prostitution, homosexuality and the like which sometimes results in murder and killing. The police must be applauded and congratulated for slaughtering these criminals."

I phoned a legal progressive in Trinidad and asked whether the national Bar Council would discipline the author. He said no. I asked whether the director of public prosecutions would sue for incitement to murder. He said no. And when I asked him what he thought of the article and what should be done about it, he replied tersely: "Shit happens."

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