Darcus Howe worries for his son

My son is unsafe in a country where dismal economics are turning everyone to crime

I have been keeping in touch with the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago in regard to the safety of my son, Amiri. Readers of this column are aware that he came within inches of death when, in the house in which he was born and where he currently lives, an assassin tried to kill his stepfather. Amiri has since moved to his aunt's residence some ten miles away.

My immediate interest is his safety - is he a target of the same group that killed his stepfather? There are about 20 groups of young men who roam the nation dealing exclusively in death; each group has 15 to 20 members - all under the age of 30. They are hitmen paid to kill, or to kidnap the rich. For no money at all, they will execute each other in domestic feuds. Someone among these youngsters is the assassin of my son's stepfather.

Police tell me I am not the only parent who worries about what these gangs could mean for their sons. Day in, day out, parents are burying their sons who, either by accident or by design, are being summarily executed. Worse, it would seem that these young thugs are involved with a band of renegade police officers. In the Trinidad and Tobago Mirror dated 26 July 2002, the headline screams "KIDNAP BACKLASH"; there are photographs of my son's stepfather, Hassan, side by side with some local millionaire. The latter was kidnapped in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and the demand for $5m was made from a phone booth in Brooklyn, New York.

These groups are interlocked within the Caribbean diaspora in Trinidad, New York and London; they wear a thin veneer of Islam and are constantly increasing in numbers. The local police tell me that they suspect that a theological clash on the interpretation of Islam was responsible for the assassination of Hassan. Arrests are rare in Trinidad. Witnesses are executed in a twinkling of an eye.

And wherein lies the cause? Caribbean economics breed a mass of unemployed. Agriculture in these islands has collapsed. Satellite television exists everywhere, drawing the hundreds of thousands of unemployed into a vortex of desire. Cars, clothing and other artefacts of the rich tease whole communities to join the spending spree. The gun is the central piece of machinery for earning the dollars to acquire material things.

It is not poverty per se but the close proximity of the poor to the immensely rich that produces this gun fever.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 12 August 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The Wrong War