Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 12th 2017 Contents life
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guardian.co.tt Sunday, March 12, 2017
hat happens when
grass goes uncut?
What happens when
yards fester from ne-
glect? What happens when houses
are left unattended for months...
for years...for generations?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York,
though my entire family is from Trin-
They raised me to see myself as
a Trinidadian, and I was only three
months old when I first visited for
Carnival in 1980.
Though my parents were originally
from St James, the only place I knew as
home when I visited Trinidad through-
out the 1980s and 1990s was Queen
Street government housing.
Duncan Street and Nelson Street
were my childhood stomping grounds
when I visited. It was where I had my
first crush and where I had my first
fight—at a mere five years old.
After a long absence from Trinidad
from 1998-2015, I had heard many
things had changed. My parents and
siblings no longer stayed on Queen
Street, though we still had family there.
I was warned about the violence.
I heard the stories about gun violence
the likes of a war-torn country. I was
cautioned to never visit the only place
I knew as home in Trinidad.
I am hardheaded.
So, when I returned to Trinidad in
February 2015 I was determined to visit
“home.” During those 17 years between
visits that I was away, I had my bouts
with violence in New York City.
I had spent ten of those 17 years in
NYS prisons because of my role in a fatal
robbery attempt. The other seven years
were spent creating anti-violence youth
programmes, writing about social and
criminal justice issues, finishing up two
college degrees, and catching up with
the decade of my 20s that I had lost
because of incarceration.
Like I said, I was hardheaded.
I was too hardheaded to believe the
low expectations for people who come
from ghettoes and prisons.
I was too rebellious to accept that
nothing good comes from people who
have experienced the type of life I chose.
So, you could see why I could not stay
away from a community I loved and
missed—people I lived and missed.
My first visit back home
My first visit back “home” came just
15 minutes after I visited a friend who
was staying in the Hyatt, the towering
skyscraper that conveniently blocks
into obscurity the community I called
My cousin, David, said that he would
meet me by the Promenade and walk
me to Queen Street and Duncan Street.
The home I knew was too unsafe for me
to walk to without escort, even at my
6’2” 190 lbs muscular size.
What I saw during that visit, and
during the dozens I’ve made since then
was disheartening. I saw a community
that was neglected.
I saw the grass that had grown into
unkempt vestiges of trees. The many
chickens that strolled the community in
abundance were nowhere to be found.
I saw police and army men toting big
guns out of the backseats of police jeeps.
I saw children riding broken bicycles.
I saw a tale of two cities within five
minutes of each other. I saw the gran-
deur of a luxury hotel juxtaposing the
utter disregard of a government land-
I observed the very same thing when
I visited communities in upper St Barbs,
Sea Lots, and the Beetham. What I was
seeing here is the same thing I saw in
violence-riddled communities in New
York like Brownsville, Brooklyn, South
Jamaica, Queens, Coney Island, and the
If I were a mathematician I could
easily come up with an equation the
+ political corruption
+ police abrasiveness
= Increased violence and communi-
ty alienation from authority
Gun violence and
hidden-in-plain-sight sex trade
Gun violence is an international
pandemic. Trinidad and the city of
Chicago are competing for the dubi-
ous distinction of who can tally up the
most homicides for 2017.
Interestingly, Chicago also has a
well-documented history of police
violence, and government corruption.
Further in a country of only 1.5 mil-
lion people, it is well known that police
and government officials conduct ex-
tra-judicial business all the time. Am I
misstating the truth? Am I?
Like the city of Chicago, there are
no gun manufacturers in Trinidad.
There are no cocaine fields or poppy
fields here either.
There is no bridge or underground
tunnel that is connected to T&T that
would allow drugs and weapons to be
Youths in Sea Lots or St Barbs barely
have good Wi-Fi service. Are they the
only ones to blame for the abundance
of guns and the proliferation of the drug
Can they be accused of turning Trin-
idad into what many are referring to as
a narco state? Can they?
Who should be blamed for the hid-
den-in-plain-sight sex trade that any-
one can observe during a drive through
the quite streets of Woodbrook near St
Should we blame the sex workers
for being wotless, or are we levying
blame for the authorities that turn a
blind eye to the trade of which some
of them participate?
Are Trinidadian citizens to trust a
justice system that has a pathetic clear-
ance rate in homicide cases and holds
people in detention for up to ten years
without reaching a disposition of the
When there is no clear delineation
between the perpetrators of crime
and those who take an oath to react
to crime how can any community feel
safe enough to courageously empower
The state of my home did not reach
to this point when a particular party
came into power.
The root of the problem is not the
person in power, but the seat of power.
Trinidad’s embedded culture of cor-
ruption and institutional failure is the
culprit that needs to be hanged, not the
people who are maladaptively adjusting
to the conditions to which they were
Yes, individuals have a responsibility
to contribute to their communities in
a productive manner, and they need to
be held accountable when they violate
the social contract.
But, there is not amount of incarcer-
ation or police force that can cut the
overgrown weeds of corruption that
chokes my beloved nation.
Writing from a place of privilege
I admit, I write this piece from a
place of privilege. I get to leave Trini-
dad and return to New York whenever
I please; a luxury that is not afforded to
most of the citizens of Trinidad.
That fact, however, does not preclude
me from caring for the country that my
parents conditioned me to see as home.
My privilege does not prevent me
from suggesting that the road to recov-
ery must begin with an independent
and government sanctioned (but, not
government initiated or government
run) truth and reconciliation com-
mission representative of community
members, law enforcement officials,
and those in ministry (past and pres-
The grass has to be cut.
There needs to be an honest assess-
ment of why my home, where I had my
first crush is now a place where I need
to be escorted.
According to author of Unspeakable
Truths, Priscilla B Hayner, truth and
reconciliation commissions are “bodies
set up to investigate a past history of vi-
olations of human rights in a particular
country—which can include violations
by the military or other government
forces or armed opposition forces”.
Such an effort begins the process of
restoring dignity to T&T’s people and
As it stands, Beetham is infamously
and solely known to be as a nefarious
area that you speed past when driving,
and Duncan and Nelson Streets are
communities some wish would just
implode (I’ve had people say this to me).
In both instances, we are overlook-
ing the fact that these communities and
others are living up to the low expecta-
tions set by institutions that have un-
derserved them, or all out disregarded
They let the grass grow into over-
grown weeds—figuratively and liter-
ally—to the point of non-recognition.
The real criminals of T&T aren’t the
gang leaders or the corrupt govern-
The stain of this country resides in
the culture of corruption that sits at
the root of the grass, and unwavering
and courageous honesty is the only way
More police can create a sense of
security theatre, especially during
the carnival season, but what about
the other ten months of the year?
Home of my first crush
I was too
to believe the low
people who come
and prisons. I was
too rebellious to
accept that nothing
good comes from
people who have
type of life I chose.
So, you could see
why I could not
stay away from a
community I loved
I lived and
...T&T needs Truth and Reconciliation Commission
is a writer and social
justice advocate based
in Brooklyn, NY, who
focuses on criminal
justice and gun violence
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