Post 364.

Carnival is interwoven with our lives, but representations of it tend to focus on the public and performative. Our narratives also emphasize the big Carnival bands and big musical names. However, as we close this season, I’d like to reflect instead on the little stories we don’t see, particularly in relation to children and family.

On Carnival Friday, Ziya won her school Calypso Monarch competition with her entry, ‘Send Parents Back to School’.

The song was produced by her dad, Lyndon ‘Stonez’ Livingstone, who is a long time DJ and producer. Born into Trinidad and Tobago’s spoken word movement through Rapso in 1998, but having moved away from both poetry and performing as work and motherhood took over, I get a connection to the past through writing calypsos for Zi.

Though our marriage has moved on since the days when he would produce for me, when a DJ and a poet have a daughter, we get to nurture an intergenerational love and engagement with local culture. We also get to be better people and parents from having to come together each year to cooperate for her. Through the growing pains of creating new relationships and definitions of ourselves, it’s no small truth to say that calypso has helped to keep our sense of family together.

For a long time, we looked at our shy, cautious and hesitant child, and wondered if she would grow into her confidence. Now in her fifth year of a little school competition, and her second win, I was amazed to see a blossoming nine-year-old command her school stage; her stance powerful, her delivery strong and her performance bold.

She wanted the prize money, to buy Lego and mint gum, she had developed a sense of ambition and competition, and she was increasingly willing to take risks publicly. Other parents may have similar stories of Carnival’s opportunities for confidence-building, and may be able to say this about drama and sports, but it was calypso that did it for Zi.

There may be much to debate about the value and legacy of these last weeks, but this is one quiet and small story that Carnival has left with me. It’s like this around the country, in pan sides filled with youth, in family mas camps where children learn about the spiritedness of masquerade while still at the breast, in musical homes where young bards begin to follow in elders’ footsteps.

In each of these, there are not simply stories of fete and wine and rum. There are also real moments of separated parents sharing common commitment and joy; of little children learning about Carnival as hard work, shared effort and a labour of love; and the awkwardness of self-doubt blooming into new-found capacity to aspire and achieve.

As so many want for their children, we wanted Ziya to learn about what it means to speak up for her generation and to connect to others so that they can see their reality in what she advocates. We wanted her to see that a hook is a clear message which can signify an historical moment. We wanted her to know that the more she knew about her country is the more resonant her voice could be across time. We wanted her to know that social commentary had to be more than a lament, it had to capture imagination while being accessible to anyone willing to listen.

So, we kept the lyrics simple:

Children, what to say? Like Trinbago gone astray. Crime and violence is the rule. Send parents back to school!

Like adults forget all their learned. Set bad example with no concern. We fed up, fed up not being safe. Parents must learn how to behave.

So put on your uniform, shine your shoes. We giving tests and homework too. First class is basic civics, and revision until the country fix.

Ting a ling ling. School bell ring. Too much adults misbehaving. Ting a ling ling. School bell ring. Back to school every morning!

Tell Gary Griffith, we have a plan to fight criminals across the land, teach about the country we should have, put the future in parents’ school bag!

Children, what to say? Like Trinbago gone astray. Crime and violence is the rule. Send parents back to school!

As critics cross swords over what was wasted and gained, this is a story of Carnival’s possibilities for togetherness and growth.  As a grateful mother of a little girl, this is therefore also a small ode to kaiso.

Post 307.

When UWI students protested their vulnerability to robbery and rape on campus, we witnessed the brutality of overly-weaponised police unnecessarily roughing up two young dreadlocked male students, pressing their faces to the ground with their knees on their necks, and then throwing them in the back of the police jeep in order to later charge them for protesting feelings of insecurity to crime.

There didn’t seem to be any sense of irony that that dealing with such feelings of insecurity through repressive state force misses what a younger generation is legitimately telling both police and the nation about our own institutional failures. It was clear that police escalated the situation and that their training to deal with illegality – whether student protests or gang turf wars – is a single-minded and excessive hypermasculinity that strikes back to strike fear in the hearts of anyone out of order.

I thought about students’ lack of familiarity with strong-arm policing, and their naïve investment in police benevolence. Students believe they have a right to pursue a neoliberal dream of individual study, advancement and success as if the society isn’t falling apart around the borders of the campus.

Rather, students have to recognize that such a dream is a myth. Individual advancement is threatened night and day by wider social alienation, by widespread gender-based harm, by state institutional failure, and by systemic inequality and injustice – and this will reach students through threat of all kinds, whether robbery or rape, on campus just as anywhere else.

I’m not saying there isn’t more that the campus could do, but that fear and insecurity are social and economic problems, requiring institutional responses from an integrated justice system, and collective citizen investment and involvement in everything required for such transformation.

I thought too about how those very students probably don’t think too much about such policing as the modus operandi in poor and insecure communities, and the necessity of their solidarity with them, having experienced what that m.o. looks and feels like when the “good”, versus ghetto, youth get violently put in place.

We are all horrified by the murder rate and widespread fear of armed robbery and random shootings. We understand justification for shooting back at criminals who shoot at police. We understand that police are defending law-abiding citizens, and even wealthy non-law abiding and corrupt elites, with their working-class lives and families on the line. We understand that police share our fear as individuals and experience even greater occupational fear.

However, there is more to this seductive, simplistic, narrative. Where do individual badmen come from? Do they emerge in our society from nowhere? Is the gun-talk of “a war they want…a war they will get” going to change the disturbingly low rate of convictions or the shockingly slow pace of the justice system which institutionally reproduce the problem? Will it solve the fact that crime also continues because those responsible for patrolling streets and borders also are those running blocks or, as Rudder would put it, letting the guns and cocaine pass? Will it solve the fact that men in prison have higher than average rates of illiteracy or that they come from poorer households and communities, and schools failing children or, often, from situations of familial neglect and abuse?

In countries where crime has been reduced and jails emptied, has it been through being “rottweilers of aggression”? What of the fact that prison creates criminals by mixing men convicted of smaller offenses with gangs to whom they must show loyalty both in and, later, outside of jail in order to survive inside and, later, outside? As the restorative justice movement has long warned us, the fact that prisons officers, and police officers, are at risk of death is a problem exacerbated by how we imprison.

Anti-punk policing seems like the solution we have been waiting for, but fighting firearms with more firepower may leave us without sustained pursuit of real solutions. UWI students should know, only those solutions will offer greater safety. Who else in their generation will make them happen? As students should also now know, police can very quickly and forcibly turn against you, no matter how good a student you are, how respectable your family or how just your protest.

Students must invest in a creating a different society as part of investing in themselves, for peace is not the imprisoned security of greater surveillance and more guns, nor a society where support for police killings intensifies a spiral of excessive violence without end.

Post 229.

Economic insecurity increases violence.

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 Trinidad and Tobago. 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 coordination 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%, with the national reduction for the same period being 17%; a reduction in wounding and shooting by 20%, with the national reduction for the same period being 11%; and a reduction in sexual offenses by 63%, with the national reduction being 54%.  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, advisors 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 among front-line 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 within 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.