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The lost and lawless tribe

Published: 
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

In a small village in south Trinidad today, there is a 16-year-old student who has only now returned to school since Divali last month. The jury is still out on whether her hearing will ever fully return and she is on a regime of medication to ease the constant pain.

Around this time last year, this young lady would have read about Sally-Ann Cuffie of Talparo who suffered serious, permanent injuries to her hand. I can also imagine the Chaguanas teacher who had to be hospitalised last week following detonation of a “scratch-bomb” in her class, reading about Ms Cuffie’s misfortune and perhaps even discussing it with her students a year ago.

Do the police and other agencies of the state realise how seriously meaningless the mantra of “zero tolerance” has now become?

You see, less than a year ago, within the pages of this very newspaper, it was Snr Supt Floris Hodge-Griffith declaring a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal“fireworks” including “scratchbombs.”

Public Administration and Communications minister, Maxie Cuffie, chimed in with very strong language himself. I had imagined at that time the vigorous nods of approval around the Cabinet table when he declared his position on the matter.

Are police officers, local government representatives, parliamentarians, clergy and other people who claim to be in charge ever present when these developmentally challenged people reach for their stash of explosives—about which there is explicit mention in both the Summary Offences and Explosives Acts?

I will continue to be like a stuck record on this—for those who remember that other use for vinyl—until I recognise even a modicum of seriousness by law enforcement and community and national leadership on this issue.

Much like the problem of casino gambling, we have sat by and watched this thing grow out of control—encouraged it even.

But the associated behaviours are things we will not be able to tax away or legislate into extinction.

You see, official inaction at these lower levels has a way of feeding into broader, more lethal impunity.

The pervasiveness of crime appears to be as much a function of the likelihood of getting away with it as it is about incompetence and corruption among the ranks of law enforcement, and both respected and ordinary people in our communities who prefer to look the other way.

Based on our record in these things, there is little we can be hopeful about. Not one administration led by any of these essentially moribund political organisations has ever sought to address them.

A single squatter’s shack on the hill becomes a village in weeks.

Hillsides are scalped, watercourses diverted and everything the development planners ought to be telling us not to do is done.

There is an appliance store along the Eastern Main Road in St Augustine that often displays its washing machines on the roadway itself. A Day of Total Policing is followed by a Day of Zero Immigrationing.

Who, but I and a few others, sticks to the speed limit on the highway?

We all know this. We witness it every day. This is clearly not about the rules and regulations only. It is about a lost and lawless tribe adrift at a time when we need to be hunkering down for even more difficult challenges.

When I was told about the 16 year old over the weekend, I put aside plans to talk about the dangerous degradation of the last of the formal institutions that distinguish us as a democratic society.

We are playing with fire when it comes to that. But I chose instead the flash of the “scratch-bomb” that tells us even more about where we have truly reached. The outlook is by no means rosy.