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Addressing the angry society

The Angry Society (Part 2)
Published: 
Monday, November 13, 2017

Recent publicised displays of school violence and other negative behaviour have stirred Education Minister, Anthony Garcia, to call for stronger enforcement of a policy against the use of mobile phones with cameras on school compounds.

School principal, Sookoo Sonnylal, had to go to court to reverse a decision to remove him from Siparia West Secondary School following a heated exchange with students there.

In a 2014 study on bullying and victimisation in selected primary schools in north Trinidad, criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad contended that anger was “a significant predictor” when considering the situations of both the victims and perpetrators of school violence.

Anger, many commentators also now contend, is unfolding in the school corridors as an expression of its far more pervasive presence nationwide.

T&T, they say, is an angry society.

Executive director of the Mediation Board, Elizabeth Solomon, is uncomfortable with the broad sweep of such a label but suggests there is a relationship between perceived injustice in the society and the ways people respond to the challenges they face.

Among the ways to address the issue, she suggests, is to “recognise that people’s sense of injustice contributes to anger and to begin to unravel the sources of their sense of injustice starting with addressing impunity.”

The 2012 UNDP Citizen Security Report on T&T in fact established a social justice connection. “Visible disparities in income and standard of living can create frustration and anger for those who are deprived in society. Such frustration and anger can translate into increased levels of violence,” the report says. “This is supported by other economic data in T&T.”

Chairman of the Children’s Authority and trauma specialist, Hanif Benjamin, diagnoses a “filtering down” of societal tensions to the nation’s schools.

“We are seeing the major breakdown in our school system due to violence and indiscipline.

However, this is a direct result and a mirror of the wider society,” he told T&T Guardian.

To address the causative factors, Solomon prescribes interventions to “equip people at all levels with the tools to deal with frustrations and emotions in different ways.”

Benjamin proposes a different approach to addressing the problem of mental illness. “We must look at mental illness at all levels and remove the stigma from it. We must teach our children that mental illness is real and help them identify what it looks like.”

Caron Asgarali, survivor of an attacker’s bullets to the face, says “there is no easy panacea for an angry society” and recommends stronger interventions by state security.

“What we can do is to start by focusing on better law enforcement and on the further development of legislation to help control crime, the drug trade and the arms and ammunition trade particularly the illegal trade; to make the legislation more relevant to our times,” she says.

These contrasting approaches all converge in an understanding that a combination of causes and interventions is required.

Solomon acknowledges the complexities and believes the absence of concerted efforts at promoting “social cohesion” is in art responsible. We need, she says, “to actively pursue a social cohesion strategy to address perceptions of marginalisation and build a common sense of community, perhaps with national service of some kind.”

At the individual, emotional level, Solomon says society also has to “equip people at all levels with the tools to deal with frustrations and emotions in different ways.”

Asgarali, herself a teacher, believes the school system has a major role to play. “I am a strong proponent for education as a primary tool in dealing with young persons to assist them with blooming into the beautiful, creative and peaceful creatures they can be.”

“More support is needed from all sectors of society for intervention programmes designed to teach basic values and coping mechanisms to our young persons,” she says. “We can no longer take it for granted that they are taught about respect for others, self and life at home.”

Among Solomon’s prescriptions is the removal of “some of the daily contributing factors that cause frustration and spark anger.” Among them, she includes the need for an improved public transportation system.

Benjamin says the country also needs to look at the impact of mental illness on violence and deviant behaviour. “We must look at mental illness at all level and remove the stigma from it,” he says. “We must teach our children that mental illness is real and help them identify what it looks like.”

More than the children, Benjamin believes adults should be taught “the signs and symptoms of mental illness and move society away from thinking the mad man on the street is what mental illness looks like.

Rather that’s the end result of mental illness untreated.”

While Asgarali believes that even as the law needs to be invoked, “we need to address the deep-rooted issues from which our anger stems.”

In the absence of concerted action, she believes T&T will continue to attract the label of “an angry society.”