Our nation has had to endure two traumatic weeks. The murder count escalated dramatically in incidents all around the country, on land and sea, sparing no-one, not even the beloved Raymond Choo Kong who had brought so much laughter into our lives over the years.
The murder toll for the year has now crossed 300. Within the last fortnight those of us old enough also had to endure the searing memories of the attempted coup of July 27, 1990, a brutal assault on our Parliament, the seat of our democracy, which left 24 citizens dead, many more injured and traumatised, and millions of dollars in damage to property, mostly in the capital city.
These times require leadership which can give a crime-weary people some sense of hope. Fortunately, there were three welcome demonstrations of such leadership.
First, on Sunday July 21, the Trinidad Guardian newspaper wrote, as a front page editorial, an ‘open letter’ to the citizens titled ‘The Breaking Point’. It stated: “We are well past the point of patience and tolerance. We do not have the luxury of time. We demand urgent and immediate action. The leaders of our government and opposition parties have failed to deliver. They need to set aside their differences and confront our national crisis head on.” Resolution of our escalating crime problem requires partisan politics be set aside in the national interest.
The second demonstration of leadership was Her Excellency President Paula Mae Weekes who erected posters outside President’s House to commemorate the events of July 27, 1990 and those who lost their lives.
The President stated: “The fact that some victims of the attempted coup remain nameless and faceless is testimony to our short memories and disregard for human life and dignity. By allowing victims of the violence to go unrecognised by the nation, we chance diminishing the weight of the impact of the attempted coup on society and risk becoming immune to brutality in all its forms. Every citizen should be concerned that for such a significant event, there is no official commemoration nor is there an official list of all the casualties”. Disregard for human life and dignity should not define who we are as a people.
And it is precisely this disregard, this lack of respect for each other that Archbishop Jason Gordon pointed to his back-page column in last week’s Catholic News entitled: ‘A Culture of Disrespect’.
His Grace pointed out that the gang culture was fuelled in part by gang members’ need for respect, a respect which they mistakenly believe comes from the barrel of a gun.
His Grace opined that: “A culture of disrespect, discourtesy and disregard has evolved over the years”. The gang gives its members respect, but in return demand that they show no concern for the lives of others, in effect a license to kill, and no responsibility to the common good.
His Grace suggested: “We cannot fix the problem of crime until we have fixed the problem of exaggerated freedoms that have become license…To temper this exaggerated freedom, we now need an exaggerated responsibility to the common good”.
The messages of these three leaders — the Archbishop, the President and the Editor of the Guardian — are clear, cogent and compelling. We need an ‘exaggerated responsibility to the common good’; we need to have respect for each other and regard for human life and dignity, and our politicians need to set aside partisan considerations in the fight to eliminate crime.
If we heed these messages, we can begin to restore hope in our despairing nation.