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November 3, 2017
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November 3, 2017

For the lives lost

Participants with placards. Photo courtesy Georgia Popplewell.

By Simone Delochan, sdelochan.camsel@rcpos.org

Remember Keith Noel? He was chopped to death at his Belmont home, in May 2005. In anguish at the cruel manner in which his employee’s life had been taken, Steven Cadiz began the Keith Noel 136 Committee which galvanised a massive march, October 22 that year.

The march, by news reports, had over 10,000 participants, and represented a wide swathe of society in terms of religion, ethnicity, class, and age.  That year, 386 murders had been recorded – it was 305 at the time of the march. Since then, over 4,000 citizens have lost their lives (2006–2017). This year, so far, the murder tally has crossed 400.

The Catholic News Editorial of October 30, 2005, ‘The Power of Non-Violent Protest’ stated: “Tears flowed freely as this drama was enacted showing the power of non-violent protest. One placard read, ‘Can you remember when it was safe to take out the garbage?’ ” The “drama” was Peter Minshall’s 305 performers in white gowns and black hoods, prostrating themselves at Woodford Square, drawing to mind the 305 lives lost.

The Guardian editorial on the march also highlighted the placards: “Placards held by marchers yesterday called for brisk, no-nonsense approaches expressed in ‘Start making sense’, and ‘Stop kicksing in Parliament’.”

Nicholas Laughlin in his blog gave both a first-person account of the march as well as a commentary on the general state of the country with regard to crime: He had this to say: First, immediate measures to restore public safety: fundamental reform of the police service, of the prison system, of the judicial system; real intelligence work to infiltrate drug & gang networks & destroy them (the information is out there, we all hear the stories…).

He continues: “The second front of this battle is the state of our society & social infrastructure forty years after independence: vast inequalities in an ostensibly booming economy, failing education and public health systems, & the feeling among the general populace that there’s nothing ‘we’ can do about these problems because the power is in the hands of the government…”

There have been many more Keith Noels, as the country has moved from short-lived horror to short-lived horror. But we are an adaptable people and allow atrocities to be thrust on us.

It is clear that nothing much has changed or improved as the very same recommendations that Laughlin made are the major issues connected with crime now. And this is the most telling of the spiral we seem to be caught in: two governments later, the pleas for change remain the same.

Most had seen the march as a pivotal point. The CN Editorial called it a “watershed in the history of Trinidad and Tobago”; it was seen as the beginning of something, a something that never really materialised. How many would have remembered this occasion? Or the sentiments which led up to the march?

The CN editorial continued, “The enormous success of the march demands that Government listen to what the people are saying. Being ordinary citizens does not mean we are to be governed like passive sheep; we have a say in our governance since it is we who elected the Government in the first place. We must therefore hold them to accountability.”

Again, the issue of accountability but also, which was not quoted, the importance of individuals doing the right thing, emerged. It should be a sobering thing that, in 12 years, the pleas, and feelings of uncertainty for personal safety remain the same. Twelve years.