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BC’s BDOS – The gang’s all here


B.C. Pires

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ESTHER PHILLIPS, the elegant and erudite editor of the literary journal Bim, in her SUNDAY SUN column yesterday-week, wrote about the funeral of a gang member she witnessed a few years ago.
Last week, a letter writer to THE NATION pointed out that there were well-entrenched gangs in Barbados, formed at birth, but they haven’t had a massive social effect just yet because they are segregated by the 11-Plus.
I may be stretching his point into mine.
Esther’s column and that letter together constitute a good starting point for a rational debate – God knows we have to keep the Bible out of it – about where Barbados is heading, and what might be done to prevent or alleviate an imminent uprising that will, when it comes, startle the upper and middle crusts of “Barbadian society” and force Barbados to reconsider herself fundamentally.
I know what I’m talking about; I’m from Trinidad.
Esther observed – and this was “a few years ago” – gang behaviour reflects a genuine sub-culture. She wrote of ritualistic graveside cussing and the symbolic throwing of spliffs into the grave.
She wondered whether one individual standing in the broiling Bajan sun, was concealing a weapon below a leather, ankle-length trench coat. Though it adds drama to her piece, it probably was only the gangsta’s personal style.
In Trinidad, where gang culture has been formalised, rigidly observed one-day, non-aggression pacts allow rival gangs to attend funerals and make their contribution to the gangsta widows and orphans pensions: a Kangol cap is placed on the coffin and, one-by-one, gang members, first from the decedent’s own and then rival gangs, walk past, remove an item of gold from their own bodies – a chain, a bracelet, a gold tooth if the brothers were that close – and throw them into the hat.
At the grave, gang members line up by order of rank and, one by one, formally throw their own spadeful of dirt. All the while, the “widow” or “widows” shriek dramatically; children look on, and learn.
Since abolition, West Indian ruling sectors in what remain neo-slave societies have been labouring to keep the masses in servitude; though their efforts have been largely successful, the focus is wrong. Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace has pointed out that our challenge is not how you keep people in chains, but how you set them free.
For many generations, young black Caribbean men have been held down, one way or another. This PlayStation generation, though, will not be tamed by church or jail, by praying or whipping.
Gangs are their own response to a fundamentally unfair social structure, in which where you’re born or your skin colour may determine a lifetime of privilege or its absence. Using force against them deepens the pool of violence from which they emerge, widens the gap between “them” and “us” and increases the force of their backlash.
How we, Caribbean people, decide to handle young black men will decide the Caribbean itself. Will they remain our problem? Or will they become part of our solution?
 
 B.C. Pires may be a lone wolf, but he is not crying wolf.

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