Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Sociology, Power and Crime

My name is Vereuch Simmons,

I am a Post Graduate student at the University of the West Indies. Please find my op-ed submission attached.

The French philosopher Michel Foucault is known for coining the phrase, “power is everywhere”. By this he meant power is in every institution and interaction found in civil society and everyday life.

Power shapes how people interact with and access all things in the modern world. If this is so, how might power relate to violence and individuals residing in low income areas throughout Trinidad and Tobago?

The long dead British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes stated that "Covenants, without the sword are but words", which translated into modern speak means that a constitution that is not backed by military power is but a mere document.

Violence in the form of military power is one of the founding principles of any and all modern states including Trinidad and Tobago. While Trinidad and Tobago may have been handed independence by the British government, the oppressive nature of the governance style transferred the brutalities of colonialism too.

Karl Marx states that, “every society harbors the seeds of its successor just as every individual harbors the seeds of its offspring”. This explains why the vast inequalities still exist in Trinidad and Tobago and continue to grow. Although we may not be under colonial rule, the seed of colonialism has grown into the immortelle tree under which the Trinbagonian society exists.

The economic disparity is constantly increasing; the poorer classes are stigmatized and grouped into “hot spots;” socially degraded by the more fortunate citizens. One may then wonder how does this affect the power dynamics of the country?

The US’s greatest sociologist, C Wright Mills, wrote that all politics is a struggle for power and the ultimate kind of power is violence. Since in general the poorer classes have been excluded from direct participation in any constructive way in local politics, they are forced to take extreme measures and make their voices heard by utilizing the ultimate kind of power, violence.

Trinidad and Tobago now has a rapidly increasing culture of violence in all aspects of life; within the home, the community and the nation at large. There are now more murders, stabbings, shooting, beatings and other forms of assault than have ever existed. However is it by coincidence that we tend to see the prevalence of these acts in the low income communities?

Another famous US scholar, economist Charles Engel, argues that violence is the accelerator of economic development. If his teaching holds true, can this simply mean that the rise in violence in low income communities is a cry for economic development?

While the Central Bank has reported that the nation has been having positive economic growth for the better part of the last decade, people in low income communities have been having less and less economic power because as other groupings of society gain more money, their economic power grows thus decreasing the economic power of the low income communities.

This loss is not only in the bank account of the low income residents but is mirrored by a loss of political trust (as politicians are less likely to deal with issues of these communities) and the loss of national respect (as low income communities face discrimination from the stronger economic citizens throughout the country).

At the base of all these problems lies one fundamental issue: poverty. Poverty takes away power that a normal citizen would possess and in order to compensate, violence becomes the equalizing strategy.

Mao Tse-tung , the founding father of the People’s Republic of China says, “power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, so is it a mere coincidence that guns are abundant now more than ever in low income communities.

While this is not to look at this issue in isolation - the drug economy obviously plays a large part in the supply of guns - the motive for involvement in the drug economy is all tied back to increasing one’s economic power and thus one’s power as a citizen.

If politicians are serious about fighting “violent crime”, the redistribution of economic power should form the basis of all policy and government initiatives. It is not until a balance of power is achieved throughout the nation that we can make any headway as a people in the fight against violent crime.

Vereuch Simmons
Poverty and Social Policy
Research Assistant at UNDP
Trinidad and Tobago

Vereuch Simmonsis the founder of SpeakUpTT. He is a well-traveled, highly ambitious individual who has continually excelled academically. He obtained his BA in Political Science from Florida International University where he first became involved in social activism. Since then he has worked on a plethora of projects focused on public information, human capacity building and policy development. He is currently pursuing a Msc In Government at the University of West Indies and working on a host of community and national development projects.

The suggestion that poverty breeds criminals and justifies violent crime of the type that we are witnessing in Trinidad and Tobago today is offensive and insulting to decent poor people.

The writer’s submission completely ignores the fact that the vast majority of poor people in our Society are honest, hardworking citizens who steadfastly refuse to allow their impoverished circumstances to turn them into violent criminals.

What may be true in other Societies is not always applicable to ours and while the nexus between poverty and crime may be an arguable and defendable hypothesis in some countries, in Trinidad and Tobago it is not, because there is no shortage of educational and self-empowerment opportunities, all State sponsored and absolutely free, to facilitate the escape from the trap of poverty.

But for whatever reason(s), the acquisition of a good quality education and/or marketable, employable skills are not priorities for many of our young and not so young citizens who make deliberate choices to do bad with their lives and their children’s lives, to inflict pain, wreak havoc on Society and become parasitic burdens on the State. While a social net is needed to help the genuinely less fortunate in society, the Government is nobody’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ and it is certainly not any group's Santa Claus.

What is needed in Trinidad and Tobago to eradicate violent crime is the political will to confront the violence of the minority criminal element with the greater and lawful violence of the State. What we most certainly do not need or want is the “redistribution of economic power” (the writer's submission) driven by misguided government policies and initiatives that seek to artificially and gratuitously empower those who not wish to empower themselves by tried, tested and proven means.

Why should those who study, work hard, pay taxes and make sacrifices but yet save enough to live honestly and comfortably and in turn educate their children be denied or forced to share the economic power and privileges to which they are entitled with others who contribute absolutely nothing to the development of Society.

"Power does indeed grow out of the barrel of a gun" (Vereuch Simmons' submission) therefore the State must ensure that its legitimate power remain unchallenged and supreme, enforced as it should and must through the bigger barrels of superior Government guns.


  1. Excellent response indeed. People need to make sacrifices to succeed in life. Nothing comes free or with easy effort

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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