Prayer for peace in East Port of Spain

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Spiritual Baptist preacher Fabrice Parker in a moment of prayer with Isha Wells during an open air prayer vigil at Piccadilly Street, East Port of Spain on March 23. – Photo by Roger Jacob

The sound of gunshots rang out just as the bell rang for the start of an open-air prayer vigil for peace at the Greens on Piccadilly Street, East Port of Spain on March 23. It was a pore-raising reminder of the reason why over 40 people had gathered at the event.

The vigil was organised by community activist Isha Wells in collaboration with Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland and the Oludumare Temple of Light Obatala Shrine following the drive-by shooting where 11-year-old Ezekiel Paria in Laventille was killed on February 23, exactly one month ago.

The vigil began around the same time a gang-related shooting took place in Harpe Place, Port of Spain on March 16, which left five people dead and three injured.

Spiritual Shouter Baptist and Orisha leader Fabrice Barker said he answered Wells’ call because the issue of fighting crime was important, regardless of religion, politics, or race.

“I don’t have to be friends with Isha, or with the minister, but I am a Trinidadian and anything in Trinidad has to do with me. And if something is going wrong somewhere, as a spiritualist, as a Baptist, it’s my responsibility to be part of the solution and not the problem.

“There is no division here today, no division in Spiritual Baptist, no division in Orisha, no division in Muslim, no division in Christianity, no division in Hinduism. There is one people, God’s people. That’s what Spiritual Baptist is about, it’s about all nations. We come together under one banner to get it done.”

He called on the gangs to put down their weapons and resolve their issues. He said one of the brothers cut a proof from the Book of Jeremiah which spoke about speaking to the kings.

“I want to send a message to the kings of the Sixx, to the kings of Seven, to the kings of the 9, whatever number you fall under, we need peace. We are asking to find a way to resolve whatever issues. They will know that way, and they will find that way because too many of our innocents are dying by the wayside.”

Barker said crime was a business that would never stop, and if crime stopped, lawyers, attorneys, and even journalists would have little to do.

Resident Marlon Thomas said although he was fasting for Ramadan, the issue of fighting crime was important enough that he had to speak. He said after the killing of Paria, the area became heavy.

“Compassion and empathy are what it takes to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, as well as information about the situation and the person. A lot of us here are parents, so we know the information about being a parent. All of us can put ourselves in the shoes of parents who’ve lost children. How many of our young people have to die before we realize we’re in a state of war?”

He said while he couldn’t deny the grief and trauma experienced by young people who were drawn to gangs, he said people should also be responsible for the young people in their communities who were being neglected, abused or bullied.

“A lot of what we are calling killers are advantaged children who have no other way to survive except joining people and listening to what people say. We also have the influence of the puncheon and the pills they pop, and when we say we’re praising God and Allah, they’re calling themselves demons. This is why it’s important for us to be out here.”

Ezekiel Paria – Photo courtesy Melissa Huggins

Thomas called on the gangs and the gunmen to put down their guns, although he said they wouldn’t do it.

“As a father, a brother, a neighbor, a man who does walk his child to school through this neighborhood, I plead with you people, give our children and families a chance. They deserve the chance to develop to their fullest potential. And I know y’all understand this, because you have children, nieces, and nephews, who go to school too, and no matter how bad you think you is or how big your gun is, if one of them gets killed, there’s nothing you can do to bring them back. That child has been lost, and you could go out and kill 15 people, and it would not remove the loss of that child.”

Thomas said community members should go into schools and work with young people so they could see there were alternatives to gang violence.

A poet identified only as Marley said he had been taught to not show any emotion and not to take things on, but questioned this.

“How not to take it on when you started out with a class of 118 people, but only 80 were now living? How not to take it on where every two weeks you have to put on your school uniform to attend a funeral?” He shared a spoken-word poem calling on the youth of his generation to stop killing each other.

Wells said there had been two peace treaties in the area, which lasted 60 and 90 days respectively.

“With the amount of violence that has happened recently, I can’t go to anybody and tell them about a peace treaty. It’s reached a level where I’m afraid to entertain a peace treaty conversation because the war has gotten to a part where they’re not looking at you as an individual, but looking at who you’re associated with. So it’s either you’re associated with a number or you’re not, because the numbers are running the scene now. So many innocent people have died because of this numbers thing. It is frightening.”

Community member Kingsley Kingsley said he was deeply disappointed not to see more of the law-abiding members of the community at the vigil, especially the mothers.

“We’re not here to pick a side, but we’re out here to tell Sixx and Seven we love them, because all yuh know we, and we know them. We’re here to tell them we are one.

“Our country falling apart, it’s out of control, and nobody cares. Who are we going to blame? We have to blame ourselves. Where’s our mothers, where’s our fathers? They’re frightened, they’re scared and no one to save us. We come here and call on our African gods to help us, but we’re not trying to help ourselves, so how do we expect God to help us?”

He said the parents of young people involved in gangs had not passed down the home training their parents had given them.

“They couldn’t come outside certain hours, but they let us do it. Them couldn’t go party, them couldn’t go by a friend and stay, they would have had to sneak out. They didn’t know about boyfriend and girlfriend.”

Other speakers said the spot where the vigil was being held was the site of the Canboulay riots, which made it powerful.

A resident said the crime level was getting ridiculous.

“They’re not even looking, they’re just shooting, it’s terrible.”

Another resident said the gangs were a result of lazy parenting and lazy children. He said the support of the elders in the community was needed.

“I’m 62 and I’ve seen the violence rise and fall. These children are living in family houses. They never build any house. We’re allowing them too much space. My son or my grandson can’t have my community uncomfortable and I passing people and telling them morning still. So this is what we’re going to work on, take care of your child or their friend or the police going to kill them, but we want to live in peace.”

Police vehicles periodically drove past the tent where the event was held, occasionally stopping to chat with participants.