Why I am exercising my right to protest in Trinidad & Tobago

Feature image via Canva Pro.

By Lisa Allen-Agostini

In Trinidad and Tobago, where there will be an anti-crime march and rally on Human Rights Day, our history is peppered with protest. We had the Water Riots in 1903, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler’s Hunger March in 1935, and the February Revolution in 1970. On any given Monday we block roads with burning tires, picket government offices, or drive with our headlights on to protest for better living conditions, better wages, better lives.

That’s why it’s ironic that some Trinbagonians’ first response to the idea of another march against homicide and violent crime is, “What’s the point?”

The organising group, Project 600, takes its name from a grim statistic: the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service says there were 599 murders reported in this small Caribbean nation in 2022. By December 31, 2023, we may well pass that number. This particular march is not merely a protest of alarm; it is also a gesture of mourning. Far too many of our people, citizens and residents have died this year as victims of violence. What is the point of another march when we could numbly stumble into 2024, stepping over the river of blood flowing in 2023’s wake?

Trinidad and Tobago, an independent republic, population 1.2 million, is an economic and social hub in the Caribbean. Fueled by gas and oil revenues, it is considered a developed country and the World Bank estimates its GDP per capita at USD 18,222. This is a prosperous land. And yet.

Gas and oil revenues don’t trickle down to my street. Our road is so potholed as to be almost undriveable. We get piped water perhaps twice a week. It’s supposed to be supplemented by a truck-borne water supply, but water trucks do not like to navigate the steep and twisting ways — not to mention the terrifying reputation for gun violence — of my unplanned, hillside, working-class community. Government work programmes are some of the area’s biggest employers. Girls from here finish school; boys might not. It is not an address you want to put on an employment application form should you even have the qualifications to apply for a job in the legitimate economy. Not all the boys who drop out wind up employed in the hungry, booming illegal drugs economy, but many of them do.

In the 12 years since I moved up here, some of the boys and men in my neighbourhood have been casualties of the brutal business practices of the gun-toting gangs that seem to come automatically with the illegal drugs trade. My community is not an outlier. Increasingly, working-class communities like mine are inundated in the same tide of impossible choices.

I joined the Project 600 committee in November, shortly after Isa Mohammed, a printer from Chaguanas in central Trinidad, had the idea to hold a public march against murder and violent crime. To carry out his brainchild, he and his wife Karen brought together a couple dozen people. One of them is Kirk Langton, a long-time friend of mine, who had managed another national anti-murder march in 2005. That year, there were 386 reported murders in Trinidad and Tobago. Arguably, if anyone should be jaded about another march against murder, it should be Kirk. But he's all for it.

Kirk was the one who pointed out in the committee group chat that December 10 is Human Rights Day, a coincidence we could not ignore. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says we have the right to life, liberty and security of person. In Trinidad and Tobago, crime is denying us these rights.

Those who live in areas with better roads and better addresses than mine live in gated, air-conditioned terror. Gun violence has seeped out of the ghettos and into the rest of the country and people — not “pests” or “cockroaches,” as police cruelly call gang members, but people from the legitimate economy — have been killed outside of popular bars. There have been brutal and fatal home invasions. Security of person? Ha. Liberty? Rather, the liberty to shiver in fear when you leave your house. Your life could be worth nothing at all if a stray bullet catches you. Violence, on the whole, seems endemic. Elderly people have been beaten and robbed after leaving the bank, young women have been abducted and murdered, their bodies left to rot. Schoolkids are killing each other. It is unspeakably bad.

Confidence in the police is low in my community and in many others like it. To understand this, one only has to read headlines about extrajudicial police killings and allegations about corrupt officers. What doesn’t make headlines is the everyday abuse of power by police who jack up any working-class boy or man walking on our streets past a certain hour, on principle.

Would speaking up about our trauma increase the bloodshed? Would it make violent crime worse if we grieve the victims who have been killed this year — by police, by gangs, by enraged relatives, by jealous partners? Would I make crime worse if I carried a flag in the march? The flags we will carry have a black diagonal stripe on a white field. They resemble the Trinidad and Tobago national flag, except that there’s no red in them. The red has bled out. I imagine it will make quite a visual: 600 volunteers, each carrying one of these dramatic flags, encircling the Queen’s Park Savannah, a vast green space in Port of Spain, the nation’s capital. We plan to rally afterwards to speak and call for better solutions to this endemic scourge.

I’m not a member of a political party. My own activism has largely been for the women’s movement, the LGBTQ community, children’s rights and the labour movement. I have never taken part in anything like this before but I’m moved to do so now because losing this many people every year is unsustainable, unthinkable. Other committee members might have political allegiances, as is their right to do. But it doesn’t come up in our group chat. This march is not about the party in power, the one in opposition, or any other political party. It is about people.

The Trinidad and Tobago government undoubtedly has plans to deal with crime. After a regional summit in Port of Spain in April, Trinidad and Tobago signed the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) declaration of war on guns and gang violence. In its 2024 National Budget, the government committed billions of dollars to national security, and has promised to more than triple the number of police recruits. But it is incumbent on the citizens in a democracy to speak up for themselves and participate in these solutions. It’s not only a right; it is a responsibility.

Lisa Allen-Agostini is the author of the domestic noir novel “The Bread the Devil Knead” (Myriad Editions UK, 2021), which was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2022.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.