Since 2000 there has been a sharp general increase in the murder rate in Trinidad. The annual average is currently 28 murders per 100,000 (Seepersard 2016). The majority of these murders are gun-related, and the victims are predominantly people racialized as black who belong to communities categorized as low-income and as crime hotspots (Kerrigan 2015). This has led to the general demonization and marginalization of these crime hotspots marked as warzones among the Trinidadian public. Alongside the rise in intra-community murders, there has also been a rise in extrajudicial violence. Approximately 400 young black men and women have been killed by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in the last 10 years, according to data provided by the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. Most of these deaths have gone without largescale public protest or memorial, which suggests a broad acceptance among the population of the disposability of life marked as criminal.
As power regimes across the globe continually conflate Black being and violent criminality to enable exclusion and rationalize deadly forms of punishment, it is theoretically timely and politically necessary to study how criminalization operates and the spaces of freedom people forge. My book project, entitled Come Out of This World: Beyond Terrains of Criminalization to Where Life is Precious explores the production and mobilization of the spatialized, gendered, and racialized figure of the violent criminal in Trinidad to dehumanize Black people living in certain areas of the capital city, Port of Spain, as well as the quotidian ways people invoke a decolonial and abolitionist world where their lives are seen as unconditionally precious.
Building on transnational scholarship of state violence that rejects the belief that racialized policing and anti-Blackness is an exceptional US condition, my research asks: What are the historical conditions that make possible a mode of existence defined by continuous exposure to violence and death? How does this mode of existence transgress ethical-juridical and nation-state borders to haunt Black people globally—even in territories founded on anti-colonial projects of Black sovereignty like Trinidad? What are the everyday practices that forge an otherwise to this mode of existence, a world where all life is treated as unconditionally precious?
At its core, my project looks at violence in multiple forms and at multiple scales--violence that takes life from this earth in quick and slow forms. I unpack the ways violence creates, permeates, and blurs boundaries both physical and symbolic. This means understanding how violence isolates communities from each other, dissolves fixed roles of victim and perpetrator (as persons at one scale are subjected to infringements on their being and at another scale make life more unlivable for others), and structures relations of policing. This project must then also look at care. The way care is entangled with violence to manage life; the ways life is cared for even as it is pushed to its edge; the way life is cared for after it is terminated; and the ways care can make life unconditionally precious. Overall, I look at what is framed presently as war within Trinidad (a war on crime said to be fueled by a war between gang factions), a situation marked by death, to think about life. The life people are subjected to due to geopolitical entanglements, universalizing systems of categorization, political economics, and the particular Trinidad and Tobago nationalist project; the life people make every day as they deal with the realities of the systems operating on them; and the life people dream of having and forge because of and despite their present realities.
A new world radically different from the one that we know often seems out of reach. Violence that simultaneously feels past, present, and future produces a collective sense of being stuck. Yet, we must come out of this world and bring a radically new one into being where all life is seen as unconditionally precious-- including life that is found responsible for harm against another. This is the ultimate aim of my research and practice.
2022. " To Be Black Is to . . . : The Production of Blackness in and beyond Trinidad."Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 26 (2): 108–118.
2021. Welcome, Leniqueca A, and Deborah A. Thomas. “Abstraction, Witnessing, and Repair: or, How Multimodal Research Can Destabilize the Coloniality of the Gaze.” Multimodality & Society 1(3): 391-406.
2020. “The Infrastructures of Liberation at the End of the World: A Reflection on Disaster in the Caribbean.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 24 (2): 96–109.