My work centers on this statement where life is precious as I try to render, though always incomplete, the forms of disposable life multiple intersecting scales of violence produce and the ongoing everyday work into making a world where life is unconditionally precious. My dissertation project, entitled “Where Life is Precious: The Terrains of Criminalization, Violence, and Freedom in Trinidad,” interrogates the formulation of the figure of the “violent criminal” in Trinidad. It examines how state actors, the media, and civil society in Trinidad mobilize this figure to dehumanize people living in certain areas of the capital city, Port of Spain, subjecting them to what I term criminal life. Criminal life is a mode of being defined by surveillance, policing, and proximity to death.
There has been a general increase in the murder rate in Trinidad since 2000, with an annual average of 28 murders per 100,000. The majority of these murders have been gun-related, and the victims have predominantly been people racialized as Black who belong to communities categorized as low-income and as crime hotspots. 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 (TTPS) in the last 10 years according to data provided by the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch of the TTPS. This is the result of a war on crime where the police are permitted to exercise total punishing force in marginalized urban geographies marked as breeding grounds for criminality in the name of preserving the nation-state. Most of these deaths have gone without public protest or memorial, which suggests a broad acceptance among the population of the disposability of criminal life.
Building on transnational scholarship of state violence that rejects the belief that racialized policing and anti-Blackness is an exceptional US condition, my dissertation 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, structures relations of policing, but 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. 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. 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 i.e. 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.