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Raffique Shah


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Killing Us Noisily

By Raffique Shah
January 4, 2015

Eight o'clock Saturday morning and as I start writing this column, all is quiet on my block, suspiciously so. It's cool and sunny, and I hear birds chirping, see them flying past my windows. Butterflies add a colourful touch to this gift of nature, a peaceful cul-de-sac located mere metres away from a busy, noisy, dusty main road.

While the idyllic picture I paint can be envisioned by the more romantic as being on par with its equivalent in the English countryside or villages in rural Europe, that comparison can be deceptive. Because at any moment, the hour of the day or night being irrelevant, pounding, jarring noise can erupt, a neighbour or someone living a mile away shattering the tranquillity with super-amplified sounds, not of music, but of a cacophony that has stamped itself as representing the culture of Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, I hasten to add that while I dismiss today's oppressive soca and chutney fares as tripe, an assault on the auditory senses, I am a fanatic for melodious, enchanting music of yesteryear from bards such as Sparrow, Kitchener, Yankarran, Taran, Shorty, Maestro, Nelson, Blakie—to name a few of the masters who were proficient at combining clever lyrics with sweet melodies which they delivered with vocal chords nurtured in honey.

But let me not stray: this column is about noise, not music.

The evolution of amplification that has brought into being small to mid-sized sound systems that can fit in a car but pack the punch of big music trucks, has violently altered this country's noise quotient and noise pollution levels. Nowadays, in any average community that was once peaceful, there are dozens or scores of residents who own such systems, and who believe that they are entitled to inflict punishing noise on their neighbours at any hour, night or day.

It matters not that the victims are newborn babies or the old and infirm, or just ordinary citizens who are entitled to enjoy peace and quiet, to get some sleep at nights. So callous are the offenders, they could not be bothered that their boorish behaviour affects students who are studying for important examinations or patients who need rest to recover from illnesses.

These inconsiderate people do not care about their own well-being, far less the lives of others. I cannot understand why they believe that their neighbours or persons living miles away from them are interested in their music, or what they call music.

I have focussed on this aspect of noise-trauma because it's a year-round crime (oh yes, such behaviour is criminal!) that is national in scope, and because those who are empowered to take action against the offenders, the police and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), bluntly refuse to act.

I know of victims who, traumatised by pounding noise at ungodly hours, in desperation call their neighbourhood police stations to plead for intervention, only to be abused, even threatened, by officers on duty. And you thought only who use a wheelchair are at risk from bullying cops?

This country has descended into a din of inequity that peaks during festivities-which are almost once a month. We have just emerged from Christmas and New Year celebrations during which the pounding music was boosted by millions of noisy fireworks and deafening firecrackers. I don't know what the current laws are on the sale, possession and usage of pyrotechnics, but I know that many of the natives who must have these explosives use them indiscriminately and dangerously.

As they rang in the New Year in my neighbourhood, residents who could afford to blow $1,000-plus in an hour did just that-which I did not mind. Let the people enjoy themselves. However, there are a few miscreants who seem to have bought crates of explosives (scratch-bombs) that they have been setting off nightly, well before Christmas, and continuing.

Now, I know a thing or three about explosives, hence I know how dangerous these devices are. Each stick has a minuscule amount of explosive (probably plastic…C-4) that is triggered by a fuse and a detonator. If one were to explode in the user's hand, it could cause serious injury. If some fool were to tape together, say, ten such "bombs" and detonate them, the explosion could be huge, destructive.

The police and authorities charged with overseeing national security must know these facts, hence the potential for mischief.

The devices are widely sold and easily available. Fireworks can be sold legally but scratch-bombs are illegal.

But not one person has been charged with its importation, distribution or possession-not this year or previously.

Are they waiting for some devious person to put ten and ten together and ignite a powerful bomb before they attempt to act? Besides the annoying noise, "scratch-bombs" are downright dangerous and should be banned from this country.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith promotes the "broken windows" method of policing. Well, Minister, we do not have many broken windows in this country. But noise pollution and disturbance of the peace are rampant, the offenders legion.

Maybe if you focus in this direction you can curb the lawlessness that is killing law-abiding citizens not softly, but very noisily.

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