As violent crime continues to overwhelm us, I noted last week the prime minister’s apparent adoption of the concept of violence as ‘a public health issue’ and his intention (unnecessarily as we shall see) to seek the assistance of a foreign expert on the subject.
The concept has been around since the 90s. It gained renewed prominence recently when the mayor of London referenced it in connection with the spate of knife stabbing crimes in London.
The prime minister’s reference caused me to wonder whether he was now able to answer his own questions, uttered recently when mourning the brutal murder of a childhood buddy: “What have we become? What are we producing as the next generation?”
In response, I asked why have we become so and asserted that the brutal and destructive citizens of our country did not produce themselves. The ‘we’ that has produced the next generation is our failed leadership over several generations since independence (57 years ago yesterday).
The official part of Independence Day celebrations is symbolic of our continuing mimic of colonial pomp and ceremony and brings to mind Naipaul’s caricatures.
In Mimic Men, Naipaul has his caricature politician saying of his failure to be re-elected: “The career of a colonial politician is short and ends brutally; we lack power, and do not understand that we lack power. We mistake words and the acclamation of words for power, as soon as our bluff is called we are lost”.
Since independence, our prime ministers have great power, but often they, and other ministers, feed us buzz words to mask the absence of policy. I have to hope that, on this occasion, the prime minister’s reference to violence as a public health issue is not a mere acclamation of words given what other commentators and I have been saying for more than a decade about violent crime.
In 2003, I wrote that “the violence which is now so prevalent is a result of a dysfunctional society to which no enlightened education and social development policies have been applied. There is great worry that the drug trade and the control of Special Works will lead us into institutionalised political violence.”
In 2006, in the course of lamenting the then government’s indifference to wanton killings, I quoted a British criminologist, Professor Roger Hood, as calling on our government in June of that year “to institute an urgent independent investigation into the social and economic reasons for crime and why the police are not effectively solving murders”.
As indicated, foreign expertise is unnecessary. What about first re-examining the report of the cabinet-appointed committee chaired by our own Professor Selwyn Ryan, which in 2013 reported in response to terms of reference requiring the committee to inquire into the causes of criminality and to propose possible solutions to the challenges?
In its report, No time to quit. Engaging youth at risk, it stated: “It became obvious to us that the propensity to crime resulted from certain conditions, including broken and dysfunctional families, juvenile delinquency, peer rejection, failure or disruptive behaviour at school, gang membership and incarceration. This is matched by the availability of drugs, numerous opportunities for young men to gravitate to crime as an easy but dangerous way to earn a living, and a marked change in societal values over the last six decades since the promise of independence.”
The committee proposed solutions speaking to “the need for integrated governance, community empowerment, a comprehensive youth development policy and a social contract that espouses poverty eradication, adequate housing, an improved education system, family support, health and wellness and enriching leisure and creative activities.”
It directed its recommendations to “the need for economic equity, differentiated curricula, the importance of basic life skills and the holistic development of the individual”, sharply focusing on educational reform and “along with the formal system of education, a more imaginative and socially relevant effort is needed. We position the media and those involved in popular culture as partners in this struggle to reclaim the lives of young men.”
How ironic that the recent Carifesta arrangements should have disrespected the steelband movement, one of the best available partners in popular culture.