Patrick Martin, MD
Resident Citizen & Student
An insurgency is a threat to the authority of the State. The Federation is beset with targeted killings, drive-by shootings and the ambushing of individuals, passenger and taxi buses, delivery vans, and financial institutions, some at high noon. The insurgents amongst us display absolute contempt for law and order, have no regard for the sanctity of human life and blatantly disrespect private property. This sub-culture of violent males and their female accomplices has to be erased for our country to truly be a place “where peace abounds”.
The recurring orgies of violent crime should not shock. The early 1980s saw the nation’s homes becoming saturated with incessant gun and other violence imported via cable television programming. Today’s unsupervised youngsters are the second generation to be overly exposed with video games and the internet in the mix. There are children who leave primary school barely able to read but can recite “Get rich quick or die trying” lyrics, back to front. Such is the desensitization to violence that, while the sounds of gunshots cause some persons to shudder in terror, others relish the adrenaline rush of the blood and guts of a crime scene. Images adorn webpages and text messages. Facebook bristles with glee at the loss of life.
The label “insurgency” was used during a 2010 meeting between the staff of the JNF Hospital and high-ranking officials of the security forces. At that time, internecine gang warfare was causing blood to flow in ambulances and the emergency room. Havoc was created when bullets whizzed near the heads of staff. A busy parking lot, sports events, hospital ward, church yard, the cemetery – nowhere is immune to the firing of shots. The recent bloodshed is more proof that the insurgency has morphed from inter-gang beefs to the terrorization of civilians and businesses. The turn of the century denial of the existence of a gang problem is a haunting recollection. Back then, even a caveman could read the gun smoke signals.
Over the years, key research findings on youth violence have been shared with the public and officialdom. “Gangs plus a local supply of guns and drugs are a potent mixture.”(World Report on Violence, WHO, 2001). “… Drug trafficking and related crimes … have the potential to threaten the stability of the small, democratic countries of the Eastern Caribbean and, to varying degrees, have damaged civil society in all of these countries…” (International Narcotic Control Strategy Report 2003). “… Drugs are fueling current wave of criminal activity …. ” (late Patrick Manning, PM Trinidad & Tobago and the then CARICOM Lead Spokesperson on Security, quoted from media report 26/03/08).
Translation: In the Federation, although conception can result from violence (rape), no infant is born to be violent. Violence inculcation occurs in homes that specialize in producing marginalized, misguided, molested and angry children and adolescents. In such disaffected youth, the call of street can be irresistible by age 14 because there is money to be made, and respect to be gained, from supplying the insatiable drug demand caused by residents and visitors alike. If the drug supply chain declines, one can diversify to internet scamming, selling stolen laptops and smart phones, and armed robbery. The more the money and bling, the more the girls “rush you”. Guns are used protect product and human inventories from competitors. Movement across island and continental borders may occur with relative ease.
When will the carnage cease? Can it be “stamped out”? Where do we start?
What does history tell us? Slavery was abolished, not because Massa had an epiphany, but because slave holding became too expensive to be profitable. Similarly, the violence is a real and present threat, not only to life and limb, but also to the economy. Last weekend’s deadly ambush may be an inflection point in much-touted fight against crime and violence. Seemingly, a line has been crossed. Urgent calls for action echo again across the pervasive political and income divides. This apparent “juncture of maturation” (Henry Kissinger) will be more "froth than mauby" if there is no immediate, tangible and sustained demonstration of resolve.
A national dialogue is needed but that is a process whose output will likely be another multi-point anti-crime plan. Process and output sound and look good on paper but should generate a loud “been there done that”. Effective counter-insurgency is about outcomes and impact i.e. solutions for meaningful and measurable improvement in the security situation.
Regarding solutions, recall the impact of the gut-wrenching process of “truth and reconciliation” in South Africa. The commission (a national dialogue of sorts) prevented anarchy in the immediate aftermath of apartheid. Indeed, to systematically address crime and violence in the Federation requires truth (evidence) and reconciliation (confession and forgiveness) plus solidarity to drive the all-important political will to do what the national evidence says must be done.
The indications suggest an immediate response along two fronts - one by the security sector to quell the insurgency, the other by the social sector to curtail the homegrown insurgent production line.
Issues to be confronted and resolved include:
1. The menace that is the trafficking in drugs and humans. Syndicates operate across borders creating insurgency conditions in the affected domestic space. Counter-insurgency is a matter for the military not regular police.
2. The continued demonization of a plant called marijuana is impractical and expensive. State resources would be better spent facilitating research and innovation into rationale use and educating to prevent misuse and abuse.
3. “Man is a product of his mind” (Marcus Garvey). Violence is learned behaviour (a behaviour disorder). The epicenter of such “learning” is the pool of dysfunctional parents who are absent, permissive, or abusive. “Violence begets violence” (The Holy Grail). “If children live with hostility, they learn to fight” (Dorothy Law Nolte). “What is done to children, they will do to society” (Dr. Karl Menninger). Dysfunctional families are “factories of delinquency” (Prof. Ramesh Deosaran). “The breakdown of the social institutions that matter - Family, Community, and Democracy – yields the symptoms of social ill-health and decay” (David Korten, The Great Turning, 2007). Approximately 10% of the 650 newborns in the Federation are high risk for a toxic early childhood which increases the likelihood of inculcating and displaying antisocial behaviour. This is matter for the most robust Child Protection.
3. Most of the mothers of youth violence are girls (approximately 30 in 2015) who become new mothers every year. The fathers of youth violence include the pedophiles who commit statutory rape sometimes with the consent of a pimp called mother. “Parenting isn’t for cowards” (Dr. James Dobson). A well-trained Sexual Offences Unit was embodied in 1998 only to be disbanded in six months. It was reconstituted a few years ago. A critical success factor of the national dialogue will be a firm bipartisan commitment to sustain the unit.
4. Children learn by imitation. In January 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated: “Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behaviour, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.”
Wholesale importation of the worst of US television is a mistake. “[A culture] of narcissism, instant gratification, and objectification of females [is] fed by youth over-exposure to the perpetual bombardment of materialism, sex and violence spewing from most US television programming” (adapted from Cornel West, Democracy Matters, 2004). There is need for a national commission to regulate content in the national interest.
5. According to Université de Montréal investigations: “Negative behaviour at age 6, such as fighting, disobedience, and a lack of empathy, predicted criminal convictions by age 24” (Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, March 2013). Local experience is that similarly “at risk” children are identified in Grade 1 and before. The earlier the expert intervention with the family, the better the outcome. The existing counselling service is overwhelmed. Optimal staffing should be a frim recommendation of the national dialogue and reflected in the 2017 Estimates.
When violence flares, the public spotlight shines on the Police who are invariably summoned to account. This automatic reaction should be tempered because the Federation is not a police state and the Police Service is not a social welfare organization. Today’s insurgents were yesterday’s juvenile offender whose anti-social actions were vehemently defended by their hostile parents.
Therefore, the national dialogue is called to lead the Federation out of “head in the sand” skirting around the issues surrounding the responsibilities of parents, and the protection of children and women. The agenda should be configured as to yield a data-driven and forthright agenda for holistic human development which includes due regard for the natural environment, human rights, justice, pubic security, public safety, public order, public health and public education.
The Machiavellian principle must be kept uppermost: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things”. There are men and women who materially benefit from the exploitation of children and women, and violence, on a whole. This hard core element will not easily give up their derived pleasures and income. They will resist at all costs even at the expense of the economy built on the blood, sweat and tears of the ancestors.
Socioeconomic failure is not an option. Martin Luther King should be invoked: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
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