We are discussing two issues in Barbados in an unrelated way that, when I think to bring them to the discussion table together, can assist in revealing the dangerous and hopeless direction in which our national security policies are heading.
There is a chorus of concern currently about the changes to the powers of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF). The calls for more consultation on the measures have fallen on the usual deaf ears that meet any kind of concern under the current government. Social activists are engaged in writing and discussion to try to increase public awareness about the problematic nature of the expansion of police powers and the possible threats to constitutional and human rights.
At the exact same time that we are engaged in this national discourse, and almost in the same breath in which some of us are expressing concerns about the deracination of our freedoms and liberties, there is a call for the reduction of the rights and liberties of school children. One of the most widely touted solutions to manage the seemingly spiraling increase in school violence is the installation of metal detectors at entry points of schools.
If what we are ashamed of is the name of a school being associated with a fight or a fight occurring on school premises, then metal detectors are the solution. If what we wish to do is understand the deep seated reasons for violence in schools and create strategies and curricula to address those, then we could save the million or so it will end up costing to install metal detectors and invest it in rehabilitation programmes and parent training.
As with the wider society, we can take two approaches to crime. We can institute curfews and continue to diminish personal liberties in the short term as a crime fighting strategy, or we can ask ourselves the hard questions and be prepared to reform our educational system, justice system and the way that we address child abuse, neglect and dysfunctional families in Barbados. The difference between dealing with it 20 years ago and now is that it was not engrained in the educational system then as it is now. Nevertheless, 20 years later is still a better time to start than 20 years beyond 20 years later.
Curfews and metal detectors will give us a false sense of security that could allow us to turn our eye away from this problem. By the time it resurfaces, we would have lost another few children because we preferred to institute military solutions to social problems!
I am not one of the parents in favour of allowing anyone to subject my children to a metal detector check in order to enter their school. I am no more in favour of this than I am of giving two people, one of whom has not faced the electorate of Barbados to secure a mandate, the power to cordon off any area of Barbados and then search houses and people.
A leader of Barbados once said that Barbados is no banana, plantain or fig republic. If we accept that to be the case, why then do we seem to be courting more and more the tactics and strategies that seem more associated with dictators and other people who have turned their nations into banana, plantain or fig republics?
There is desperation and shortsightedness in the quest to push Barbados toward being a military state. Even if it will alleviate a perceived or real imminent threat, it does nothing to create any kind of positive philosophical and sustainable strategy for this country. Perhaps if the measures had come at the height of the upsurge in violence last year, I would have been persuaded. Perhaps had I not been a teacher in the Government teaching service and known that what social media is bringing to our attention currently is in no way new or escalated, I would be persuaded. Coming, however, on the heels of a dying administration that seems resolute on holding on to every drip and drain of power there is to hold, there is just something uncomfortable about the level of militancy being proposed as the way to manage our society.
I have heard the question about whether my children travel and whether they do not go through airport metal detectors. There we go throwing the apples among the oranges! When my children travel out of Barbados they are dealing with traversing sovereign spaces. Metal detectors and security checks are done in that context. While a citizen of America has the right to carry a firearm under circumstances in his country, a citizen of Barbados does not in the same way. There are then international maritime and aviation laws which bring all citizens to a basic requirement that overarches his sovereign liberties.
That cannot be compared to subjecting my children to searches as a part of them going to school in the land of their birth. Do we recognize that if we teach our students that the way to manage violence and illicit possessions in the school setting is through installing metal detectors, that we will have to install them on the bus, at the entrance and exit to Broad Street, in the church, at the top and bottom of the Crop Over routes—do you see how I could quickly run out of printed space here?!
Let us just accept that our school system needs urgent and deep reform. Let us also accept that the Child Care Board has been just as, if not more dysfunctional than, the families of the most vulnerable children who are now presenting problems in the school system. Let us accept that to keep trying to push these children and their problems further from sight is not going to help them or us. For once, let us actually fix a problem and save a few lives in the process. Let us do a different thing for a different result.