Sometime last year Barbados faced an upsurge in gun crime and lawlessness among schoolchildren both at school and on public transportation.
I remember there was the usual knee-jerk discussion about how we could manage the occurrences. The two most popular suggestions were to put metal detectors in schools and increase the penalties for having illegal guns and ammunition.
Publicly, I had been very critical of installing metal detectors in school, making the point that we were willing to criminalize the entire school population of Barbados because of small sections of it who needed adequate social interventions.
We were willing to permanently adjust school environments with metal detectors without addressing the underlying problems causing the behaviour.
In the aftermath of the brawl that occurred after the Crop Over Fete, Puff of Colour, and a fatal shooting after a cruise on the MV Dream Chaser, I am now hearing similar solutions put forward to address the continued escalation of crime in Barbados.
We should ban all night cruises and we should not hold Crop Over fetes in quarries. We are now a year beyond where we were the last time we had this discussion. Still, many people prefer to have the discussion removed from a deep analysis of where this country cumulatively finds itself.
There are a group of people who sit on the periphery of Barbados. Although we have given them citizenship by virtue of them being born here, I do not know that we have done enough to make them feel as though they have a vested interest in this country, its national psyche or their commitments to it.
In many cases, but not all, these young people have lived in neighbourhoods where alternate cultural norms have been instilled.
Television and popular culture mainly in reggae music from Jamaica and rap from America have made these young people identify more with gun, drug and hustler ways of life than any model of existence that we have imparted from the centre.
Apart from living on the periphery of the Barbadian psyche, these young people find themselves clinging more to their ‘thug life’ mentalities and find themselves reinforcing each other’s beliefs and norms in a number of overcrowded and highly stigmatized secondary schools.
The public transport system of minibuses and maxi taxis glorify the culture that runs counter in many ways to basic Barbadian values. What has happened, seemingly more unintentionally than otherwise, is that we have fostered another Barbados with another set of values and beliefs.
Many of us were happy and comfortable with the two ‘Barbadoses’ that existed because the Barbados to which most of us belonged, the one where there was much pride and still enough industry, seemed to be holding its own in relation to the iterations.
Now, we are at the point where what we all germinated and allowed is now pressing against every aspect of our traditional value system.
The money that has been amassed through the alternative modes of employment that sprung up in these neighbourhoods and among the people on the periphery of this society now allows them to go where we go, fete where we fete and enjoy all the modern comforts.
We cannot think that banning people will solve the crime. Actually, I will admit that I cannot think of any potentially effective short-term solutions to our crime situation.
The reality is that we are living in a more violent Barbados and the only thing that we can all do to ensure our safety is to take the necessary precautions for our person and property. Making the precautions can also serve another useful purpose.
It can help us to come to terms with where we are in Barbados.
Over the medium and long-term, there will have to be engagements with the neighbourhoods, schools, and environments that have nurtured and built up the alternate Barbadian culture. Simply judging the culture and dismissing it will not persuade its adherents to turn away. This culture provides community, identity, and security to its members.
There is also an entire economy and monetary system that has grown up to support this alternate Barbados.
Money begets money and anytime there is money to be made, the culture supporting the enterprise will be seen as useful.
This, to me, is the significant part of the discussion about the current crime wave that people seem not willing to discuss.
The crime is a part of an industry that is alive and well in Barbados. The point of industry is also perhaps where the two ‘Barbadoses’ meet. The gains and profits of the alternate Barbados find their way into the original Barbados and then it becomes hard to delink the two and confront crime.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: [email protected])