If one wanted further evidence that many of our young men – and women – are under siege, it was provided by St Thomas Member of Parliament Miss Cynthia Forde during debate on an amendment to the Offences Against The Person Act in the Lower House yesterday.
It has been previously pointed out by the hierarchy of the Royal Barbados Police Force that their intelligence gathered suggests that many individuals involved in criminal activity – especially the drug trade – are recruiting teenagers and some not much older, to carry out their nefarious instructions. These older thugs are operating on the premise that with an inefficient judicial system which has gone soft, that a twenty-year sentence for a teenage felon will still see that individual leaving prison before age 40. Indeed, with any luck, they will be granted bail for most serious offences including murder, or might inadvertently be helped by the police themselves who have made failure to produce crime files in a timely manner a new-age science.
Miss Forde who is charged with the portfolio of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs made the point during an excellent contribution that it was no longer a case of teenagers simply falling into bad company but that hardened criminals were actually targeting them for recruitment. “There seems to be a hardened kind of criminal in Barbados nurturing these young boys and girls and destroying the good fabric of this society…And it is so unfortunate that some of the biggest criminals seem to be targeting those young people, both boys and girls, and putting a gun in their hands, or getting them to take out somebody with whom they have a difficulty,” the veteran politician told the Lower Chamber.
Miss Forde, who has had the benefit of interacting with numerous young people in her former capacity as a school teacher, added: The young ones seem to be targeted. They are given firearms, they are given funds, perhaps they are given some narcotics too that that they could ply the trade after they carry out their assassination.” The minister noted that if a 17-year-old was convicted of manslaughter there was the high probability that the individual could be back on the streets by age 30. And as far as being “back on the streets” was concerned, Miss Forde also echoed a concern of many with respect to another new-age phenomenon that did not occur in Barbados a few decades ago. The MP said she had a tremendous problem with bail being granted to murder accused. “There are so many instances in Barbados that some of these individuals who have been given bail for murder cases that have not been fully tried, that they leave Dodds prison and they go back and commit some of the similar murders,” she noted.
The senior Barbados Labour Party politician’s every word rings true. The pictures of misguided accused smiling stupidly and waving to associates in the precincts of the courts as though the bangles on their wrists are gold medals around their necks, are all images of very young men and women. And while they put their young lives on pause, their cowardly adult employers remain in the shadows intent on recruiting more young people.
It is incumbent on law-abiding citizens and institutions with which our young people come into contact, whether schools, churches, social and sports clubs, to never give up on our young people. Agencies such as the Barbados Youth Service and the Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme have absolutely critical interventionist roles to play. Several factors inclusive of low self-esteem, poverty, limited education, drug dependency, unemployment and dysfunctional homes, lead many of them into the clutches of parasitic older career criminals. Barbados is too small a society for such individuals to thrive under the radar in circumstances where they are using our young people to further their criminal pursuits. Parents must be willing to intervene and confront their offspring if there is the slightest notion that their sons and daughters are involved in criminality. Unfortunately, we often have a situation where unemployed young men live a lavish lifestyle, contribute money to their homes, take frequent overseas trips, drive the fanciest of cars or motorbikes, and their business is known to all. But in circumstances where they might be sent prematurely to their Maker – or to the other chap – we hear tall tales about the individual “being a good boy”, “never troubled anybody” and other similar tripe. All our youth will not be saved but burying our heads in the sand makes this situation worse; the earlier the intervention, the more persons are likely to be saved.
The reality of the situation is that the gap between the hardened criminal and young recruit gets narrower with each trigger squeezed, each drug shipment landed. Hardened criminals no longer necessarily translate to being older criminals. We have cause to fear when the lines of demarcation between the young offenders and the hardened criminals become blurred.