As stakeholders consulted last Wednesday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on the response to crime in Barbados, news reached that another young man lost his life due to senseless gun violence.
The National Strategic Consultation on the Social Response to Crime in Barbados was organised by the Ministry of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs. The consultation involved a wide cross section of agencies that are relevant to a strategic response to the crime and violence and included faith-based organizations, law enforcement agencies, various Ministries and other Governmental and non-governmental bodies.
The news of yet another death by the gun in our nation underscored what most of us at the consultation were saying that morning. There is not one or an immediate solution to the problem of crime and violence. We all were aware that the effort required will be long term and must be sustained. We also all agreed that this is not the first time, and we have been here before. The time for talk is over and action was now our only resort in trying to find a way through this dilemma that our country faces.
The consultation set as its objectives:
– To determine the key social causes of crime and violence in Barbados.
– To review existing plans and programmes being implemented by the public and private sectors and civil society in response to crime.
– To develop an integrated social response plan with at least five major programmatic actions to address the scourge of crime and violence in Barbados.
One consultation will not achieve these objectives but we agreed that we must move forward with all workable solutions and try our utmost best to try to curb the seeming appetite by some to resort to violence to solve issues. The Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, the Honourable Cynthia Forde, reiterated in her closing remarks that action must be the result of this consultation and her Ministry will set up a committee to follow through on the discussions and recommendations so that action can commence.
There are some discussions, observations and ideas that stood out for me having participated in the consultation. The consultation included a sharing from an individual who was caught up in criminal behaviour and was incarcerated for several years. While his testimony was necessary for all present to get an overview, it is extremely important that all stakeholders in this exercise fully understand what really goes on in the trenches that drive young people to the point where they would be willing to, and without remorse, take another person’s life.
To understand it will mean having to talk to some of these young persons. How that can be done will require careful thought and planning. But for me, their perspective is vital. I gather that to some extent it is being done by some organisations and agencies and it is important that they share their findings.
The fact most persons there felt we have been here before stood out for me. It meant we are experienced in knowing the problem but not in solving it. And the fact is, this is not unique to Barbados. Many countries, including the “highly developed”, are grappling with similar rises in crime and violence. And it appears to be a recurring cycle of crime and violence over the years.
The similarities in the characteristics of the persons involved in these acts of violence are striking. Many persons from their respective agencies findings reported that the majority of persons involved in gang related violence and crime were under-achievers in school, drop-outs or expelled. And many came from dysfunctional families and impoverished backgrounds.
One senior police officer pointed out that the greatest stress comes from the 17 to 25 age group of young men who, having finished school, cannot go on to further education or find a job. They find themselves with nothing to do and therefore end up on the blocks and eventually into a life of crime.
The education system, poverty issues, social values and cultural shifts, mass media, peer issues, influences of drugs, emotional and mental health challenges were all explored. In fact, crime and violence is considered a threat to public health.
There are many factors that contribute to persons getting involved in criminal activities and violent actions; we all agree there is no one single cause. Similarly, there are many solutions and will require many attempts at different acts. We agreed that everything possible must be attempted, and no action is too small.
The question of a National Youth Service was once again raised. Mr Richard Carter who developed the paper on this several years ago lamented that successive governments have failed to implement these recommendations as a way of providing an avenue for these youth who have nothing to be involved in after secondary school and as an avenue for those who have been fortunate enough to get into a learning institution or a job to be able to give back through service to the nation.
It was discussed that the loss of a purpose-driven outlook on life reinforced through service to others and replaced by a “get-rich” mentality needs to be addressed. How do we reach those young people who have not had the opportunity or benefit of being part of a service group?
It is recognised that participation in community-based or faith-based service groups and organisations helps in building a foundation in individuals of service and nation building. There are many organisations that offer these types of activities from Boy Scouts and Girl Guides to Cadets and other social and community-building groups that every young boy and girl should be a part of. Inter-personal skills, conflict resolution and a myriad of other techniques that help an individual grapple with societal challenges can be effectively gleaned from being part of these groups.
What we also recognized was that the majority of our citizens are law-abiding and peaceful. However, we are being caught up in fear by the actions of the minority and so we all must play our part in trying to solve the problem. Some solutions discussed with the view to getting action were:
– Building back up family values, including emphasising the role of the extended family and helping those vulnerable and dysfunctional families.
– Revamping our educational system and find places for those who are not academically inclined and bringing back a spiritual element to our learning.
– Poverty reduction campaigns to try to find access to more opportunities as entrepreneurs or employment; moving from a stage of chronic poverty to practical tools in helping oneself.
– Ensuring that the various agencies are not competing with each other but complementing each other with focused goals.
– Promoting community service and nation building.
– Strengthening programmes to help persons with mental health and other emotional challenges.
I hope and pray that we can move our words into action. For as has been pointed out many times, this is not new, and we have said it before. We need to do now for our betterment and the betterment of our future generations.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)