They say it takes a village to raise a child, but nowadays you have to ask if we can even trust the village. Can we really get our gun situation under control with an amnesty or will it take a lot more?
It should be obvious that at this juncture, there is too much social fall out. There is a gripping number of our young people who are clearly hurting and struggling in this society. It is evident in their antisocial and delinquent behaviours in our communities and most, unfortunately, also in our schools.
Ask any young person and they will tell you they find more community and village online than in real life. Furthermore, drive through any community in Barbados and you will see very few children playing outside or playing period. Where has everyone gone and who amped up the fear factor? Is Barbados really so unsafe that we must chauffeur and shuttle our children around, robbing them of essential life skills to navigate the world around them? It truly speaks to how disconnected we are from trusting each other, our communities and living in a good, neighbourly way.
A community that has strong positive values, good partnerships among community groups, faith-based organisations, schools and the police is less likely to be an unsafe one. A resurrection of our old community spirit that engages all, from young to old, will invariably experience a more non-violent communal and protective space than one without.
Gun violence, as our PM stated, has no place on our shores. We have neither the scope nor capacity to handle the lethality of this breed of violence. Comprehensively, the costs only clip the reach of our hard earned tax-paying dollar, and burden an already ailing medical system. The cost of emergency transport, emergency medical care, as well as long term follow-up medical care is not cheap! Since murders are more costly to investigate, prosecute and punish than robberies or assaults, taxpayers again bear the brunt of burgeoning cost increases of administering the criminal justice system when a homicide is involved.
There is no price that can be placed on the reckless loss of peace of mind and trauma brought to the families, friends and witnesses to gun violence. It affects our quality of life and keeps us from enjoying this beautiful paradise we call home. In this enduring state of terror, we will also have fewer people freely using the outdoors for exercise and recreation, a benefit which we all desperately need.
Escalating violence is a reflection of our own failure to make our institutions function efficiently, especially in the lives of our boys who are, undeniably, the most at risk. Our young people need us, but our boys need us more. When communities break apart, when families have disintegrated, when our schools lack the resources to deal with the behavioural challenges the current crop of children present, we are in the belly of our own degeneracy. When we leave the block and gang culture to be the community, the family, and culture that shapes our men, our society will always be under siege.
Schools must play a greater role in supporting students who are identifiably at risk and in need of extra support in order to usher them out of a state of survival to one of thriving. Efforts to curb delinquency in our schools must seriously be looked at through a “portfolio of responses model”, allowing different agencies and people to contribute to solving the complexity of issues our youth presently face. With a broader scale of effort, the overall effects will be greater than one single programme. The variety offered by this approach will also mean that there is a higher likelihood of finding a good fit for more students.
With rising unemployment and lack of opportunity for wholesome recreational pastimes, we can begin to understand the distress that looms, leading to underground economies in the form of drugs, prostitution and other similar activities to pick up the economic slack. If every hand is to make light work in charting a positive path ahead, then downtime block time must not feature on our horizon.
What might profit us now is not an increase in suppression strategies where greater law enforcement and prosecution are used, but a flourishing of more aggressive preventative measures, with more community-based outreach services, vibrant after school and recreation programmes along with faith-based initiatives. By supporting our young people in finding more wholesome ways to occupy their free time, we bring them hope and broaden the pool of talent we can tap in the future.
(Cherith Pedersen is a clinical mental health counsellor and expressive arts therapist)