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#BTColumn – Dig up root cause of violent crime (Part 1)

by Barbados Today
6 min read

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

by David Comissiong

For several years now, right-thinking Barbadians have been dismayed by our country’s rising tide of violent crime – especially incidents of murder and of misogynistic abuse of women.

Indeed, Attorney-General Dale Marshall recently laid bare the reality of a very troubling murder rate that saw the commission of 30 murders in 2017, 28 murders in 2018, 41 murders in 2020, 32 murders in 2021, and 17 murders so far in this year of 2022.

So, where do we go from here? How do we confront and tackle this social pathology? Of course, many people will respond to this question by calling for more rigorous policing, stricter penalties for criminal convictions, more police officers, gun courts, and other similar law and order measures. But while these are all predictable responses, the truth is that they only address the symptoms of the problem and do not reach the core root or cause.

So, before we can prescribe truly effective and permanent corrective action, we first have to make an effort to identify the root or fundamental cause and source of the problem.

And the sad but undeniable truth of the matter is that the root of the problem resides in our currently existing “culture system”. Indeed, if we examine our current reality closely we will detect that with every passing year our overarching “culture system” is gradually becoming one in which greed, self-centered individualism and lack of empathy or respect for “others” are promoted, while violence, alienation, social ostracism, and the suffering of “others” are trivialized.

But if we are to understand how and why we have come to this cultural and psychological state of affairs, we need to go back to our early years of Independence and acknowledge the cultural “wrong turn” that we made in that initial phase of our journey as an independent nation.

The unfortunate truth is that back in the 1960s most of the political, social and business leaders of our newly independent Caribbean nations gleefully embraced the so-called “American way”, and made the United States of America their model and cultural point of reference.

But, the United States of America, as we all know, possesses a capitalistic culture that, while it may have some strengths and attractions, is also suffused with such malignancies as the qualities of self-centeredness, arrogance, greed, cynicism, spiritual emptiness, an ethos of “winners” and “losers”, and perhaps most worrying of all – violence!

United States television routinely features news stories (and movies) about death and destruction inflicted by the American Government and its military forces on human beings all over the world, and the mainstream of American society accepts this as normal and routine.

And when this national predisposition is mixed in with a popular culture that glamorizes violence and that insists on the individual right to possess guns, it is not surprising that every couple of weeks some American gets it into his head to shoot down a dozen or more of his fellow citizens!

In addition, the powerful business corporations of the USA have created an intense consumerist culture in which the most powerful and sophisticated instruments and techniques of psychological conditioning are devoted to nurturing and maintaining a de-sensitized, atomized, uninformed, pleasure and entertainment-seeking population.

And so, if this is our cultural reference point, can we really be surprised that with every passing year our society is exhibiting more and more symptoms of the North American capitalist social/cultural malaise? The truth is that we, as a people, are gradually becoming more and more self-centered, self-consumed, self-righteous, spiritually empty, and less and less capable of appreciating and valuing the worth of other human beings.

And, just like the Americans, we too are subjecting ourselves to a surfeit of mindless entertainments and social media titillations and trivialities, and are gradually drifting away from the guidance of a moral code and a communal ethic.

Now that we have sketched this background, we can acknowledge that at the very core of incidents of senseless violence, and destructive behaviour is alienated persons devoid of empathy with their fellow citizens and emotionally and even socially disconnected from our national society.

Thus, the national response to this phenomenon must be an organized effort to establish a new and significantly different cultural reference point and to instill in our people – particularly our youth – not only more noble and elevated cultural values, but also a sense of community; a sense that they “belong” to the Barbadian nation /society; a sense that they are connected in some vital way to the entire society and body politic – that they are our communal sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins. And since virtually all Barbadians spend at least 12 years of their lives in our national school system, it would make sense for us to commence our “national fight-back” at the level of our education system.

The school solution

The sad reality is that far too many of our children and adolescents are not being sufficiently nurtured, cared for, and prepared for life in their homes and family life, and therefore require the school to step in and play that critical role. And while much credit must go to the thousands of teachers, non-academic staff and national education administrators for valiantly attempting to fill the breach and carry out that function, it has become clear that much more needs to be done.

Let us therefore radically intensify the programme that our Ministry of Education is currently embarked upon to examine all of our schools with a view to determining where we need smaller classes, more individual attention for students, a greater teacher to student ratio, remedial education teachers, an expanded curriculum, more technical, vocational and artistic training and certification, increased access to psychologists and /or guidance counsellors, organized interventions in the deficient home environments of “at risk” students,and the list goes on.

And having done so, let us then enlist the assistance of all relevant authorities and organizations – our Parent / Teacher Associations, Old Scholar Associations, service clubs, philanthropic organizations, private sector businesses, trade unions, churches, relevant professional organizations, retired educators, Barbadian diaspora organizations – and encourage and facilitate them to join forces with our Ministry of Education and to act urgently on the results of said examination.

Let us also radically intensify the effort that is currently being made by our Ministry of Education to determine how we can so restructure the content of our educational programme so that we do a much better job of instilling in our students an acceptance and appreciation of themselves as sacred beings; a deep respect and regard for humanity/ other human beings; a sense of personal responsibility; and a notion of duty to family, community, and nation.

David Comissiong is Barbados’ ambassador to Caricom.

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