Youths, crime, International Day of Non-violence and so forth

Sunday, October 2, 2016 was commemorated as International Day of Non-violence; October 2 is also the birth date for the Indian Civil Rights Leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). This leader, similar to the American Martin Luther King, chose the non-violent approach while living in tumultuous times in their respective countries.It must not have been easy, due to the harsh and challenging socio-economic climate, for these men to literally take the road less traveled. I am sure there were moments when they must have thought twice, even if they did not falter, that perhaps striking back would serve them better. Fortunately for many, including some of subsequent generations, these examples exist that non-violent solutions are viable options which achieve results as much as (and some may argue) even more than other means or approaches.

In light of this commemoration I cannot help but reflect on some of the current affairs of the world-the war in Syria (causing the deluge of displaced peoples and resultant regugee crisis); the number (and nature) of police killings in the United States of America and the violent murders in my own country, particularly in the second city (gravely concerned as a Sustainable Urban Development Planner). It is worrisome to think about the headlines, soundbites, television images and read the details of gruesome and sometimes senseless deaths. I am often led to wonder could there have not been another way? Another alternative not resulting in war and loss of lives?

Crime, Loss of lives and unattached youths 

In Jamaica it is not a national war that is accounting for loss of lives per se, however a persistent crime problem confoundingly  does. Nationally, there are concerns as current indicators used to gauge the extent of the problem, crime statistics in all major categories, exceed past values in similar categories. The authorities and well meaning stakeholders organize and attempt to draft solutions and with resolute aims implement programmes to eradicate crime. Popularly known as crime fighting strategies, all these efforts may continue to have frustratingly limited impact as the root causes still fester.

Taking the bull by the proverbial horn

Poverty and Inequality

In my years working in the different capacities at the local government level, I have often interacted with unattached youths in local communities. I have sat ‘pon di corna’ with well educated young men who had the best high school education but post graduation have found themselves unemployed and /or unable to advance in study. I often remember a very articulate young man who resided off Maxfield Avenue, an inner city community in the capital city and a young woman who reside in an informal community in Montego Bay who were in such a situation. Their addresses have been postulated as the limiting factor. However I strongly believe that poverty is inextricably the underlying and root cause. Poverty through the generations, more specifically, have trapped entire cohorts of the population into a viscous cycle which have results in criminal and illicit undertaking out of [mis]opportunity and desperation. Bills are due every 28 days, hunger pangs every day, babies teary eyes pleadingly look to adult care-givers and the human desire for a particular standard of life yearns within. This position is not a cop-out or excuse to pardon criminals rather it intended as an honest look at the real cause-effect resultant crime problem.

                                                                                                                            Image credit: Photobucket.

Many studies exist providing arguments regarding the correlation between crime and poverty. Take a quick read of Enhancing Urban Safety and Security: Global Report on Human Settlements 2012 prepared by the United Nations HABITAT. Baker (1997) also gives some good comparative information in, Poverty Reduction and Human Development in the Caribbean: A cross country study. It is an obvious imperative that strategies for crime prevention should include poverty reduction and eradication at its core. However, as those in the thick of crime fighting will tell you -THAT though the rub- is easier said than done. Similarly many external stakeholders, including scholars, will posit that the approaches have been primarily crime management strategies.This would then transmit that there is an egregious gap in resolving the crime challenge. Therefore it is time- in a focused, strategized and determined manner – to address the inequalities wrought by poverty. It is through these inequalities that the sleeper cell-like conditions  foster and eventually unleash the purveyors of criminal and illicit activities.

Inequality indicators- access to education, malnutrition and attainment

The extent to which access to education impacts attainment can be measured against the income inequality index. Poorer parents are most unlikely to send their children to school on a consistent basis. Another indicator involves the rate of malnutrition in school age children (particularly at the basic and primary school levels) which is also linked to poverty and inequality. So the odds are stacked high for the youths and those incubated in poverty. However societies have proven to be highly resilient and many persons who lived their formative years in poor households have managed to persevere and rise above the odds. Fortunately there are numerous success stories across the globe to attest to this. However there are many variances. Thus what often obtains is a disquieting percentage of young people in the prime of their lives and in their most productive years essentially not being …well…productive.

Unattached youths …..and detachment

The classification of unattached youths arose from such meaning those –between the ages of 15-24 who are not in school, unemployed and not participating in any training programme. Dissecting and sifting through I want to focus on those within this category who would have completed a course of study up to the High School level. These are the ones I encounter in my community development work and who gravely concern me as they have encountered road blocks external to their control. Such as an unattached youth (especially if that individual followed the rules and norms of society) would have maintained self discipline in academia and concluded a course of study. Follow me now- he/she  would have been led to believe that he/she has an equal opportunity of acquiring employment based on at least  such attainment. In fact the education system inherently facilitates a leveling of the play field. And I could insert here several quotes on education as a way out, etc.

So with the High School education a young person,who incidentally may have plans for advance study, is often led to firstly enter the world of work. This is (a) to ease any burden from the family  for daily subsistence (b) to assist with the household income and (c) which is an addendum to (a) reduce the strain on the household income to provide for furtherance of this education. Therefore, and if you are following, it would be extremely  frustrating, that after several attempts and with a ticking clock, to find that you are prevented from accessing- at the most- an entry level employment…. because of your address. An address which due to the income level of your family that is where you reside. That was your home and the community you grew up in. An address where despite the odds you had daily traversed and  excelled. An address from which you have navigated many obstacles (physically) during volatile periods of uprising; the (social) malaise of those others who ridiculed and tried to discourage you from trying so hard and the (economic) pressing through the hunger pangs and working harder with less resources.

If you are getting the picture then it is not challenging to make some obvious inferences.

The high sophistication of criminal activities which exist in organic settings must be one.For example there is intelligence and ingenuity in some of the reported crime activities which seems humorous at first but leaves a lingering sense of unease. I remember that young man on the corner, off Maxfield Avenue, and from our conversation back then which showcased his brilliant mind, I prayed he was able to become attached …I envision him as an upstanding member of the society with the requisite means of formal employment after attaining advance studies- he was so smart you see. I envision that by now he is married and in my minds eye I see him carpooling his children and their friends between home (in a community above the Half Way Tree clock perhaps or beyond) and school…I pray…

Otherwise I can affix his face to the faceless criminal capable of scamming people out of their hard earned money. I can affix his face to a hardened murderer who has become so detached that he can killed more than once. I can affix his face to one so vile that the cries of a child in a burning home, in the early hours of the morning does not unsettle his nerves. I can affix his face to an errand boy or lackey for a Don charged with disposing a teenage girl’s body in a suitcase and dumping it into the ocean, or burning it in a garbage skip….I can image any of those things.

But I chose not to … I hope that as I write this that young man is stuck in traffic on his way from work, his only frustration being how quickly he can pick up the kids and get home in time to watch the nightly news. A thing he does as he works to create opportunities for young men and unattached youths in poor communities who need a way out.