By Malcolm Strachan
Everyone becomes the expert in times of tragedy. There is no shortage of judgment and criticism when empathy would do just fine. When a child’s life is taken - as in the case of the young boy stabbed last week - we fear that in our violent society this could have happened to any one of our children. Emotions run high and people seek to point out who is at fault. However, that is one of the most harmful things we can do in times like these.
We blame the politicians, the police, the schools and more commonly, the parents. Sadly, all of this took place, only to serve as another reminder that despite the decrease in murders, our society has devolved to a heartbreakingly low place. We are barely two years removed from the brutual murder of Adonai Wilson – another student whose life was taken too soon at the hands of two other teenagers.
But let’s not make a mistake and think just because the youth violence that occurs in this country every day doesn’t make the news there isn’t a real crisis taking place.
Children who attend our government schools face extreme conditions on a daily basis. These kids come from some of the toughest neighbourhoods in the inner-city – ones plagued by violence, drugs, poverty and infested with the glorification of gang culture. To delude ourselves into thinking they exist in “safe environments” when they’re at school is foolery.
No place is safe.
Bullying, robberies and gang fights take place at a rate that has become so commonplace in these schools that now we just simply treat it as if it’s normal – until one teenager murders another and it makes the front page. Now, it has everyone’s attention, and there is no shortage of blame to go around.
“It’s the PLP’s fault.” “It’s the FNM’s fault.” “It’s the school’s fault.” “Nope, it’s the parents’ fault.”
We’ve heard it all in the wake of every senseless murder.
But now, we must ask ourselves: “What will it take to realise that all of the blaming isn’t getting us anywhere and perhaps the violence that exists in our country among youth is only a microcosm of much larger societal issues we’re failing to address?”
Certainly, parents, government, the police and teachers all play a significant role in protecting the lives of our youth. However, no one wants to accept that it’s a shared responsibility for fear of being seen as incapable of doing their job.
When pride and ego get in the way, we are able to see just how fragmented we are on such issues.
The reality is when we have children killing children, the entire community is at fault. We’ve all failed our children when that happens. But shaming one another isn’t the answer. As a collective, we have to figure out how to become better as a society and foster environments that are conducive to young people growing up to become responsible, empathetic adults - ones that know how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.
For such a small society, many of us have become so disconnected from one another – living in our bubbles, insulated from imminent danger. Worse, the alternative realities we consume through social media have further desensitised us.
We hear about arguments, fights, killings and other acts of violence much quicker through social media than local news media. Imagine someone’s life leaving their body right before your very eyes, and your first instinct being to record it and share it via Facebook and WhatsApp – all for instant gratification of being the first.
That is where we are in today’s society - no care or concern for life or the families of these victims. A complete lack of empathy. How tragic.
Hearing the excruciating cries from the mother who lost her son this past week should have struck a nerve within us all – not lead us to judging her as a parent. Likewise, we ask questions of the suspect in this case and what led to this moment.
Although these are children, they still make choices for themselves – sometimes poor ones. It is our duty to figure out the root causes of such poor choices and start there.
These kids are hurting. They are angry. There must be reasons why. Yet rather than the focus being on fixing systemic issues, we only want someone to be punished.
Thus, it has been regrettable that in a time where the moment calls for compassion, there have been a multitude of people calling for parents to be held accountable for their children’s crimes. Member of Parliament for Fort Charlotte Mark Humes was one of the more notable voices suggesting that parents should be held responsible. While we can see why many would feel this way, we must consider that this alone is not the answer. Rather, it may cause more harm to this vulnerable segment of society.
A major determinant of violence among youth is attributed to being raised in broken homes. An American study on the root causes of crime revealed some interesting parallels between broken homes and youth violence. Research showed that in the past 30 years, violent crime rose in tandem with families abandoned by fathers. Additionally, crime hot spots were also characterised by a higher concentration of homes without a father present. The research from this study also found that the rate of violent teenage crime corresponded with the lack of a father being present in the home.
In short, we can surmise that it is the breakdown of the family that has been most tragic for our society. With “sweethearting” being a culturally accepted norm, kids are likely to continue showing more aggression among one another in the absence of a secure and loving home.
Family is the nucleus of a society and oftentimes is a good indicator of the type of adult a child will grow up to become. In most instances, children from healthy and loving families go on to be productive members of society. Similarly, where there is brokenness, abuse and dysfunction, children face a steep uphill battle. Even when children come from loving families, the tense climate saturated with misconceptions of manhood that our young men have to navigate can be treacherous.
Without a doubt, greater importance must be placed on family values by the government. Some policies that have been observed in other jurisdictions to have an impact on strengthening families have been in affordable healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, and enacting legislation to assist in family planning. Additionally, a stronger economy and a burgeoning middle class also play a significant role.
Granted, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach and our cultural norms will dictate how we can employ some, if any, of what has been seen to be working in other countries. Nonetheless, we can all agree that something has to give.
Surely, the challenge for us as a community is daunting. With the rate that babies are being born out of wedlock and into disadvantageous conditions, the ripple effects will be felt by generations to come.
Most societies don’t seem to have an answer for this problem. However, one thing is for certain - pointing the finger at one another, rather than coming together with our sleeves rolled up will only produce more of the same.
We must focus on becoming a more supportive community. Setting good examples in our homes and being attentive parents – not just providers – must take priority as we try to rebuild our society.