Elizabeth Solomon writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
In a meeting on crime prevention recently, someone asked, at what age does one have to intervene in the development of a child to prevent them getting into a life of crime? It’s an excellent starting point for analysing a solution.
If we could find that sweet spot before children begin to contemplate turning to the dark side, then perhaps this war against crime could be won.
Given the alarming rate with which we systematically churn out disgruntled violent young people, it would seem well worth a realignment of anti-crime efforts to fully integrate a genuine, sustained frontal attack on the factors that drive children to criminal activity. We all know what those drivers are:
* Strained family structures;
* An education system that leaves so many behind and that celebrates the very few who excel without a thought to what happens next for the very many more for whom the struggle to the top was just too great at that particular time in their lives;
* Children living lives immersed in violence and surrounded by a sense of being at the bottom of the heap with no discernable way out and up;
* Failing community structures further undermined by gang turf wars;
* A dearth of viable alternatives to the sense of power and belonging that comes from wielding a gun within a brotherhood of bandits;
* Not to mention a general societal empty aspiration to the VVIP culture that, like the education system, is geared towards separating the “them” from the rest.
And the list goes on.
These are difficult problems to fix, but certainly not insurmountable if we were to stop paying lip service and just get to work systemically addressing the change that needs to happen.
As Debbie Jacob has again brought to our attention this week, “every young man cut down on our streets has a story.” Debbie has done incredible work in giving voice and opportunity to young people in conflict with the law, and sometimes the cost is almost unbearably high. But she reminds us, the price of giving up is infinitely higher.
In fact, Jahmai Donaldson and the so many other boys like him should be treated as martyrs of a failed system where children are born to parents who may never have wanted them in the first place; parents, for want of a better word, whose capacity to provide nurturing structures was compromised by not having experienced nurturing themselves. Schools are unable to fill the nurture-gap, they are not set up to do so; the curriculum is not intended to build self-confidence or promote values.
Make no mistake, a lot is already being done. There are all kinds of individual, corporate, non-governmental and even State-driven efforts underway in struggling communities across the country helping, nurturing and supporting children and young people to turn back from the precipice.
These are enormously important efforts. They are all valid, all deeply committed to the betterment of the individuals they serve, all driven by a desire to make Trinidad and Tobago a safer place. What they lack however is the ability to remove the drivers of crime. For every young man cut down on our streets, there is another soon to follow. Systemic problems require systemic fixes.
It is my fervent hope that whoever is chosen as the Commissioner of Police, that that person will have the vision and the political support to pull together all the elements at the top, bottom and middle needed to break the making of a criminal mould.
It is not a superhuman effort that is required, just a collective one strategically rolled out over successive political administrations.
Who will step forward to lead such a full-blown integrated effort? Who is willing to play the long game in this war effort?