In the video, the two teenagers laugh and giggle after one of them brandishes two guns. But by Friday, after the police had moved in, the laughter was over. One of the boys was arrested. The question of the initiation of criminal charges is one that will have to be considered on the basis of policy and practicality.
It would be a shame for a 17-year-old to have a charge against his name for all posterity based on an act of juvenile delinquency. And this is the stark decision which lawyers in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the police face when dealing with matters involving minors.
Should children be subject to the full weight of the law? Or is an arrest with a warning enough? How do we determine what will be in the best interest of the child and society at large? Should we deal with misbehaviour by resorting to court proceedings? Or is there a more effective means of intervention that will make a meaningful difference in a child’s life? Does it make sense to blame a child – who is yet to fully mature mentally or in terms of worldly experience – for his troubles? Do some children benefit from so-called tough love?
These are some of the questions officials in the criminal justice system will this weekend be mulling over in relation to these two boys who were filmed bragging about being in possession of firearms.
The video clip which showed the pair brandishing the weapons and boasting about “doing it mad” lasted only 16 seconds, but the impact it will have on their lives will endure for many years to come. The clip shows a degree of gross recklessness that is difficult to understand, even if we factor in their youth.
Perhaps one explanation for this dangerous behaviour is our society’s tendency to glorify guns and gun culture.
The glorification of guns is not an inherent part of our society. We are a peaceful people. We take pride in our warmth and vitality; tourism is a major part of the economy in Tobago; and Trinidad is completely dominated by the annual Carnival celebration. Over centuries, we have honed a unique vernacular, a distinctive cuisine and a melting pot society that abhors violence, even as it becomes more and more prevalent.
Guns are not objects ordinary households are accustomed to coming into contact with. Unlike countries like the US, there is no right to bear weapons. We are more in line with the society of our former British colonial master which has effectively banned guns. So why do young boys like guns so much? The answer is a complex combination of factors. Culture has tended to glorify acts of violence as acts of power. A gun is seen as a thing that gives its holder a certain status, even if the discharge of a gun can be a cowardly act in itself—ending engagement without true tackling of a situation. But to this must be added the dimension of gender.
Young boys in particular are taught that it is male to be concerned with violence and aggression; to have toys that echo military complexes; to speak in a certain gruff and assertive manner; to walk a certain way; to dress a certain way. Are we really surprised that two youngsters have managed to get a hold of guns when, at Christmas time, one of the most popular things gifted to boys is a toy gun?
But most troubling is this question: how did they get the guns? A full investigation must be launched.
Not only it is unlawful and wrong for guns to be obtained without proper licensing, it is morally unconscionable for any adult person to hand a gun to a child or to leave such a weapon unsupervised or vulnerable to interception by a minor.
The boys may have gotten kicks from their video, but this is no laughing matter. Not at all.