DR GABRIELLE HOSEIN
WITH murders on the rise, we need to focus on efforts at peace-building that have been effective across the region.
Gut reaction is for heavier policing and securitisation. Yet more manpower, firepower and armed patrols, and better surveillance and detection toward convictions, can only go so far.
Any real strategy has to both protect the population and solve the problem, which also requires addressing root causes.
I’ve opened with the word peace-building rather than crime-fighting because those efforts that address risk of violence are as important as those that respond to violent outcomes.
Interventions must be different and specific at the points of risk, outbreak, escalation, recurrence and continuation of violent crime. The reasons why violence occurs may be different from why it escalates, and the goal is to move backward from increasing killings to fewer moments of outbreak and less risk.
This is the only way to create a pathway from violence back to peace.
Understanding this level of detail as necessary protects the population from believing quick-fix announcements that score political points, but gloss over details, evidence and impact.
The conditions for youth risk created by traumas at home from family violence are often connected to socio-economic precarity and poor school outcomes, and escalated through access to weapons, gangs and legal and illegal sources of income.
Let’s be clear that we are discussing male youth, and that any assessment of causes needs also to challenge dominant ideals of manhood that value violence as a source of identity and status.
Opportunities for positive self-expression and community cohesion, and a sense of having some power in the world, are well-known responses.
There are also the basics: skills training and certification; apprenticeship and internship opportunities which provide a stipend while providing experience; and programmes that involve the whole family, targeting parents as well as providing resources for food, transport and schooling.
Often, this is the work of community organisations, operating on a shoestring and mostly women’s labour. They are the very fabric of peace-building, not efforts at its edges.
For example, the Cashew Gardens Community Council has described the success of reaching children through an environmental programme which gives them “a feel for what is going on in the planet and a push to work harder for a better world,” as well as through a homework centre, which “has improved their behaviour and communication and so the disputes are not there.”
This peace-building pathway treats opportunity for leadership and a sense of community as key.
Keeping children in school through homework centres has other benefits. As the National Commission on Crime Prevention pointed out for St Vincent and the Grenadines, getting children back into schools means that criminals don't have children to hide guns in their backpacks or to tell them when police are coming or doing searches. Gangs, they found, make more mistakes when children are all in school and can't be used.
A risk-aware pathway also provides safe spaces and safe adult relationships for youth.
As a National Council of Women worker in St Vincent and the Grenadines put it, “Children come here on a morning…for a hug and for me to tell them that I love them. A young man once told me in 18 years, they never told him that they love him.”
A member of the Caribbean Ambassadors and the Cadets in St Vincent and the Grenadines similarly reported, “Sometimes it is showing them love and appreciation…so our home becomes an extended family.”
Community Police in Belize echoed this, saying, “Gangs bring in the children by making them feel their needs are being taken care of.”
However dysfunctional and mixed with toxicity, subordination, discipline and fear, gangs are where boys “feel a lot of love.”
An official in Probation and Child Protection spoke about how the TTPS addresses this: “You cannot look at the crime the child is committing, you have to look at the risk factors they have faced. They are children,” and staff have to be trained to show them respect, and “not deal with fire with fire.”
Children also need school-based trauma reduction to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from community violence, seeing dead bodies, witnessing family killed, and hearing gunshots at night.
In Jamaica, Fight for Peace trains people in communities in psychological first aid to supplement gaps in social services provision.
It sounds naïve, but more love is what at-risk boys need. I feel people’s terror, but want us to remember it’s always and ultimately about building peace.