Ian Boyne | What’s wrong with us?
Two parents abandon their three-year-old girl at home to party while she is taken away, allegedly raped and chopped to death. A woman sentenced with her common-law husband for human trafficking said her arrest saved a her life as she herself had endured horrible abuse and suffering at his hands.
Just recently, a man went to his lover’s workplace, stabbed her mercilessly to death, and walked away calmly with his bloody clothes to the police station to give himself in. ”What does this say about us as a society? What are we as a people?” I heard Cliff Hughes wailing last week as he spoke about some of these incidents.
Cliff has a way to get to the heart of issues and to probe beyond the superficial. Sometimes he is simply Socratic, asking burning, leading questions. I keep writing about the centrality of the issue of values and attitudes, making the point that this issue has everything to do with national development, our prospects for economic growth and our quest for prosperity. Our elites marginalise these issues, usually discussing them as discreet issues touching on ethics, but failing to see their connection with broader national matters.
Corruption in the force
We can’t talk about fighting crime, for example, outside the context of values and attitudes. The revelation (well, really no revelation) last Thursday by Hardley Lewin, former police commissioner, that the police are a big part of the lotto-scamming crisis in western Jamaica is intimately related to our collapsed ethical infrastructure. How can we fight crime in Montego Bay and effectively tackle lotto scamming with so much corruption in the police force?
Irrespective of how much we reform and strengthen our justice system, toughen our laws, invest heavily in intelligence-gathering and technology, increase funding for the security forces, if our police are corrupt, we can’t successfully fight crime. Hard policing in the hands of hard-hearted and corrupt policemen and women is a serious challenge. A major, urgent and immediate need is not only for new recruits to the police force, but for new recruits who are patriotic, ethical, and not licky-licky.
Recruiting more police who are willing to provide moonlighting protection for ganja trafficking and who are too eager to get into lotto scamming is not a solution. We need to recruit some police who are ‘foolish’ and ‘old-fashioned’ enough to live in the inner city and do without the latest technological gadgets because they refuse to take bribes. We need some more police officers who will take the bus, walk with ‘bangers’ phones, rather than bling out with money raked in through corruption.
Corruption cannot thrive in a culture which does not exalt money over everything else. Corruption cannot thrive in a culture where money is not the ultimate value or determinant of a person’s worth. When our music glorifies bling, materialism and possessions, and mocks and shames those struggling economically, it is providing a big incentive to corruption. For this is not a just and equitable society that offers legitimate opportunities for all to get ahead and to be ‘real rich’.
And it is a culture that promotes greed. Our culture apes anything American. We are like a satellite American culture, save for our Jamaican peculiarities. Our youth know far more about pop culture than they do about their own heritage.
Emancipation Day? That’s an opportunity for Dream Weekend, going to the beach, having fun, chilling out. Independence? Our only regret is that it falls on a Saturday this year when we can’t get another day from work to party and satisfy our hedonistic desires. What the hell do these holidays mean to millennials or even to our baby-boomers?
Are our young people committed to Jamaica? Are they willing to sacrifice for country, or are they asking what Jamaica can do for them? Are our workers and managers obsessed with excellence, addicted to quality and first-class performance? Have we internalised the view that what is worth doing is worth doing well? We can’t build a prosperous economy without those attitudes. And we certainly can’t build a quality society on this ramshackle social and ethical infrastructure.
A social infrastructure in which so many children are reared in single-parent, female-headed households does not provide a foundation for development. And many of those who are reared with both parents see their mothers beaten, emotionally abused and humiliated. And they themselves subjected to carnal abuse. I have been amazed over the past few years how many women have told me that they were sexually abused as children. I had not realised how common that has been. It may be easier to count those who have not been abused than to count those who have been.
We are a society in deep pain and psychological trauma. And there is no way that this is not affecting our economy and prospects for national prosperity. We can’t compartmentalise our lives.
Treated as possession
The harrowing tale told by that 28-year-old woman in court of how she was treated by her common-law husband is not unconnected to our general malaise. That mother of six said she was treated by her common-law husband as his possession - a quite common phenomenon in Jamaica, where sexism is high and culturally accepted. On several occasions, she said she ran away, but that brute beast found her and even beat her before her relatives.
That man went to Haiti where he stole a 14-year-old girl under the guise of taking her to Jamaica to school. He had her in his house for years where he raped and exploited her. His lover said she protested his bringing in that little girl, but in Jamaica, men are regularly having sex with Jamaican girls in the homes of their lovers and common-law wives . This man merely imported one. Same wretched behaviour by a Jamaican man.
So outraged was Cliff Hughes by this story that that Cliff said this fellow thought he was a man to be having sex with two women in his house. But he was no man, Cliff protested vehemently: “He was just a dutty bwoy!” Cliff’s anger was justified and righteous. He noted that this woman, Venoshia Reeves, was a teen mother. He made the point that a take away from her story is that “early sex could be the start of a wretched life.”
But Western culture is sex-obsessed and our technologies facilitate the earliest exposure to any amount of sex. For Jamaicans, this easy availability of, and accessibility to, pornography, plus our sexualised culture, provide a deadly combination. Self-control is laughed at in our culture. If you are a virgin at 16, your peers laugh and mock you, and real virgins have to lie about sexual experience to get respect.
Abuse breeds crime
The Commonwealth secretary general had some common-sense advice for us on her visit to Jamaica last week. Baroness Patricia Scotland said, “I looked at the most violent crimes, and you know what I found? The greatest issue was domestic violence. … When I looked at who I had in prison, 89 per cent of the women had a history of domestic violence or sexual assault before they got involved in crime.” And many boys who are fatherless and abandoned grow into cold-bloodied murderers. They experience enough violence in the homes by pass-through ‘lovers’ of their mothers.
We have to fix our family life before we can fix crime. Advised the secretary general: “If you want to stop crime, you have to go right back and look at how children are being brought up and what they are living with every single day. So as we look for ways to reduce violent crime among young men, I say do not wait until they have a gun in their hand at age 15 to do something about it. Start early. Start now.”
Sound advice. Emergency measures, adopting draconian laws, perfecting head-policing methods, scraping up youth from the corners, killing them extra-judicially won’t solve our crime problems. We have to tackle crime at its root. While we must, indeed, adopt some short-term measures to cauterise crime, short-term won’t do. Let us not be fooled. We have to have a revolution in values and attitudes for us to tackle our overarching problems.
- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.