Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Orville Taylor | Mothers: the key to crime reduction

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It is my second Mother's Day without the venerable Ivy, and, of course, the wells of tears have not dried up. Beyond the sadness and the large chasm left by her departure, there is an enduring legacy that points to the very sociology I advocate.

True, I take my genes from her, as I look at my feet and hands, and even if Elder Taylor didn't study for the DNA test, the forehead would've made him pass with flying colours. Nevertheless, the homage is that my mother was not unlike most mothers in this country, and like the overwhelming majority of us born from similar circumstances, she directed me along the right path. For her, the truth was inviolable.

It would be disingenuous to discount the role of my father, as often occurs on the more celebrated of the two parents' days. Indeed, my addiction to knowledge and intellectual pursuits, as well as my daring to take on biblical scholars and pseudo-Christians, are all his handiwork. It was this comedian who made me laugh at 'hypochristians' who slavishly help their pastors to pay their mortgages but get upset when their grocery money is shortened to send their gardener's needy child to school.

As we do more and more research on the very complex organ, the brain, we are learning more about the effects of nurturing by mothers and the avoidance of social pathologies later. Murderers in Jamaica are often described as not having drunk breast milk, and there is a deep science to that. My colleague, Claudette Crawford Brown, gave to the profession of social work the concept of 'barrel children' - temporary migration orphans whose parent had to depart to seek a better life. They send money and mind them from abroad but are not present to support and guide them.

Another colleague, Herbert Gayle, a social anthropologist, has spent (too much) time studying gangs and social deviance, while researching gender and fathering. Apart from carrying on the work of our intellectual father, Barry Chevannes, Gayle's work on the role of mothers in creating criminals is frightening.

This is not discourse on the false narratives about female-headed households, single parenting and the 80 per cent of us born of sin. It is about those who are shaped in iniquity. Be not fooled! Good mothers, with the right guidance to their children, even in the minority of households where fathers are missing, will produce boys who are properly socialised. There is something very primordial about the mother-child bond, and it might be more so regarding the male child.

Making genitalia-laden comments about a male parent might cause some angst and produce a degree of aggression. However, the popular osculatory reference to the maternal parent, even without direct mention of the specific part of her anatomy, can cause one to literally commit murder. There is even an unfortunate case of a hearing-impaired man misunderstanding his neighbour's instruction. The poor fellow, seeing the hapless mother embroiled in a dispute with another woman, shouted, "Man, go support your mother!" That ended very badly. My psychologist sistren Rose Johnson will bring copious research, practice, and therapy as evidence of the power of words in healing and harming.




A mother is the repository and source of nurturing, and male children will toe the line, and even tow the line, to ensure that they do not violate mamma. Maternal scolding cuts deep. Where she not only withholds the nurturing, but worse, she abuses him, the results are likely to be disastrous. Here is where lies part of the solution to the violence we are experiencing among our young men. Unwittingly, our mothers beat too much and use too many negative and deeply harmful words to their children.

Perhaps we learned the pre-Emancipation technique of torturing our male children in order to make them less threatening. However, the imposing evidence is that males tortured by their mothers have the greatest statistical proclivity to becoming killers. If we teach our mothers to be better parents, there will be less production of criminals later.

Mothers are the critical link, and as with politicians, where we need to keep the head of the stream clean, mothers with broken values cannot raise unbroken sons. My mother's popular adage was 'Bird can't fly and him pickney walk'. Hence, the obsession with being truthful, especially in my public roles, is a direct result of this little woman whose tongue had no bone and whose candour sometimes needed tempering. If any one of her children ever made the mistake of having another child's belongings accidentally follow us home, this dressmaker would cut the cloth and beat the wrath out of us. None of us, even when we were tempted to 'hold the corner' when guns came into play into our little section of the Valley, felt that our mother would've hidden our crime or that we could've stayed in her house if we picked up the gangster's life.

That is effective mothering. Two weeks before my mother's death, she gave me defiant advice about a matter, despite the displeasure it was causing to others, "When you're wrong, you're wrong. But when you're right, never back down."

Unfortunately, secondary socialisation acts on persons with weak morals and they abandon their ethics and sacrifice truth on the altar of politics, money, or 'likes' and then dare to comment on matters of public morality such as crime. Although it may cost him his career and freedom, I laud Constable Walter Spike, who finally pleaded guilty to manslaughter of a nine-year-old girl in 2003 "because of his religious beliefs now held, he could not, in all good conscience, contest the case". Both the cop and his lawyer know what manslaughter is, and a reasonable man would believe that he would have shared this admission of guilt with him.

Yet, what disturbs me deeply is the impression that having been advised by his client that he was guilty, his attorney was willing to go before the court and have him say that he wasn't. Indeed, British attorney David Whitehouse, QC, concedes: "It's obviously unethical and illegal for a lawyer to deceive a court knowingly. If my client tells me he's guilty, I can't say he's innocent in court. I cannot call him to give evidence that I know is false or I would be a party to his perjury."

Perhaps there is a missing subtlety there since legal truth differs from academic/scientific truth. However, I remember once dealing with a dismissal matter, destined for the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, and discussing it with my mother.

I would not repeat here what she called me.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to and