Light on violence | Urgent need to reduce youth violence
Reducing youth violence is more complex than suppressing it. At present, most countries with high homicide rates understand perfectly how to suppress violence, and security forces get overwhelming support from governments to do so in time for the next general election. Since the year 2000, the three most violent countries in the Caribbean (Jamaica, Belize, and Trinidad) have actively focused their efforts on suppressing violence. Their governments have reacted each time the murders soar with special squads, states of emergency, prolonged curfews, community invasions, and other forms of aggression. The results have been dips and spikes, but the pattern is an increase in deaths within a five-year cycle.
Once the homicide rate surpasses 30 per 100,000, it requires luck and extreme muscle to get positive results within a five-year cycle from the application of force. For instance, the Tivoli invasion was so massive that it created a trench in homicide between 2010 and 2014. However, fortuitously, it also displaced some core actors in the violence economy. Yet the 2015 and 2016 homicide data show that pre-Tivoli violence levels are again our reality.
Violence reduction strategies are not popular, but necessary
Here are four core challenges:
1 Though certain, violence reduction is slow. In fact, we know a country is on this path when murders are consistently reduced by small margins such as one to five per cent each year such as in Honduras and Colombia. Violence reduction is not good for Jamaican politicians and die-hard Labourites and Comrades who want things to happen fast before the next general election.
2 It does not fit well into our culture of "We want justice now!" "We want results now, a long time we a suffa!" This means that it will not automatically get public support, especially since people will be dying while we embark on this journey to reduce violence. The best handle to use to sell violence reduction is logic: since the suppression has failed so miserably, let us try something new. This would, however, require serious social marketing.
3 It requires major investments in research, and the ownership cannot be singular. This means that the private sector would have to invest heavily in the reduction of violence and wait for five-10 years to reap the benefits. Nonetheless, current figures show that violence directly wipes out four per cent of GDP, and between two and 17 per cent of businesses, depending on the size and type. Hence, it is prudent for the private sector to treat violence reduction as an investment. Belize's private sector, government, and international donors invested about US$200,000 in the Male Social Participation and Violence Study (Gayle 2016). Today, they have material to use to embark on their journey of reduction. It would cost Jamaica only US$500,000 to carry out a similar violence audit across the country over five years - and it is now urgent.
4 Reduction strategies focus on the actors, and in so doing, help to reduce the number of victims. This will require a major paradigm shift as we love victims (having being victimised for centuries). Note, though, that no young person who perpetrates violence is only an actor - they are also victims of structural and direct violence. By now we have all come to recognise that humans transfer violence: males oppress younger, smaller, or weaker males, who find smaller and economically vulnerable females to oppress; these battered women are the most likely to abuse children; and these children are the most likely to bully smaller or isolated children. This is why experts rescue both the bullied and the bully - not rescue the victim and expel the bully to go to another school to carry on the act.
A reduction strategy requires us to address the root causes of our violence. It is based on the observation that violence is a bi-product of our social ills. In other words, if we fix the social ills that directly affect violence, the problem will automatically wither away. Suppression addresses the symptoms of our problems and makes politicians, victims, and some citizens enjoy a quick fix like crack addicts. In fact, the longer we take to address the root causes, the deeper we sink into our addiction of suppression and the more violent we become. Some of us are already addicted to suppression. On several occasions, citizens have been videoed, shouting: "Shoot him nuh, squaddie!"
Why are we still struggling to contain violence?
So why do we have an average homicide rate of 48 per 100,000 since the year 2000? Why was our homicide rate for 2016 an alarming 50 per 100,000 (six times higher than the world's average), despite all the police aggression and fancy gang strategies? We already know that our crisis of gang violence and organised crime comes from a complex causal flow of factors. However, I shall remind you:
- Our history of slavery and colonialism created two major crises in Jamaica:
- Segmentary factional (violent) politics, and
- Eroded families (absent fathers, especially in inner cities, causing at-risk mothers to torture boys, with disastrous results);
- Segmentary factional politics always creates weak central political authority as it takes teamwork to develop a stable country;
- The weak central political authority overburdens the police and overexposes them to violence;
- War-ready police clash with the unloved, unsupported, and sometimes tortured young men, who are also at war with each other.
There are broad reduction projects that need to be done in the medium to long run (five-20 years):
- Change the ecology or environment that breeds violence - increase the welfare net through PATH rather than MPs; address sanitation needs of crisis families; address the needs of 'on the street' and 'of the street children'; and dramatically reduce the trafficking of girls.
- Reduce social exclusion of youth (male and female) - apprenticeship, mentorship for all inner-city and rural poor youth.
- Ensure that all inner-city children are attending school full time - not only girls - and thus reduce the power of gangs to mobilise.
- Encourage educated women to continue reducing the reliance of politicians on violence to win elections.
- Speed up the process of modernising the JCF.
What is most urgent (within the next five years)?
- Raise awareness: Jamaicans have a habit of being experts, but our understanding of the problem of violence is poor. There is need for public, honest, research-framed material (no propaganda or agenda).
- The immediate crisis is our family - There are too many crisis families. The most urgent are single-mother households with no extended family attached and/or stable visiting father, and in some cases, no attachment to CBOs or faith-based groups. The Government of Jamaica and international donors should target these families for direct financial and social support. No such family should be allowed to carry on in a violent community without intervention through a team of social workers and other social engineers. This is the core site of our violence nightmare!
- The second plank of our crisis is the treatment of boys - Irrespective of what some Jamaicans would wish for us to think, boys are the primary victims of violence in Jamaica, and not surprisingly, they become our primary perpetrators, especially since neglected and battered boys are the primary target of gangs.
- Boys are three times more likely to be brutally beaten in the home than girls.
- They make up 93-95 per cent of children victims of stabbings, shootings, and brutal batterings.
- They make up 90-95 per cent of children killed in Jamaica. They are actually more likely to be killed than women and girls combined.
- They are three to five times more likely to be consistently hungry; two to three times more likely to be underweight.
- They are three times more likely than girls to be neglected by a father who is extra-residential.
- They are almost always expected to drop out of school to fund their sisters' education when economic crisis hits the family.
- They are far more likely to be sent to a 'pickey prison' by family members than their sisters, who commit the exact same crime (violence or stealing).
- They are less likely to be adopted when they are sent to a foster home.
- A quarter (25 per cent) of all working-class and inner-city boys hustle on the streets, where they learn from others about the cruelty of the country and receive training in violence and survival.
Jamaica is too boy-hostile! Our core problem is that neglected boys do not always go away and cry - sometimes they make us cry. If you wish to challenge my position try this experiment. A few years ago five females were raped in Jamaica in one incident. In the same period, two little boys were raped and killed. Do an Internet search and note the time it takes to find both in the media. Remember, the media present what is important to you.
Reducing violence requires change.