Wrong target: Anti-gang bill not aiming at root of crime - Levy
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
With Parliamentary debate set to continue today on the anti-gang bill, stakeholders are pointing to troubling findings in a recent survey that suggests that the proposed law is likely to place at-risk youth in even greater jeopardy.
Of the 97 youth from a single inner-city community surveyed, nearly half have already been to jail or prison, one-third have come into contact with guns, and more than two-thirds have been affected by gang violence in one way or another.
Stakeholders believe the proposed anti-gang legislation must not be unilaterally employed to apply additional pressure on the already unfortunate youth in these communities.
Horace Levy, a board member of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) who brought the survey findings to the attention of The Gleaner, agrees with the coordinator of the social work programme at the University of the West Indies, Dr Peta-Anne Baker, that the law should not be used as a shackle to snare youth already handicapped by a range of social ills.
Baker warned that there was no quick fix to the problems associated with the data on the 97 males, ages 15-27, from a Kingston inner-city community. She also stressed that a broad-brush approach must be avoided.
"It's not poverty which is the problem, it is the in-your-face inequality, and that divide is sharper than ever before. The high-risk community can see the other Jamaica," she declared.
The data showed that 51 per cent of the youth grew up in single-parent households, while 54 per cent dropped out of school for lack of money and/or violence/fighting.
Another 40 per cent cannot read or write well, 72 per cent have no formal skill training, 85 per cent have seen persons with guns in their community, and 32 per cent have access to guns.
Fifty-five per cent of the 97 youth have friends involved in gang activity, while 52 per cent have family involved in gang activity.
LOST FRIENDS, RELATIVES
Seventy-three per cent lost at least one friend to gang violence, 69 per cent had a family member killed by gang violence, 27 per cent admitted to having been involved in gang activity, and 41 per cent had been incarcerated at least once.
Levy disclosed that PMI's programme manager and his team collected the data from a single community in two four-day retreats.
He said the PMI has similar data on several other communities, the kind found in Kingston, Spanish Town and, increasingly, rural towns like Savanna-la-Mar.
"These stunning scenarios created by ourselves must challenge every Jamaican," he said.
The Gleaner has received findings on several other inner-city communities across the Corporate Area and St Catherine.
Levy said stark similarities in the general outcomes suggest the problem is replicated throughout the island.
"The anti-gang legislation may back up the strong policing needed, without a doubt, against a Shower Posse and an Alma gang," argued Levy. "The youth who were surveyed should not be captured in this bill."
He warned that without a change in the definition of 'criminal organisation', these high-risk youth will be "scraped up, lock-ups will be further crammed, and not a number would change in the data above as the problem would remain".
"As the data shows, a significant per cent of such youth are involved in what are called 'street gangs' by the police - or by the PMI, 'defence crews'," argued Levy. "Across the island, the number runs to a few thousand, with thousands of others being potential members."