IN OUR LAST TWO EDITIONS, SEARCHLIGHT has reported on the lecture given by Professor Harriot on crime within the Caribbean; where St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) falls within the continuum of Caribbean criminal cultures; and most crucially of course, the critical lessons to be learned on how we can reduce crime and improve safety within SVG and the broader Caribbean.
These lectures provide both a warning and an exhortation to our nation. We have been warned that Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica are now in the grip of a criminal culture that is so entrenched, so intractable, that Jamaicans and Trinidadians would be greatly challenged to restore their nations to a culture of peace. They have crossed a red line which brings with it a genuine fear that these societies will forever be haunted by a cascade of murders that strips all of their citizens from the comforts of secure society.
Professor Harriot believes, however, whereas Jamaica and Trinidad’s criminal cultures can best be categorized as mature or chronic, SVG has not crossed that red line that separates an emergent criminal culture from the nightmare of a mature or chronic criminal culture. We dare not cross that red line.
To prevent this descent into a manmade hell, Professor Harriet exhorts us to do two things. First, we must accept that young men are the wellspring of recurring crime in SVG. And second, we need to recognize that young men’s initiation into the rites of criminality is not inevitable – that crucial interventions between the ages of 12-17 years, and again between the ages of 17-25 years can short circuit the process that produces career criminals and the entrenchment of a violent criminal culture.
In this regard, our education system in general, and our Education Revolution in particular, have clearly worked to guide the vast majority of our young men between the ages of 12-17 years away from a life of crime into a future brimming with possibilities of our young men constructing wonderful lives for themselves. And so we urge every element in society – parents, churches, clubs, and all institutions of governance – to expend all the energies and resources necessary to guide our school aged children on the path of permanent personal growth.
Our crime figures, however, clearly point to the second feature of Professor Harris’ observation: we have failed to put in place the institutions, mechanisms, and processes that would render less likely that our young men between the ages of 17-25 years would choose a life of crime. To a large measure, we are a victim of historical inertia. For throughout our history, and even now, our society has treated that age group as young adults freed from parental supervision and quite capable of sensible and productive decisions for themselves. And for decades that view was absolutely correct.
In fact, by virtually every socio economic measurement, the SVG we know today is far superior to the St Vincent of colonial times. This reflects the brilliance and hard work young Vincentians then, who are older Vincentians now. And it also indicates that it is our matrix of values rather than our material well-being that is the most crucial driver of crime.
Prime Minister Gonsalves has observed that in the 1990’s we began to witness the emergence of a gun-drugs axis in SVG that is the catalyst of our increased crime rates. But as Professor Harriot indicates, it is precisely young men within the 17-25 years age group who are most vulnerable to the seductions of guns, drugs, and the wealth they appear to offer. Hence, over the last decades what was once an unwelcome weed in our garden of Vincentian civility has mushroomed into an infestation that threatens to choke the growth of an aspiring nation seeking to make good on its promise that we are the Home of the Blessed.
Our task then is clear: we must treat this moment for what it is. We must accept that absent immediate intervention, there are young men within this age group who will lose their way and threaten the security of all of us.
One way to do so would be to create a system of mandatory national service for all young men (and possibly women) within this age group. It would bind more deeply their commitment to a sense of a common national mission; it would provide them with peers whose conduct they admire; and it would add two more years of structured supervision into their lives at the very time some would have chosen the road of crime.
The precise forms of national service would be for our policy makers to decide. But now more than ever, to this increase in our crime rates, Vincentians should say, “No more: For Here we draw our Red Line.”