Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Young People" and Crime!

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

In his 2006 Independence address to the nation, Prime Minister the Honorable Baldwin Spencer outlined the various pre-election pledges that his government had already fulfilled only two and a half years into their tenure. The Prime Minister also highlighted a number of the challenges which they and the nation face. One of the challenges he highlighted was the concern his Government has on "the issue of crime and violence in our nation especially the recent upsurge among our young people."

It is undeniable that there seems to have been waves of violence that have shocked many of us to our very core. This is not the Antigua and Barbuda that we know. However, there are several concerns that I would like to raise on the issue of the increase in violence.

Some of the acts of violence perpetrated on our citizens receive huge amounts of publicity. These include break-ins, robberies, and homicides. However there are other acts of violence that are as rampant that do not receive such high levels of publicity. And indeed these other acts of violence do not get high levels of public outrage. These include rapes... particularly against children, and family violence that does not include murder.

As a matter of fact, when some of these crimes are committed, there seems to be as much sentiment blaming victims and providing some measure of sympathy for abusers.

I am not sure that the Prime Minister's comments about "crime and violence" in the nation did justice to the crimes against children and violence within families. As a matter of interest, his focus on the "upsurge of violence... among our young people" at the very least, might lead some to believe that a major amount of crimes are committed by youth. While I cannot scientifically challenge that assertion, I can also say that no one has supported it with facts and figures.

In addition, while some youth experts identify "young people" broadly -from birth to 35 years of age, when the general public hears 'youth' or 'young people' they most often think of teenagers or those in their early twenties. (Of course, it also depends on how old you are... My 92 year old mother thinks that I am among the 'young people'!)

Here is my point: We need to be very specific in identifying what the problems are, who are at risk to become victims, who are at risk to become perpetrators, and who are already perpetrators.

The Prime Minister went on to say that his Government believes that "our young people are this nation’s future; they must be physically and mentally prepared for it, in addition to possessing the right values to govern and make sound decisions."

In the above statement, Mr. Spencer is not talking about a 35 year old "youth". I would argue that he is not even speaking about a 25 year old "youth"! He is assuredly speaking about 13 year olds and 17 years olds... that is my good guess.

How much violence are those "youths" carrying out? Yes, yes... we certainly have incidents of some violence and criminal behavior by some young people in those age ranges - probably more at an even higher age range like 19... And yes... there might even be some budding gang behavior (apparently fostered and encouraged by a few misguided political comrades).... but the vast majority of our 'young people' are not involved in "crime and violence".

Do we have a problem among those youths? We certainly do. How do we address that problem? See my previous posting for a comprehensive suggestion. I agree with the Prime Minister that we must come together and design and develop creative solutions. And we need to do so now!

However, we have another problem. The problem of violent and criminal acts carried out by adults on other adults and on children!

We also need to find specific solutions to deal with the increase of adult criminals sneaking around our premises. We need to find solutions for the increased number of illegal guns that are owned by otherwise law abiding Antiguans and Barbudans. There are several cases of adult violence where individuals shot other adults over emotional and heated conflicts.

In conclusion, I agree that we seem to have increasing levels of violence among youth. We must address that. But we must also address the high levels of criminal and violent behavior perpetrated by adults.