Crossing the Red Lines
WE MUST THANK the Christian Council and other stakeholders for initiating the forum on crime and violence that was held at the Methodist Church Hall last week.
Professor Anthony Harriot has provided us with a point of conversation and hopefully, action. Let us hope there is an agenda to move us beyond last week’s discussion. Among the important issues raised, two popped out at me. The first is about establishing red lines that should never be crossed.
This is about preserving ‘boundaries of acceptable conduct in society.’ Crossing those lines is a recipe to create a climate that feeds crime. This idea of acceptable conduct is certainly not new here, but might not have been framed in that way by others
Point of View
who have talked about it for years.
I have long concluded that we have lost sight of what is acceptable behaviour. Young people, said to be largely responsible for escalating crime and violence, really do not know what acceptable behaviour is. Our elders and the institutions charged with transmitting norms and values, have failed miserably. We see it everywhere; in churches, in politics and parliament, in schools, in the police force, in families, with the minibuses and drivers generally, and on the streets.
It is as if anything goes.
Perhaps we don’t even know how and where to draw the lines, much less monitor them. Remember a few years ago when the then Commissioner of Police felt inclined to attend a political meeting garbed in the colours of the party. Amazingly, many saw nothing wrong with that, with our chief law enforcement officer openly displaying party loyalty.
Among those charged with drawing the lines is the Church, which as far as I can remember, said nothing. We hear about under- aged children having babies. This appears to be accepted, for the fathers seem never to be identifi ed and charged.
Professor Harriot suggested that when the lines are crossed, the society and institutions need to be mobilised, something he claimed is easy to do in small Caribbean societies. He was certainly not speaking about SVG where mobilising for a cause is fraught with all sorts of problems. Small societies also mean familiarity with the messenger. Here we deal with the messenger, not the message. He wants us to imagine a society in which when someone refuses to await his turn in a queue or yield to a pregnant or elderly person, that we say to him, “This is not the Vincentian way.” But what is the Vincentian way?
The second issue was where he identified problematic young people whom he felt could be turned around. The 12 to 16-year-olds need institutions and support systems to keep them in school.
But the issue is not keeping them in school, for there is where they begin to develop their violent and criminal behaviour.
One might argue that support systems are absent, but that will only be relevant with a re-engineering of our education system.
Our school system is geared to taking students to three points – CPEA, CSEC, and CAPE. The question is – in a system where it is popular to drill students on past examination papers, is it possible to find space to allow them to better understand themselves and communities and to discover what should really be the Vincentian way?
In his address Professor Harriot suggests that fighting crime and violence is complex and multifaceted. There is a role for our people, communities, and institutions of state. His job is finished. Ours is to begin, but even the word ‘Ours’ has lost its original meaning and leaves some people out of the equation. But does it make sense drawing a red line even if we know how to, without being able to monitor it?
DR ADRIAN FRASER
PROFESSOR ANTHONY HARRIOT