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Missing in action: hope and opportunity!

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I saw, on a video clip, the face of the 18-year-old who is said to be the person responsible for the death of police officer Giovanni Charles. He was getting into a police vehicle after an appearance at court. What stood out first of all was his youth. But then he appeared to me to be someone not fully aware of what he had done.{{more}} Let me hasten to say that I do not know the young man’s background and the kind of person he is. Having said that, what we have to consider is the fact that many of the crimes committed in our society today are by young people. This certainly is not a good sign, because we are nurturing a generation that appears out of sync with the values that have for long stabilized our society.

I am on to this issue because of an experience I had on Tuesday morning. I was at a public place, waiting to be served. A teenager, no older than 18, came in with someone who appeared to have been his girlfriend. She went to the receptionist for a document. I looked at the guy’s face and had instantly to turn away, because what I saw was an extremely angry person who appeared ready to erupt. The young lady brought the document for him to look at and asked why he did not put on his shirt. He had apparently taken it off and sat wearing a vest. She shouted at him and asked why he could not for once behave himself. “Why you have to be that way?” she asked. He had trouble written all over him. I then remembered about a year ago a friend of mine asking if I had taken note of the many angry young faces around town. Another person who was part of the conversation related his experience at Heritage Square one Friday, when he had to quickly make an exit because of the anger he was seeing there. It was, he said, almost as if he was in a war zone.

I have tried to find an explanation for this anger. A few years ago a colleague of mine from Trinidad delivered a lecture here and one of the points he made was that there were a lot of young people who are graduates of our educational institutions, but who are unable to find work when they graduate. He declared that they were likely to have another graduation into a life of criminal activity. And what was new about this was that they were more educated than the traditional criminal. Certainly not a good sign! A common reaction around town to any infringement, whether it applies to vendors or mini-van drivers or men pushing carts, is ‘man must live’. It apparently doesn’t matter how. So, my friend’s argument sounded perfectly logical. But then, at another level, there are those who take advantage of the situations in which they find themselves to make a living in grand style. Same principles apply, except that they operate at a higher level and do not suffer the consequences as those below. We are in this case into the category of white collar crime.

Add to this the loss of hope and then we have an explosive situation. Of course, hope and opportunity go hand in hand! Do many of these jobless young people see opportunities down the road? Do they have hope? In our part of this crazy materialistic world, where what I call our digital companies keep bombarding us with advertisements to fall in line and be with the in-crowd, one can begin to understand the frustration and feeling of being left out. We talk about values and order, but do they make sense in the desperate effort to make a living and to partake of what we are told constitutes a good life? So, we are losing souls and there are few role models, because everyone is hustling and aiming to get through by any means necessary. In this sense, we are all embarked on the same path, but are quick to point our fingers at the younger ones.

But is it possible to get out of this no-win situation? We are faced with a lost generation and the situation is likely to get worse. There is a problem even among those who are fortunate to find jobs. Recently on my way to Kingstown I gave a ride to a woman in her early thirties. She had a few CXC subjects and was employed as what we today call a ‘helper’. We began talking and she indicated that she lived in the vicinity of Georgetown. She has to be up very early to get a van to work. But what shocked me was when she told me how much she was paid. I said: “But how are you able to pay for transportation?” She has to try and stretch everything. It didn’t appear to me that there was much left after she paid for transportation. I did not pursue this, for there was little else I could say. Life isn’t easy, even for those with jobs. A number of things have to be brought together. First will be opportunities and with that will come hope. It could make a difference! But how do you bring that about?

 
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.
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