Columns

Death at an early age

Lloyd B SMITH

Tuesday, May 13, 2014    

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ONE of the tragedies of modern-day Jamaica is the frequency with which young men have been dying by the bullet. Whether by the police in cases of alleged extrajudicial killings or at the hands of cronies, rivals, or through an act of domestic violence, our young males continue to experience death at an early age.

This stark reality has come home to hit me hard since I was elected Member of Parliament for the new constituency of St James Central. Almost every week a young man is cut down by gunfire and I have been attending funerals ad nauseam, which have left me feeling very sad. Just recently, a mother buried her youngest son, having lost three others before to the bullet. I also recall another incident in which a mother lost three sons at one time during an alleged shootout with

the police!

Life in the inner city or ghetto is cheap, very cheap. Indeed, most young men in these depressed and impoverished areas do not expect to live beyond age 25. Some say this boldly to the extent that a 30-year-old man, for many of them, would be regarded as an "old youth". Against this background, the old adage "live fast, die young" is played out daily. Thus, in addition to gun violence, others become victims of various weapons, including knives and machetes or motor vehicle accidents. Needless to say, a nation that is killing off so many of its young men must be the poorer for it, economically, socially and otherwise.

This is most ironic when viewed against the backdrop of the many young Jamaican males that have excelled, locally, regionally and internationally. For a country that has produced a Usain Bolt and a Yohan Blake, to name a few, one is left to ponder why so many young men are dying unnecessarily. After all, we are not in the throes of a civil war, although some may want to argue that this is some form of "ethnic cleansing".

A typical profile of these marginalised youth reads: Below the age of 25; uneducated; unskilled; semi-literate or illiterate; wretchedly poor, oftentimes not knowing where the next meal is coming from; a ganja smoker, who more than likely has a criminal record (most times arrested, charged and fined or confined for possessing/smoking a spliff); does not know his father or has a bad relationship with him; is a "babyfather"; unemployed or unemployable. Thousands of young Jamaica young men fit this profile, and this in real terms is a recipe for disaster.

How can Jamaica

become truly economically independent when so many of its young males are practically sentenced to death at an early age? There are some of us, including politicians and private sector leaders, who feel that these individuals are irredeemable and so they should be written off. This is the stance taken by many policemen and women who feel these young men are vermin that must be exterminated. The sad truth is, no matter how many of them are killed they are soon replaced by another set which is even more deadly. We are being told, for example, that some of the most vicious gunmen in our midst are 12 to 15-year-olds who show no mercy to their victims. Women, pregnant or otherwise, young children, the elderly, the innocent, no one is spared their wrath once they are on a rampage. In many cases of homicides, these are acts of reprisals and, in such a scenario, nothing living is spared, not even a hapless dog running for his life.

Why this quality of violence? In talking to some of these youths, certain bitter truths come to light. Among them is the lack of love coming from their parents, especially their fathers who are usually missing in action; no respect or recognition from society, including the long arm of the law; lack of opportunity for personal advancement, including education, training and job opportunities; as well as abject poverty which allows them to live in sub-human conditions. The zinc fence, the dirty, garbage-clogged, stinking drains and gullies, the dilapidated, rat-infested and congested structures called home all add up to a life of misery and hopelessness. Just listen to the lyrics coming from our artistes, especially the more conscious ones. Tales of woe, police brutality, false promises, and ineffective actions of political representatives, parental and sexual abuse, hunger and neglect permeate the words that spew at the Establishment. And, in this bittersweet situation, it is those same words put to music that may help to liberate them from persistent poverty, but not necessarily from mental slavery.

For decades, Jimmy Cliff's refrain "Treat di yute right" has been ringing in our ears, but have we as a nation taken heed? Are we to just write-off this so-called generation of vipers while continuing to bury our heads in the sand, unwilling to take the bull by the horns? Is this just a classic case of "Youth heeds nothing"? Where does the buck stop? It is so easy always to put the blame on the politician or the devil. But is this the best way out? It seems to me that until we all accept that we are all in this thing together then the problem will just simply continue to become more complex and unwieldy.

Yes, government interventions are necessary and must be intensified, but as the old African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child". All cannot and should not be left at the feet of any government because, in the final analysis, governments by the sin of commission or omission are oftentimes part of the problem rather than the solution. In this vein, it is my view that until the issue of our marginalised youth is taken out of the narrow confines of partisan politics and is dealt with in a context of consensus and nation-building we will continue to repeat the same mistakes and seek to carry out half-baked policies and self-serving acts of altruism that, in the long run, signify nothing.

Must youth be wasted on the young? Says Chinese philosopher: "A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present?"

Lloyd B Smith is a member of Parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government. Comments: lloydbsmith@hotmail.com

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