Jamaica has become an angry society
The brutal beating of a 14-year-old girl by a number of women and teenagers as shown in a viral video last week clearly demonstrates the dire social straits in which Jamaica finds itself.
Not only was the incident a shocking display of cruelty and blatant disregard for human life, but it was also a clear demonstration of the depravity to which many have sunk. What we are witnessing is not a mere tearing of the social fabric as it is often described; instead, we are engulfed in the full throes of social disintegration, which, if not arrested fulsomely, will pose an existential threat to the very survival of the society itself.
It would give some comfort if what was seen in that video was simply a group of women who had gone temporarily insane by anger. But most worrying is the truth: their behaviour is just a symptom of the wider social decay that has been evident in the society for far too long. In a real sense, the seeds of decay that were sown over the past 40 years have now grown into full trees that have blossomed and are now bearing the deadly fruits being eaten by too many in our society. Daily the displays of diabolical behaviour from the eating of these fruits grow more dastardly and menacing.
The most evident fruit is the rage that has pervaded almost every element of society. We may not want to admit it, but despite our “winning” and easygoing ways Jamaica is an angry society. And it is not just the anger we see on our roads or which, in a moment, moved a schoolboy whose “nice” shoes were stepped on by another to beat the offender to almost a pulp. It is the kind of quiet, persistent anger that moves people to plot, meditate upon, and finally execute a decision to kill a mother and her young child; that results in the death of a young woman whose body was seemingly dismembered and never made available to her family for burial; that causes someone to kidnap a young girl and slash her throat; that we see too often in cases of pernicious jealousy which result in the death of a partner; that causes people to contemplate snuffing out the life of a competitor in a hit intended to remedy the situation. We see it in the raw anger that makes it impossible for people to settle their disputes amicably.
The police have reported that a great deal of the murders committed over the past year, an estimated 40 per cent, can be laid at the feet of irreconcilable family disputes related to land and “dead lef”. I remember having to counsel a person in the diaspora who was getting set to settle a dispute with family members in Jamaica who had seized family property that he claimed belonged to him. This anecdote is not unusual, it represents a microcosm of a larger problem that frankly has been with the society for a long time but is now becoming a serious problem, certainly in the number of murders that are taking place in the society.
From whence has all this anger come and what can be done about it? This should be a compelling study for a PhD dissertation. What seems obvious to me is that we are dealing with a multi-faceted problem that cannot be addressed from one or two perspectives. I find sympathy with the view that the problem of anger and its evil manifestations is largely a community one and, thus, one to be settled by building resilient families. In this regard Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s musings about a Ministry of Peace may not be as far-fetched as some may think.
I would propose a ministry of peace and social/community development. This would coordinate and bring under one roof all the social services that are scattered throughout the wide bureaucracy of government. This would include the Social Development Commission (SDC), which has never really functioned at its optimum and has a sordid history of being used as a political football by successive governments. Communities throughout Jamaica, especially in the inner-city areas, have never really felt the impact of the SDC despite the billions of dollars that have been spent on this agency over the years. Its functions are impatient of reform and bringing it under its own ministry may be just what the doctor requires. The Parenting Commission could also be brought under the aegis of this ministry.
It is clear that many of the social problems being experienced in the society have their origin in the lack of good parenting in the home. Families in Jamaica, again, especially those in inner-city communities, are under siege. They are besieged by marauding young gunmen who never had the benefit of living in a two-parent family household. Some of these parents should have never borne children themselves. They were equipped with neither the financial nor emotional resources necessary for this task.
Too many children are produced in our society without the benefit of well thought-out decisions by their parents. I know it sounds harsh to say this, but if the truth be told, it must be said that too many fathers are really sperm donors and many children the product of irresponsible sexual activity. These are some of the things that we will have to begin to grapple with as a society. We have refrained from calling a spade a spade and so have not expended the resources that are really needed to build resilient families. Let 2024 be the year we make a determined effort to so do. Let us establish a Parenting Commission with teeth.
And let us not just throw money at the problem in an effort to comfort the country that we are doing something about these presenting issues. Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang has gone public with his lamentation regarding the billions of dollars that have been spent on social services with hardly any good result to support this spending. The reason for this is that money is spent in an eclectic and “chaka-chaka” way. A ministry of peace and social/community development would be instrumental in coordinating this spend. Then, perhaps, the right hand may know what the left is doing.
Accent must be placed on community development, a portfolio that would be removed from the Ministry of Local Government. Community development as a concept has never functioned well under this ministry because it is a far more comprehensive project than the mere building of a community centre, encouraging young people to join sports leagues, or seeing that communities have street lights. Comprehensively, it has to do with the transformation of people’s lives for the better; helping people at the community level to understand that they are critical stakeholders in the future of the country; and removing from their midst the blight (zinc fences?) that makes them feel unappreciated.
Community development is about putting in place counselling and other dispute mechanisms that can help people to settle their differences without having to resort to violence. In this regard the Government should embark on a training programme in which young people are trained for community engagement as social workers and mental health and family counsellors. This will take money, but under a Ministry of Peace this could be assessed. The Church would also have a critical role to play in this regard.
If we mean business, let the work begin.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storms; The Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life; and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.