Campaign against gangs in schools must be sustained

It wasn't too long ago — October last year to be exact — that we commented on a recommendation from Dr Deanna Ashley, head of Violence Prevention Alliance, that accurate information on violence in schools is necessary before the country can confidently go forward in dealing with the problem.

Dr Ashley had pointed out that there is no concrete data on this troubling issue and, as such, any effort to address it without proper information and research is really us "purely reacting".

We are not sure if that kind of data is now in the hands of the police and the education authorities. However, we note that the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigations Branch (C-TOC) has decided to place greater focus on high schools in response to an increase in reports of students extorting their peers and who are prepared to mob and beat them if their demands for money are not met.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Susan Bruce, director of C-TOC's National Strategic Anti-gang Unit, told this newspaper on Monday that, while extortion "has always been something we have to contend with, in recent times it has been brought to the fore where the higher grade students are demanding money, by menace, of the lower grade students".

Demands for money, DSP Bruce explained, involves sums as small as $100, but the end result is "they have to pay".

"The demand is made and, if you refuse, then violence is brought to bear…" she told the Jamaica Observer, adding that the police have also seen a proliferation of weaponry, including cutting implements, at some schools in Kingston and St Andrew.

That, unfortunately, is a problem with which schools have grappled for a long time.

Against that background, C-TOC is targeting these institutions as part of the constabulary's Anti-Gang Week in Schools programme. It's a commendable initiative as we have seen over many years that schools have become fertile ground for gangs.

We recall two years ago National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, in an address to a virtual Youth Summit on Crime and Violence, highlighted data showing that boys living in inner-city communities account for 70 per cent of the school dropout rate.

He pointed out that data in 2020 showed that 16 per cent of murder victims were between the ages of 15 and 24, while in 2019 and 2018 youth victims relative to murders were 21 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively.

Dr Chang also said that, on average, 40 per cent of all known murderers are young men between ages 15 and 24. Those frightening statistics, we believe, have their foundation in our children's increasing exposure to extreme antisocial behaviour, particularly via the Internet and other forms of modern technology.

Also, too many of our children live in or are exposed to crime-prone communities, and are being raised by dysfunctional adults, rendering corrective action far more difficult.

With this in mind, we welcome the Anti-Gang Week in Schools initiative and hope that its programmes will be sustained, especially given DSP Bruce's revelation that the annual national intelligence assessment has shown 277 active gangs in 2022 — an increase of 2.97 per cent over 2021.

Demolishing those gangs and their influence will not be easy. But we cannot sit by and do nothing.

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