Thug culture in JamaicaSunday, July 18, 2021
WHEN I first left Calabar High School in the 1980s, it took about 10 or more years before I resumed involvement in my alma mater or in high schools in general.
My involvement came about because of an increase in violence in schools and a national movement formed as an intervention. It was called PALS. This acronym stands for Peace and Love in Schools.
I was impressed with the movement and that encouraged me to get involved through the Jamaica Taekwondo association. We launched the teaching of taekwondo in schools as a methodology to teach discipline through martial arts.
As I visited the schools I realised that there was a different culture of behaviour in the schools. It was like everybody wanted to project themselves as a thug. It was an actual culture. The facial expression, the body language, the dress – the whole works. Most disturbing was that this was not just being practised by the dunce or the real hooligan, it was everyone.
I was a bit puzzled. This is because when I was in school we all wanted to be seen as athletes. They were the icons. They were worshipped. But it had changed. Everybody seemed to want to look and act like a chain-grabber.
Now, I entered Calabar High in 1979. I was coming from Sts Peter & Paul Prep. It was a rough school. I was not as affected as I was the son of a front line cop who “nuh pet nobody”. I knew what real badness looked like and that badness wore uniforms.
There were, however, a few who dressed like thugs – 20 by 20-inch width pants and rag in the pocket, etc. They usually did not care about authority, and would fight anywhere and talk as they felt.
Well, here is where my lesson starts. They were all kicked out before they graduated, many went to jail and a few were killed.
So let us get back to the intervention programme conducted through taekwondo. We had students from myriad inner-city ghetto and squatter settlements – from Central Village to Waterhouse. None were expelled, none went to jail, none were killed. Why? Because firstly, it was all a farce. They were not thugs. They were trying to look like thugs.
Secondly, their exposure was to solid instructors, good and clean training environments, competition and sometimes foreign travel. Thirdly, we do not play that thug garbage in martial arts. It is simply not tolerated.
Second lesson: Intervention solves the problem. All the time. So ask yourself, when are you going to get involved? So let us look on the why.
Why would young smart men who had risen to the top quarter of males in their age group to achieve a spot in the country's top high schools want to emulate the guy who did not? Why is looking like the common “ole' thief” attractive?
Well the music glorifies thuggery! That is just a fact. However, that could be the artistes simply playing to the existing culture. It is true. They are simply following.
The two most popular young artistes come from Liguanea and Norbrook, yet they sing about all forms of gang activity.
I think the issue is really that there are misconceptions about what thugs really are. There is also a misconception about their lives. So, let me help out.
Many years of law enforcement have taught me that real criminals are a bunch of cowards who are simply acting – an act that ends the second they are in police custody. I have never met one that I have an ounce of respect for. They are cowards. That is the best way I can describe them.
Now, their lives. They spend an inordinate amount of time in crowded rooms sharing sleep space with other men. We call these rooms jail cells. There are no women, no good food and no comfortable beds. There are, however, roaches, rats and chink.
So that is the life you're trying to emulate, huh? A guy who shares a metal bed with another guy breathing in his face all night. Hmmm.
Maybe someone should reason it out ike this with the wanna be thugs in our high schools. So back to interventions. When do you plan to start yours? Exposure is the true cure.
For the wanna be thugs, martial arts as an intervention provided exposure to positive people in a controlled environment. But positive reinforcement can come from myriad sources. Is there really an effort to offer mentorship by the populace on a whole?
Counter exposure is the real answer to thuggery, but it has to be a macro effort and right now it is simply not happening. But still, what caused a country of sensible young men to believe that looking and acting like thugs was cool?
It even extended to our athletes at the 2012 Olympics, showing gang symbols from the starting blocks.
Well, thuggery started its journey in the sixties, believe it or not, with the “rude boy” culture. This group of guys largely carried knives, were bullies and got into trouble. But they certainly did not kill each other. Well, not regularly.
The seventies were when the thug conduct got national appeal because of the political conflict. The press helped this as well.
The fact that almost everyone who becomes known, dies or goes to prison, does little to deter their fame. The end result is the name Tesha is as well known as the name Andrew.
It comes down to marketing. The country has not embarked on a programme to demonstrate what happens to thugs in the long run and that they are really just a bunch of idiots who go to pieces once in the hands of law enforcement.
The biggest problem to me, though, is that good kids are mimicking the negative behaviour.
This often results in them being treated by law enforcement in the same way as the real thugs.
This contributes to a further police/citizen divide, it causes the gang problem to appear greater than it is, and really gives the impression that we are a failed State.
The solution, as I said earlier, is countering the influence of popular culture and music by giving up your time to spend in the same space as the young men of our era.
You cannot imagine the power you have to bring about change, or how much it would be appreciated.
A good place to start is your old high school. Or maybe the school that no one ever wanted to attend. That is the real ground zero of the gang fight – the non-traditional schools that no one picks for. Looking forward to seeing you there.
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