Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Ronald Thwaites | Crime is a ‘daddy problem’

Published:Monday | November 23, 2020 | 12:06 AM

Regrettably, Minister of Security Horace Chang and the police phief wouldn’t agree with this title as they condition the citizenry for the resumption of states of emergency. They really want permanent legislation to permit preventive detention. That means that a policeman can lock you up indefinitely, no valid reason given, no charge needed, and no recourse to the courts. To hell with the Constitution. After all, crime is stubbornly high and it is crimping the economy and making us look bad politically.

“Shut up you bleeding-heart, murderer-hugging human rights people. Life is superior to liberty. You may be next in Dovecot or Central.”

No, you might not hear those sentiments expressed in such raw language, but that is what it come down to. And many, like Trump’s followers, even some Christians, agree. The spinal column of our culture has been forged in cruelty and injustice.

I remember the 15-year-old girl, ripe beyond her years, who came to demand food for the marasmic-looking baby on her hip. “Where is the babyfather?” “Whey I’m supposed to deh.” “Where is that?” “Him deh a school. Why you ask me, you no see the baby want food?” It will be a miracle if that child escapes the gang culture.

Then there was Mr Walker, an older man with plenty pickney but no “fixed place of abode,” who admitted under pressure that he had “spent a little time” with Sandy – penniless, fatherless and now pregnant. The community solution to that one was that he should pass by sometimes and leave a money. “A no dat babyfadda fi do?”

Once, I visited a high school near a cemetery. Numbers of the grade-10 and 11 girls had left their babies at the crèche nearby. The babyfathers were either boys in the next classroom or men who had helped them with food at the nearby market. Some girls pointed to the tombstones of their own slaughtered fathers nearby. How will these mothers be equipped to raise their children. Weak families have become intergenerational – and normative.

IGNORED CRISIS

Crime is often the visible consequence of the largely ignored crisis of Jamaican paternity. It is no comfort that this is true throughout Western culture and that, to varying extents, it afflicts families of all classes.

In the USA, one-quarter of all children have no father living at home. Among Afro-Americans the figure rises to 65 per cent. Don’t we see what is in front of us here? Father substitutes are found in gang culture by fatherless boys, and their sisters fall easy prey to the man who offers them the attention and affection which their fathers never did. Identity frailty, ruptured connections to authority and community are obvious features of fatherless youth.

A dear friend, Barry Chevannes, who died 10 years ago, founded Fathers Incorporated. Men were mentored and encouraged to be responsible fathers. Sadly, the society, mired in mental slavish hedonism, did not see the movement as crucial to survival and well-being. It is needed more than ever.

Without the rootedness, love, discipline and self-control, best taught by father and mother, the children whose stories I have told, and countless more, grow up in social and economic circumstances which dispose them to antisocial behaviour which no state of emergency can ever solve.

What kind of father are you likely to be if you know your children are hungry but you cannot feed them? On November 19 we celebrated International Men’s Day. What kind of relationship is possible with the mother of your youth when you can’t or won’t support them?

A friend in New York tells the story of the feckless girls who would graduate from high school and get pregnant in order to get the significant benefits which the State afforded to single mothers. We do not have any social security system like that, but the mating pattern is similar and the consequences cripple the nation.

COVID-19 is making the situation worse. Jobs are being lost, family contacts strained, and the care packages scarce. There is no adequate response to the silent ‘pop-down’ of social capital which is taking place. Charity and repression are what we try.Public policy which provides work and enforces child support are what is needed. Together with a comprehensive programme of public education to encourage responsible, engaged parenting. Raw words again: Screw around if you think that will make you happy; but for your sake, for your child’s sake and for the nation’s sake, don’t conceive a child unless you have made a commitment to stick together.

And as a wry epilogue. Government proposes to spend billions to build a new parliament building. The money would be better spent to lend residents in adjoining communities to improve their dwellings so that family members could live together, improve their self-respect, do homework regularly, avoid unwanted pregnancy, enter the formal economy and see more hope for their lives than to murder somebody or join a gang.

Crime is largely a ‘daddy problem!’ And we are in denial.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.