Mon. July 26, 2021
As we reflect on the meaning of the upcoming Emancipation Day, the plight of our troubled youth, especially those of some African ancestry, weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of many Belizeans. How did we reach this stage, where almost daily we hear, or hear about, shots ringing out, as someone is being injured or escapes injury, is being killed, or being robbed? And, more often than not, there is a dark-skinned young man at one end of the gun barrel, either as a victim or the shooter.
Things were already bad before Covid-19 put a cramp on economic activity nationwide, and now it almost seems as if some of our young men in desperate circumstances have decided to just “let it all hang out.” They have adopted the “Weh happen, happen” attitude, with dreams of “get rich, or die trying,” following the glamorized bandit heroes they see on television, because their particular circumstances don’t allow them to envision any other route as practical or possible. They might not know it, but in a sense, they have given up; given up hope for a “normal” and successful life in a society where they are confronted with seemingly insurmountable odds, although cozy skeptics will point to the example of a few exceptions who were blessed with natural gifts and/or circumstances to get away from the situation and “make something of themselves.”
It is a generally accepted theory that when most of the students in a class fail a test badly, that it is most likely that the test was not well constructed by the teacher, or the teacher was not effective in imparting the subject matter to the class. A few students will generally falter and fail a test, maybe even badly. These are the ones that need special attention, either by enforced discipline, intervention in problems originating outside of school, or maybe through efforts to address a particular learning disability that requires specialist assistance.
It can hardly be argued that, as a society right now, we are not failing our youths. They may seem to be “monsters” to the rest of our law-abiding society; but, truth be told, we “have not seen anything yet.” What we are experiencing from our young men across Belize, are robberies, robbery being generally defined as taking away someone else’s property by force or the threat of force. It has come to this, that more and more of our young men do not look with disdain upon others who choose the route of “taking their guns to town.” What more and more of them seem to be thinking is, “If I could get my hands on a weapon too.”
Some have been caught “red-handed” by police; some have been injured or killed in the process of robbery; but some have enjoyed at least temporary success, with police having no leads in a number of cases where well-planned invasions of homes or businesses have resulted in many thousands of dollars being heisted by the robbers. And one “success story” is enough to incentivize the dreams of a number of other desperate and misguided youths. And the beat goes on. It is a slow, steady beat, that spells the destruction of a once peaceful and loving society, descending to one where, with Covid-19 on the loose, we have to keep our “distance” from each other, and frustrated/desperate young men are daily giving in to the temptation to try their hand in the most dangerous game.
The young man who is killed in a robbery attempt is not a monster; he is a youth who was unlucky, who was daring, who followed friends, who made bad decisions, who was susceptible to errors that many youths will make, as we go through the growing-up process.
They say child soldiers are the most dangerous, because their conscience has not been fully developed; they can be cold, heartless killers. That is why society generally scoffs uncompromisingly at any adult “who gave that boy a gun.”
Life is about changes; growing and learning; experience and revelations; and gaining an insight into, and appreciation for, the wonder and beauty and blessing of this life. But those things don’t always come easy. To some, it may take many years of trials and tribulations, during which the world may seem to be a heartless place to a youth who is troubled and feeling inner emotional pain that others might not see or understand. Many times, not many enough, maybe, a troubled young man emerges alive from the turbulent, testosterone-weaponized teenage years and twenties, and he has somehow developed a new outlook on life. He has cooled down some, maybe he has found love and a way to sustain a sexual/love relationship because he has discovered a way to earn his keep with dignity and on the right side of the law. But the social batting average is way too low in this department.
The challenge of society’s leaders is how to dramatically improve on this desperate situation. Getting frustrated, as we are tempted to do, and applying all sorts of derogatory descriptions of our wayward and lost youth will not solve the situation. We need to look further and deeper. For every terribly and tragically victimized youth, and for every reckless hand that pulls the trigger, there is a sad and regrettable story that as a society we could have averted.
There is no color problem, some may say, in the violence and crime that now riddles our society, especially among our people of African heritage. After all, they say, it is often black killing black. So? Hunger knows no color; and quarrels tend to erupt amongst poor people living in cramped circumstances. There are also rivalries for the crumbs of illegal activity, and revolving vendettas for past deeds, and the cycle continues.
And then there are the adventurous missions outside of the neighborhood, where young “outlaws” try to “bring back the bacon” by targeting businesses that hold substantial cash on their premises. The youths are getting smarter and more sophisticated in crime; but the “rags to riches” dream is short-lived. For, even their occasional successes, where they may be temporary heroes in their circle, and can share their “ill-gotten gains” with friends and family, cannot be sustained indefinitely. Their life, the life of these young “monsters”, then, becomes a life of sacrifice, as ironic and contradictory as that may sound.
To some, they are saviors, smiling heroes that help to make ends meet, and lavish some with gifts. In another social climate, with more opportunities for training and productive employment, Johnny could still be a dignified breadwinner and hero to his family, with no fear of incarceration, disgrace or death that too often is the end game for a young black man in Belize.
It is a challenge for any society where we have to battle with the daily reality that, what was a few short years ago a sweet, promising toddler of three years, has somehow grown in a dozen and a half years into a situation where to some he is now a “monster,” while still to others close to him, “Johnny was a good man.” There are just too many of our youths going down this road for us not to take a big second look at the table we have set before them in life as leaders of this society.
The roots of the problem run deep. Acknowledging the depths of the crisis and its components is a necessary step towards meaningful and sustainable solutions. The Gayle and the Crooks studies/reports are most helpful vehicles along that road, if our leaders are sincere. And so is a serious and honest reflection on the foundation of our society, and the oh-too-coincidental similarity of plight between the troubled Belizean youths of today, and their traumatized and dehumanized forebears who saw a flicker of light, an elusive glance at freedom on Emancipation Day some one hundred and eighty-three years ago in 1838.
First, the freedom plan was announced in 1834, and it was decided that four more years of “free labor” was to be given by the slaves until “full emancipation” in 1838, so that the slave masters could thus be compensated for the loss of their slave property on Emancipation Day. Dig that! No compensation for the “freed” slaves, who as “free” people now had no land or means to earn a living except going back to work for the former slave master at “slave wages.”
Belizean truth-teller Selwyn “Smokey Joe” Wade began his Amandala mission to Belize in the late 1980s with a question to delinquent parents, “It is 9:00 p.m.; do you know where your children are?” And a couple decades later, in frustration, as his mission was nearing its end, his question was addressed to the street children, “It is 9:00 p.m.; do you know where your parents are?” Today, with yesteryear’s children now being today’s parents, Smokey Joe’s message is as relevant as it was back then.
The struggle continues; but knowledge is power, as it should clear our vision, sharpen our focus and strengthen our resolve as a people to “unite for independence.”
A current Belize City representative in the National Assembly, Hon. Gilroy Usher, Sr., noted in his column on page 3 of The Reporter for Sunday, July 25, that: “…The British white man did an excellent job in indoctrinating black people of Belize to despise, scorn, mistrust, and crucify black people like themselves…” He later concluded that, “It is, therefore, heartening to know that the country presently has a prime minister who is committed to address the needs and concerns of all Belizeans as much as possible, including the needs and concerns of black people in this nation.”
Ironically, and tragically, on that same page 3 of The Reporter, just across to the right, is the continuation of the page 1 headline story titled: “Sugar ships and half stevedores’ income ‘go south.’” South, in that context means “gets taken away,” and coincidentally, the vast majority of the stevedores are “black people.”
“Wake up” on Emancipation Day, Belizeans!