Death and drugs

Stabroek News
January 17, 2016

The seemingly endless catalogue of murders has everyone alarmed. It is not just the number which is a source of disquiet, but the extraordinary brutality which accompanies them. Is this really our Guyana, everyone asks; some of these killings could easily find a home in a Tarantino film script, but hardly in the reality of our local universe.

The New Year began with a cluster of killings which the police are wont to categorise euphemistically as “disorderly” murders, and then progressed to revelations of some unspeakable crimes. The only bright spot in all of this is the fact that the police appear to have made some impressive strides in terms of arresting the alleged perpetrators.

While no inroads into the murder statistics would be made without a high rate of apprehensions and by extension, successful prosecutions, on their own they will not bring down the crime rate in the short term; this would require consistency over a more extended time frame. Furthermore, the police and - in terms of patrolling our borders – the army too, need to work on strategies to stop the flow of guns into this country. It is no news to anyone that we do not manufacture firearms here; these have to be imported. Having said that, of course, it might be noted that some of the most cold-blooded murders of recent times did not involve guns.

The work the GPF does in terms of breaking up gangs, and catching suspects, is, however, not the whole story; the communities and society as a whole have to start looking at what they could be doing to build a more rule-governed society. There are factors militating against this, admittedly, not least the political and ethnic tensions which simmer below the surface even on the seemingly best of days. These could be reduced somewhat, however, if the politicians had the will to do it, although up to this point they have demonstrated that they do not, despite the energetic lip service they have been paying over the decades to building ‘unity.’

But even that is probably not critical. If one were to home in on the most important single factor affecting the murder rate it would presumably have to be drugs. These supply the motivation for robbery, because addicts need money to supply their habit, and also account for the savagery of some of the crimes and the killers’ extraordinary callousness. There was a time long ago when a burglar was just a burglar; nowadays a burglar is a bandit. While every society has a small number of psychopaths, it cannot be that this corner of the planet has been cursed with more than its fair share. On the contrary, what we are seeing is men high on cocaine, especially, which has numbed their feelings and suppressed any conscience to which they might once have laid claim.

Nearly every village along the coastland at least, has its cadre of idle young men, who boast little education and who do not work. They lime at the corners, and are known to ‘smoke.’ Residents in one community or another have often told this newspaper that they wished there were sports facilities for them, or sometimes something as simple as a playing field to give them some form of occupation. In these rural areas, the disappearance of the community centres and playing fields once maintained by the sugar industry has had a deleterious effect in all kinds of ways, not the least of which, incidentally, was the fact that they provided the nurseries for the Kanhais and Kalicharrans of a different era.

The large majority of these young idlers will not graduate to murder, but enough of them are doing so now to profoundly disturb the tranquillity of the rest of us. While the police obviously have to pursue narcotics interdiction with some robustness, even if they met with dramatic success, it would be impossible to eliminate cocaine trafficking completely. But this is only one half of the coin; the other half relates to steering young people away from drugs. Despite the fact there are so many addicts in plain sight, no government yet has poured resources into a sustained, sophisticated campaign against drug-taking among young people, starting in the schools. Furthermore, why is it that there are only two institutions offering rehabilitation, neither of which is government run? Surely any administration which is serious about rescuing youths should be pouring money into rehabilitation, and, it might be added, in conjunction with that, training of various kinds.

President David Granger has gone on record as saying that education is the route to save the youth. He is not wrong; it is just that the problem is not as easy to address as it first appears. In the urban areas particularly, the temptation to go into drug-dealing, even on a small scale, is enormous, for the simple reason that nothing brings in money in such quantity, with such speed and with so little effort. Small-time dealers are also invariably users too, it must be said. For young men in particular, dealing in drugs and even just being users, carries a risk element, giving it a further attraction.

Boys in school see young dealers enjoying the kind of flashy lifestyle to which they aspire and could never hope to achieve by merely slogging away in a classroom. In any case, kudos in our brave new world comes with having material possessions, not with obtaining academic qualifications. But even if schoolboys attracted by a life of conspicuous consumption never go into dealing, they can still be easily seduced into using – as can the girls.

There are additional problems. Migration has broken up the extended family, and in numerous cases, the nuclear family as well. Parents go north, leaving their children in the care of guardians, or if the older ones are into their teenage years, leaving them on their own, supporting them with remittances. As a result now we have a whole generation which does not see work as the avenue by which money comes in order to live, and we should therefore not be surprised that so many of its members are completely lacking in any kind of work ethic. For them, school is to be endured, but it is not a place where the work habits which will serve in adult life are acquired. With no purpose in life and nothing particular to do, ‘smoking’ inevitably becomes the occupation of choice for some young people.

There are enormous problems in the education system itself which are in need of rectification before the youngest cohorts pass through – but that is another issue. Certainly, theoretically speaking, the next generation could acquire skills if there is a major improvement in education especially where employing competent teachers is concerned, and if the children start out on their learning journey early enough. Research has shown that pre-school education is associated with remaining in school longer.

But what of the current youth generation? Even many of those not ‘smoking’ – or drinking, it might be added ? are without the skills and the work ethic which would make them employable. As said above, the government would need a comprehensive programme to discourage young people from substance abuse; a large-scale rehabilitation effort for those who are addicted; training projects of various kinds to equip them with some skill; and most important, the advice of local communities about how best to tackle the problem in their area and what their needs are in this respect.