Toward explanations for violent crimes
by Prem Misir
Part 1
Guyana Chronicle
January 19, 2003

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THE upsurge in crime in Guyana has prompted me to examine the nature and possible causes of some violent crimes, starting with juvenile violence, as many of these violent acts may be traced to several behavioural antecedents, one of which could be violent juvenile behaviour.

There was a time when innocence was associated with childhood, and when kids could only do harmless things. No more can this be the case. The spate of teenage violence in the United States over the last few years has transformed this innocence into a teenage nightmare.

We will now try to understand killings in Guyana through explanations of violent crimes in the US.

Juvenile crimes
The Jonesboro schoolyard killings snuffed out the lives of four girls and one teacher.

Schoolyard shootings included 25 murders in five years from 1993 through 1998 in Grayson, Kentucky; Amityville, New York; Redlands, California; Blackville, South Carolina; Lynnville, Tennessee; Moses lake, Washington; Bethel, Alaska; Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; Stamps, Arkansas; and Jonesboro, Arkansas

In 1997 alone, nine fatal schoolyard shootings occurred.

The average age of these teenage killers is 15. These add up to 11 multiple killings, all committed by boys from rural areas.

The Shabazz tragedy of the Malcolm X family, too, has sharpened the spotlight on violent crimes executed by teenagers.

Traditionally, teenagers mainly committed property crimes. But the increase of violent crimes among juveniles (persons under 18) induced the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to analyse arrest rates of juveniles for violent crimes. Teenage arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased by 14 per cent in 1990, and rose to 15 per cent in 1995. For other violent crimes (aggravated assault and robbery), teenage arrests increased from 16 per cent in 1990 to 19 percent in 1995.

Two examples of the violent horrors perpetrated by teenagers follow:

A 12 year-old pleaded guilty to arson and murder, thereby confessing to killing his babysitter, aged 53, but denied that he did it to see how it feels like to kill somebody.

Harvard University denied admission to Gina Grant in 1995, after having learnt that she beat her mother to death with a candlestick.

The legal situation in the US Both the House of Representatives and the Senate pushed through a bill to enable teenagers to be tried as adults, and which is now law. This law would only provide federal funding to those states that would allow prosecutors and not judges to determine whether a teenager should be tried as an adult.

Some criminologists have referred to these violent teenagers as “superpredators" to signal the intensity and frequency of teenage violence. There are no age restrictions in 27 States in prosecuting a juvenile as an adult - Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Age 14 is the minimum age at which a child can be tried as an adult in 17 states - Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. No juvenile under 15 can be prosecuted as an adult in Louisiana, under 13 in Illinois and North Carolina, under 12 in Colorado, under 10 in Vermont, and under seven in New York.

Control systems
We can look for easy targets to explain these gruesome juvenile killings. One easy target is television. But the American society has always historically been violent. The media merely reflect this societal violence.

By overly focusing on television as a cause for teenage killings, we seek answers and solutions in the wrong places. Juveniles still are under the protection of the family that is the primary agent for socialising the child. It plays a significant role in determining how the child copes with the larger society. The family is saddled with facilitating the juvenile's personality to take on the meanings of culture and opportunities of society, and directs it into functional behaviour. When this functional behaviour emerges, the family can be assured that it has solidified its social control over the child's upbringing.

Reckless (1971), a pioneer of social control theory, argues that every person is driven toward deviance. There are two controls - inner control system, and the outer control system. The inner control system is the person's capability to resist pressure and includes inner morality like conscience, and what is right from what is wrong. The outer control system comprises groups, such as, family, friends that influence an individual to stay away from deviant behaviour. When outer controls function effectively, the individual operates within the rules. We now can see the importance of the family as an outer control system in the juvenile years.

Bonds with society
When a person experiences bonds with society, the more powerful are their inner controls (Hirschi, 1969). These bonds have to do with attachment, commitments, involvements, and beliefs. If these control systems are not strong, the person might be driven toward unacceptable behaviour. About 20-25 per cent of juveniles in the U.S. have histories of delinquency, and the lack of social control is a frequent condition for delinquency (a necessary, but not a sufficient cause).

The social control theory is just one of several theories attempting to explain delinquent behaviour. Later, we shall explore other theories to explain delinquency.

Techniques of neutralisation
Many criminals (both teenagers and adults) believe that their criminal acts are logical and rational. To do this, they develop techniques of neutralisation that enable them to justify illegal or deviant behaviour, according to Matza (1957). The following mechanisms represent the forms for techniques of neutralisation: denial of responsibility - criminals claim that they are not responsible for their actions; denying the injury - criminals claim that their actions cause no harm; denial of the victim - criminals claim that the victim deserves what he/she receives; condemnation of the authorities - criminals claim that those in authority are deviant; and appealing to higher principles - criminals claim that they are complying with rules that are better than those that exist.

Criminals use these techniques to violate the rules of society without experiencing moral unworthiness.


The crime wave has now been sustained for nearly a year, driving numerous adjustments people have had to make in their lives. In spite of these security concerns and uneasiness in daily living, the Guyanese people must be applauded for staying the course, enabling the economy to show a fair amount of progression.

In response to those who think the country is in crisis, Let’s review some specific economic indicators. Real GDP increased by almost 3% in the first half of 2002. The balance of payments’ deficit, taken as a whole, was reduced from US$19.3m to US$10.6m, due to a significant decrease in the current account deficit. The Guyana dollar marginally depreciated against the US dollar. This currency stability was due to lower demand influence that may be explained through increased flows from the export market. Interest rate payments on the domestic debt were reduced because of lower interest costs on maturing treasury bills. The interest rate showed a downward trend.

The central government’s cash performance continues to show great strength, as revenue collections outmatched expenditure incurrence. These data are sourced from the Bank of Guyana Half Year Report and Statistical Bulletin 2002. The World Bank Group today places the per capita GDP at about US$900.

Over the last year, a tidy sum of US$126.6 million was injected into the economy via business ventures. These investments created more than 3,000 jobs through 96 projects. In a United Nations Survey 2000, Guyana ranked 19th globally to have had direct investment yields. From 1988 through 1990, Guyana was placed at 72nd during the ERP period. Preliminary estimates in 2002 place the total foreign debt at US$1.2 billion, reduced from US$2.1 billion. Due to adequate management of the debt burden, today, more funds are available for social services. Today, education constitutes 17.2% of the Budget and health 8% of the Budget.

These are significant developments compared to the entire social services consuming a mere 8% in 1992. A country in crisis would experience enormous difficulty in improving, however gradual, its economic indicators.

Multiple variables
Notwithstanding these economic successes, we still do have a serious upsurge in crime that must now be urgently and aggressively addressed to reach a final solution. There can be no let up now if we are to sustain and consolidate the gains in nation building.

In any case, the first step for crime fighters must involve identifying the nature of the crime. This process of identification incorporates inclusion of a variety of predisposing and contributory variables in the crime-fighting equation. Some of these variables may be organized crime, a Regional Crime Connection, a political link to criminality, and the incitement role of the media. In this part, we want to focus on organized crime.

Organized crime
When we talk about organized crime, the images of the ‘Family’, ‘Mafia’, or ‘Cosa Nostra’ appear. Organized crime. As applied here, organized crime uses a national network. Again, the many execution-style killings over the last year may have to be perceived as targeted murders in the killing fields that signal the increasing presence of organized crime. Organized crime is bigger than the local police or military. Organized crime has global roots. In fact, Reid puts it this way: “organized crime is the highly structured association of people who bind together to make large profits through illegal and legal means while utilizing graft and corruption in the criminal justice arena to protect their activities from criminal prosecution.” In effect, organized crime strives to always maximize profits in any transaction. Therefore, it would seem as if organized crime is a business, and, indeed, it is.

Organized crime is the work of a group that controls relations between criminal enterprises engaged in narcotics trafficking, prostitution, gambling, racketeering, fraud, and the infiltration of authentic business. Reid shows that the differences between routine violence and property crimes, and organized crime, are methods used to commit the crimes. Organized crime in which drug trafficking is an important business product is related to racketeering, systematic extortion, and money laundering.

Racketeering is an organized conspiracy to extort or coerce through force or threats. Extortion is the acquisition of property from another person through illegal application of actual or threatened coercion, fear or violence. Money laundering is the hiding of the presence, source, and disposition of money extracted from unlawful sources. In other words, illegal money has to be laundered clean before it can publicly be exchanged for goods and services. Organized crime distributes territory, fixes prices for illegal goods and services, and would even perform the arbitrator’s role in internal disputes. We must understand, too, that the operations of organized crime are increasingly global, especially in the area of drug trafficking and money laundering, and Guyana currently operating as drug a transshipment route makes this point all the more pertinent.

Incorporating these illegal activities, the United States President’s Commission Report, 1967, refers to organized crime as: “In many ways organized crime is the most sinister kind of crime in America. The men who control it have become rich and powerful by encouraging the needy to gamble, by luring the troubled to destroy themselves with drugs, by extorting the profits of honest and hardworking businessmen… by maiming or murdering those who oppose them, by bribing those who are sworn to destroy them.”

Attempts to curb the illegal drug trade have shown that these criminal organizations may very well have partnerships with similar type of criminal organizations in other countries, or may be a part of global crime cartels. Methods used to smuggle illegal drugs into Guyana include the use of courier, shipping containers, aircrafts, boats, and motor vehicles etc. As in some other countries, not only adults but teens and preteens are promoting an expansion in this illegal drug trafficking trade. It may very well be that a handful of Guyana’s teens and preteens may soon invade the payroll of organized crime, that is, if they are not already there!!

Drug trafficking is primed with violence. Indeed, violence is applied, according to Reid, to terminate competition, increase markets and threaten anyone who impedes these crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US, “Violence substitutes for legal contract enforcement in the illegal drug market.”

Illegal drug traffickers operating within the shield of organized crime also attempt to corrupt public officials, including government and opposition officials. A few examples follow: taking bribes to tamper with evidence; selling information on imminent police raids and police information; and extorting money from drug traffickers in return for failure to arrest them. In this drug trafficking climate, police are at maximum risk due to their power of arrest.

A criminal justice system attuned to new criminal sensitivities
Not long ago, the fact that the largest cocaine bust in Guyana, 6,940 pounds, aboard MV Danielsen demonstrated the immense technical attention paid to concealing this illicit drug, indicates that Guyana is a major transshipment route for the international drug trade. Some execution-style killings are generally selective and targeted and must be understood within the context of global crime cartels. To limit the explanation of these serious violent crimes to the race factor demonstrates minimum understanding of targeted killings and the global roots of crime, and would incorrectly reorient the local criminal justice system on to a path that de-monitors organized crime. In a small society as Guyana, organized crime can be quite visible, as seen in some recent gruesome killings. The race card will not work here, as it will lead us in the wrong direction in the pursuit of final solutions to the increasing spate of crime.

If Guyanese believe that criminalization is limited to the racial scope and racial disposition of crime in Guyana, then they are allowing the current violent cancerous organized criminalization to go unchecked. This all-pervasive criminalization is not tinged by race but by the self-perpetuating conspiracy that functions for profit and power, and that endeavors to obtain immunity from the law through fear, corruption, and murder. This is organized crime in action and it is only one of the many variables in the current crime-fighting equation.

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