April 3, 2007
People have to live together. The basic task of the Government is to ensure that law-abiding citizens, who are always in the majority, can live in safety without fear of troublemakers who are usually in the minority. Recent events have shown, however, that protecting the public from hooliganism and rowdyism, though elemental, is not easy.
One of the gravest threats to citizens' comfort and quality of life is the sort of commonplace anti-social behaviour much of which is usually left unreported, unchecked and uncorrected.
Families are harassed by their neighbours playing their music too loudly or swearing at them; rowdies at basketball and football matches invade the courts or engage in fist fights; shoppers are accosted by groups of louts hanging around shopping areas and toughs and touts pester passers-by at minibus terminuses.
Such behaviour, which might not in itself be criminal, eventually has a cumulative and depreciatory effect on the quality of life of people who live in the neighbourhood and must use public places.
The recent outrage at a Sheriff Street nightspot is an example of how a pleasant evening of entertainment can be turned into a painful ordeal by the bullying anti-social behaviour of a bunch of boors. Innocent persons were harassed, humiliated and hurt as a result of a simple incident in which water was spilled on the shoes of another customer but was blown out of proportion.
Such anti-social behaviour is fast becoming a very serious and prevalent problem. Some years ago, a disgruntled student set fire to Queen's College, Guyana's oldest and most prestigious school. In another school in the Upper Demerara, the head teacher's office was vandalised, probably by unruly students, who also sprayed ketchup on the walls and the furniture and stole equipment.
Rowdyism marred the Georgetown Amateur Basketball Association super league tournament and the Linden Amateur Basketball Association (LABA) was obliged to impose bans on players for fighting on the court during competition games. Things are no better in football. At the last Kashif and Shanghai football at Beterverwagting-Triumph, men, women and youths reportedly were coolly smoking ganja with little fear of punishment.
Over the last 30 years or so, the country has undergone economic and social changes some of which had deleterious consequences for everyone. Family ties have weakened; parental supervision of children has diminished; rural communities have been enfeebled by failed economic policies; unemployment and underemployment are widespread and civil institutions such as the church, declined in influence and importance. As society changed, so did the public perception of socially correct conduct.
Much of the anti-social behaviour, though likely to cause alarm or distress, might not be classified as criminal and, accordingly, is ignored by the law enforcement agencies. In any event, the criminal justice system, designed in less lawless times, cannot cope with the increasing volume and variety of crime expeditiously: there are long delays in trials; witness protection is non-existent and court procedure is ponderous and tedious.
Civil society needs to take a fresh look at alternative measures to staunch the trickle of anti-social behaviour, especially among the young, before it becomes a flood of serious crimes.