June 29, 2003
By Raffique Shah
IT was a small ticket item, not really newsworthy when big crime hogs the headlines and the biggest criminals star in the media. But when things are tough in the editorial departments of newspapers, a policeman "bussing a few slaps" on some ten-year-old child from Beetham Estate becomes big news, front page picture et al. The story spoke of an angry young father expressing outrage over his son being slapped on the face by a policeman for using obscene language.
The contention here, of course, is why should a big, hard-back policeman lay his hand on a child, whatever the reason or the perceived offence committed by the boy. The entire village seemed to be outraged over the incident. And although nothing further has been heard about it, I shan't be surprised if in a few months we hear that the father is suing the policeman and the Attorney General. Some smart attorney could easily identify at least ten possible criminal acts in those two slaps, and dad would be licking his chops in anticipation of a generous court award for his son's few moments of discomfort.
In that story, however, lay the most fundamental flaw in today's society, the root cause of most of our evils. The father did not deny that his son had cursed in front of the policeman. In fact, no one who complained about the cop suggested that he "just ups and beat the boy". So if we accept that the boy did in fact use obscene language, the question that follows is why did he feel no compunction about "cussing" in front of a cop? Even if he was offended or threatened by the action of some other kid, why curse at all?
The answer is simple. That boy, and tens of thousands of kids like him, girls included, has been conditioned to accept obscene language as the language of first choice. Long before such kids will have learned the alphabet, they will have mastered cuss-words, having heard their parents or adult neighbours or just about any adult on the streets cuss freely. Worse, they would l have witnessed adults engaging in sex or cussing each other or fighting, whether in domestic violence situations or on the streets. The term "monkey see, monkey do" applies here. And it's at the core of a breakdown in the society that appears to be irreversible unless and until deviant parents are made legally responsible for the equally deviant behaviour of their children.
I encounter it all the time. I occasionally jog around what is called the "cement ground" in Claxton Bay (it's maintained by TCL) and ever so often there are groups of children, some of them pre-teens, engaged in various activities. Once, a group of girls was rehearsing for some march-past, and I happened to jog their way when the instructor was attending to one person. A few of the other girls were cussing, using some of the "stinkest" words I'd ever heard. I was tempted to stop and ask them if they had noticed my gray moustache, meaning that I was an adult. But that would be to no effect, and that I would probably end up being cussed by the whole bunch of them. Worse, I would have been tempted to stop jogging and use my energy to "buss some slaps" on a few of them. That would have brought in the parents who might have wanted to kill me, possibly the instructor, or even the police.
It's all around us, in primary schools, secondary schools, and eventually on the streets where most of them end up. Children would pass in front of your house, look you in the face and not even say "Good Day" or "Hello". It gets worse. Many of them would be discussing sex affairs complete with explicit language and body-language, and not even pause for refreshment as they pass adults. In fact, most normal adults try their best to stay far from school children. It's a case of adults being afraid of children, which is a hell of a thing.
This breakdown begins in the home, not on the streets as many would have us believe. "Ah doh know how de boy get shot, nah! He was such a good boy... but bad company, nah! Oh Gawd, help mih!" Bullshit, I say. Such parents are their children's undertakers without recognising they were digging their kids' graves, sometimes before the young ones were born. A friend an I often laugh with cynicism when we recall a frequent occurrence in the Beverly Hills decanting centre where we used to visit another friend. There was this "wajank" of a woman who would be cussing her pre-teen daughter, her most colourful adjective being, Yuh mudder... That's mother to daughter, eh.
As for the Beetham incident, I can well understand why that policeman will have been driven to slapping that child. The kid showed absolutely no respect for authority, and had he been allowed to get away with it he might have been able to "pull rank" with his peers: "Ah cuss right in de police face!" The next step would be to arm himself with a gun and flaunt it in front of the police, or worse.
Look, I am no prude. People who know me well will tell you that my vocabulary extends from standard English to Trini dialect to a full fare of the obscene language. As boys, we did curse, but only among ourselves. We would never dare use such language in the presence of adults, and that mainly out of respect, not fear. But there was also an element of the latter in the sense that any adult could spank you for cussing or other deviant behaviour, then report you to your parents where your fate would be infinitely worse. So at least we were taught to respect adults. And while "cussouts" among warring neighbours weren't unusual, that was not considered normal behaviour.
Adults cannot expect to misbehave, to disrespect children, and then demand respect from the latter. And parents who allow their children to degenerate into "cussbuds" and bandits-in-waiting are a bigger danger to the society than the children.
If this cycle of deviant behaviour is allowed to degenerate any further, then we shall all become victims of the monsters we have moulded out of the innocents. To end where I began, we adults are the root causes of the evil that haunts our society. And since we are part of the problem, I don't see how we can be part of the solution.