June 17, 2001
By Raffique Shah
THE scene was as graphic as it was poignant: A relatively young mother of a 16 year-old youth who was shot dead by the police following a robbery, screaming, "I want justice for my son!" The boy was allegedly one of three armed bandits who robbed a Lotto outlet in downtown Port of Spain. Unluckily for him and his accomplices, the police, under pressure from city merchants who faced burglaries and robberies almost every night, had the area under tight security. So when the bandits pounced on the Lotto agent, they were quickly drawn into a running battle with the police. When the drama was over, Charleston Byron was found dead in a nearby drain.
Any mother or fathe faced with similar circumstances might have reacted the same way Byron's mom did. She was sure her "little boy" could not have been part of a gang of robbers, and even if he was, "De police couldn't shoot him in his leg?" She hinted that her son might not have been part of the robbery at all, just an innocent victim of recklessness on the part of the police. This latter claim has its merits since there many instances in which the police arrest or shoot the wrong person and make up for their errors by pinning a crime on the victim.
But in this case, because the robbery was staged early in the night, there were many witnesses to the incident. And those who spoke with reporters commended the policemen for their reaction time and the way they pursued the bandits. Maybe we shall never know if Byron was part of the gang since dead men, or as is more applicable today, dead boys, tell no tales. Still, there are indications that the boy had drifted into the netherworld of crime. Not only did he drop out of secondary school (which says nothing, really, since there are thousands of dropouts), but he later abandoned working with his father "after a dispute between them". Did his parents monitor his activities after that, or did they abdicate their responsibilities, leaving him to fall prey to elements that took him down the "fast lane" to quick bucks and equally quick death?
The signposts to Hell loomed large in the short life of this boy. Yet the mother, upon learning of his death at the hands of the police, sobbed as if he were an innocent teenager. Over the past two decades or so, more or less coinciding with the crime spiral that has frustrated the police and successive governments, we have repeatedly seen bereaved parents weep over their dead children. Their tears, which I won't classify as "crocodile", (hell, I, too, am a parent) beg the question: what did you do to guide your son or daughter during his or her formative years? What sort of values did you instill in your children? Did you leave them to their wiles as you partied away, almost abandoning them?
I've always argued that while poverty is not a crime, it is also no excuse for committing crime. I myself come from a background of relative poverty, like so many others, especially those from my generation. Our parents, illiterate as they were in many instances, were certainly not dumb when it came to aspiring to lift their children out of persistent poverty through education, discipline and example. While it is true that times have changed, that consumerism and television and video arcades have forever altered the values that were once the cornerstones of our society, it is also true that parenting is something alien to most of today's parents.
Shifting focus from the slain Byron to the two Ste Madeleine girls who were involved in an incident that led to one being stabbed to death, one needs to ask the same questions. Because this matter has reached the courts and a mother's-milk-in-the-face girl has been charged with murder, I cannot comment as freely as I would want to. Still, is it the norm for teenage girls involved in an altercation to resort to violence, or, as happened in this instance, reach for weapons? I don't know if Waynisha Williams was without sin, or if her assailant is a sinner. Whatever their backgrounds, the stark reality is that one girl lies buried in a cemetery and another is incarcerated with no chance of getting bail. Incidents of serious violence in the nation's schools have become so frightening (to both teachers and students), the no-licks Minister of Education, Kamla Persad Bissessar, has all but approved the introduction of "stun guns" in certain schools.
Really, when such a measure is even considered, when teachers flee schools because of fear of students, when hundreds of teenagers are arrested or killed because of criminal activities, we need to seriously take stock of the root causes of such rampant delinquency. It is a real "cop out" to cast blame on the ubiquitous television (too much sex and violence), on peer pressure, on poverty, on anything else but the truth. And that truth, sadly, lies squarely in the laps of parents, both mothers and fathers, but more so the latter. So today, as gifts and praises are showered on fathers-which some deserve-I want to rain on the Fathers' Day parade.
In most instances fathers have abandoned their responsibilities at home. Mothers, too, have followed suit. Today's parents know about "manufacturing" children, which is the easy part of the job. But once they bring the poor souls into the world, if they don't dump the infants into latrines or the sea, they abandon them to the environments in which they must survive without parental guidance. And this unhealthy situation does not exist only in depressed, poor communities. It is rampant in the upper echelons of society. I've seen some prominent persons honoured for parenting, but whose children are as delinquent as those coming out of the "slums".
One can argue that this is a global problem and that there is no easy way out. To that I say, "Bull!" The authorities need to focus more on parents and parenting, since delinquent children invariably come from delinquent parents. It is time we put in place legislation that will make such parents culpable for the misdeeds of their children, especially if the latter are minors. Because when the police shoot these kids dead, or when they are imprisoned, their parents remain free to continue making more children, increasing the pool of potential delinquents. It is the latter, not the former, we need to focus on. Which is why I believe Fathers' Day, like Mothers' Day, is so much "bull".
Copyright © Raffique Shah