Wednesday, February 4, 2009

'The potholed road ahead'

Dr Herbert Gayle as he delivered this year's lecture in the Cobb Lecture Series sponsored by Ambassadors Charles and Sue Cobb, at UWI, Mona on Thursday, 29 January.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column

Monday, February 02, 2009

Will we listen to the heartbeat of a country that so dearly wants back its self-respect? We heard it in the call of Professor Errol Miller for our system to place more focus on values so we do not produce "educated ginnals". We heard it in Dr Herbert Gayle's plea as he pondered, "The Potholed Road Ahead" in this year's Cobb Lecture Series at UWI, Mona.

Prof Miller was guest speaker at the annual Teacher and Principal of the Year Awards where last year's winners, Joan Willams-Davis of Ardenne High and O'Neil Ankle of the Green Park Primary and Junior High School, showed us the mettle of true patriots. Williams-Davis presented a free manual with cutting-edge teaching tips, painstakingly prepared for her colleagues in the profession.

Ankle spearheaded a behaviour-change camp for the boys in his school, in collaboration with that star of community policing Corporal Marvin Franklin. He showed a video in which campers were counselled and embraced; one spoke of his new closeness to his God. RJR reporter Kersha Reid was moved to tears, apologising that she did not want to seem unprofessional. I think Prof Miller would have applauded her sensitivity.

The trailblazing educator and ECJ chairman reminded us that his concern was not just about literacy, but about the values we were inculcating in our children. He pointed out that while it was important, literacy alone cannot build a nation. "It was not illiterates that flew those planes that brought down the twin towers," he said. "It was not illiterate people who concocted Ponzi schemes, and scams and lotteries on the Internet."

"Intellect is being exercised without humility," said Prof Miller. He lauded the emergence of Barack Obama who "is himself the change, returning to the verity of content of character." He defined character as "what an individual is, in the dark when no one is looking".

Brilliant Jamaican anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle took the discussion further last Thursday as he examined solutions to reduce Jamaica's murder rate. He called for "a welfare system to cover the bottom quintile of our population". Dr Gayle said we were labouring under misconceptions about the drug trade: we should know that it is conducted on the same scale as the global oil trade. There are people in high places who make millions in drug trafficking without ever seeing a dead body: "Seventy-five per cent of all £5 notes in England have cocaine residue on them."

He said poor people were their pawns, and that the money made by the poor is used to buy guns. Why guns? Dr Gayle's study has shown sadly neglected inner-city youth lining up against our police and seeing bigger guns as their only defence against what he describes as the paramilitary dispensation of the JCF. He contrasted our force to England's Metropolitan Police, theirs built on the community policing model and ours on the Ulster paramilitary model.

Echoing Prof Miller's book Men at Risk, he raised an alarm about the dire state into which our boys had descended. He said that gangs now existed in every parish of Jamaica. He was incredulous at data that told him that there were boys as young as six years old, who were "already firing guns".

Dr Gayle's studies, in relation to the importance of the mother, mirror those of Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown. In Who Will Save Our Children? Crawford-Brown identifies the common factor of the absent mother in juvenile delinquents. Dr Gayle explains the particular devastation of what psychologists describe as "monotrophic disasters", wherein boys from zero to six years are separated in one way or another from their mothers. Of the 25 multiple murderers interviewed by Dr Gayle, 23 suffered from this broken relationship.

"The core responsibility of the mother is the emotional stability of the child," said Dr Gayle. He has heard a boy say of a mother gone into prostitution that "she dish out the love". Mothers in poor communities are in urgent need of government assistance, he believes, so they can be more fully supportive of their children.

By fomenting tribal behaviour, our politicians have contributed to the damage of our young boys. "At age six," said Dr Gayle, "they have worked out that 'if my government don't win, I won't get bag juice to drink'." For these tiny little bodies, "bag juice" is sometimes the only food they receive. Criminals breed in communities where there are "poor housing, poor sanitation, inferior physical infrastructure and few active social institutions," offered Dr Gayle.

Herbert Gayle was heartily applauded when he called for an end to giving community funds to MPs for distribution. "Establish an independent welfare office run by social workers," he urged. "MPs must recommend, not be 'father'." Then he turned the focus on us ordinary citizens, challenging us to show leadership by demanding accountability. "No police force can save us if the social model is bad," he warned.

During Dr Gayle's lecture, my phone kept vibrating relentlessly until I had to slip out to take the call. It was an irate friend who was watching the news coverage of the arrival of a notorious (and literate) "don". He could not believe the media hype around this individual who had been convicted on several counts of murder and drug-related charges, served only a part of his sentence and was now being deported to Jamaica.

Under a system of good governance, could such "dons" have emerged and flourished? Dr Gayle observed that during political campaigning, police vehicles are regularly seen escorting shrill and lawless motorcades.

Commissioner of Police Hardley Lewin assured the audience that the JCF's operational plan is addressing many of the areas explored by Dr Gayle. We should know, however, that the good efforts of Mr Lewin's High Command are constantly being challenged by the monsters of greed and tribalism that lurk in the shadows. Who is nurturing these squatter communities which the commissioner warns are fast turning into new garrisons?

At the start of his lecture, Gayle displayed the triangle of crime: performer, victim and witness. The longer we witness silently our country being overtaken by crime, the more we become accomplices of the performer. And the closer we move ourselves to becoming the next victim.

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