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Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Cross


Dr. Lester CN Simon

I have to tell you about one of the most remarkably effective pieces of advice I have ever heard given to a friend. He was addicted to watching X-rated movies and the advice was delivered very, very slowly one day when he was avidly and actively engaged in watching one of his favourites. It went something like this: Be very careful of admiring all the exciting and enticing things the woman (or women) is doing to the man because excessive and extensive admiration of the woman will one day lead you to want to do precisely what she is doing to the man. The movie came quickly to an abortive end.

Strangely, I recalled this effective advice a few days ago when a radio announcer expressed alarm that thieves tried to rob a man by impersonating policemen in dress and in action, in little Antigua, in broad day light. There are many stories about bad people becoming good after rejecting and fighting against the good and the right. There are also many stories about good people becoming the type of person they despise. We should try to fathom the psychological forces at play and the requirements for this crossing over or transformation. Understanding how these forces and principles work might help us in our attempts to reform criminals and to prevent good people from becoming bad in the first place.

In a few days, the nation will be engaged and engrossed in a half-day holiday set aside for fasting and prayer. The government consented to a request from the religious leaders for the holiday in order to address the issue of crime and violence in the country. I earnestly and honestly hope all of us know what we are getting into because prayer is a very powerful force and we may get what we pray for and what we need.

When we look at the detailed planning and skills many criminals deploy to carry out their activities, we are forced to conclude that the notion that these people are poor in education, spirit and skills and cannot find employment is largely false and even laughable, at least to the criminals themselves. Many are asking what motivates criminals and many easily conclude that they must be on drugs. We seem to ignore that, even though the causes are complex, many criminals are bolstered by the joy from getting something for nothing, like most of us, and the elation from undertaking risk and overcoming fear, like most of us. They simply take these natural urges and pleasures to the extreme, regardless of the consequences to others.

Studies by economist such as Rob Fairlie have shown that the characteristics required to become self-employed in a legitimate business are largely identical to those required for self-employment in an illegitimate business such as crime. In a review of this association between good guys and bad guys, Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies recorded these common business traits to include independence, a willingness to disregard rules and convention and a strong belief that they can own more working for themselves than working for others. This is in keeping with the conclusion from another economist, William Baumol, years earlier, that it is the lack of (“poverty” of) incentives for legal, productive entrepreneurship that drives some people with the entrepreneurial spirit, desire and the talent into crime. I would add to that a ton of greed and the relatively easy entry into the illegal drugs industry.

When we begin to understand the causes of crime, we may begin to understand what to pray for on the holiday ahead. We should start by trying to answer what Jesus would do if he were literally walking the streets of Antigua and Barbuda at this time. We have to be very careful and watchful here because with criminals impersonating policemen they might have no compunction in fooling people into thinking they are Jesus. Whilst their well-placed accomplices are working amongst the crowd, robbing people blind, they will brazenly pretend to perform miracles, especially the one in which Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand with five loaves and two fish. The criminals may try to succeed at this by cutting off the ends of the loaves and the head and tail of the fish and proclaim to all: Look. See. Eat. Endless bread. Endless fish. The danger with this type of blasphemous impersonation is that the hungry mob might rush forward with buckets of nails, piles of wood, gallons of vinegar and, deceived by the fiction, cry out: Endless crucifixion.

When we pray on that fateful day, we may come to understand that we are taking the wrong approach to crime. We may be forced to move away from the present, Old Testament, retributive justice system to a New Testament, restorative, justice system. In the current retributive system we lock up the criminal knowing full well that the prison is a cesspool of criminality, a den of dehumanization, and the home of forced homosexuality. The same righteous and zealous Christians who will engage in prayer on the holiday will blissfully call the radio station a few days after and call for the death penalty (“endless” hanging) for all murderers at any age, including seventeen year olds, as one fine Christian lady recently proclaimed one morning whilst I was driving and could have got be killed as the hanging-Christian contradiction almost commandeered my vehicle off the road.

When we take on the New Testament, restorative justice system, we will finally understand the rights of the victims and hence the pathos and the bathos in the voice of the mother, whose son was killed by a shot to the head, when she said on Observer Radio, “Somebody has to tell me some-thing”. Restorative justice tells us that any crime is a crime against the community, whether the victim is a national, non-national or tourist. Professor Bernard Headley contrasts the two justice systems in his essays on crime and the politics of Jamaica in his book, A Spade is Still a Spade. We move from retributive justice to restorative justice when we move from blame-fixing to problem-solving; from imposition of retributive pain to restoration and reparation; from focus on offender with victim ignored to victim’s need being central; from action by the state to the offender with offender being passive to offender given a role in solution, etc. Incidentally, retributive justice was contributory to the actions of some Africans in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Restorative justice must be overseen by trained and experienced experts. We cannot permit untrained Christians pastors and other untrained professionals to encourage abused women or children to prematurely and foolishly forgive their abusers, even if the abuser is a pastor or a high class professional. Prison will also be part of restorative justice and so the new type of prison will be a reflection of the new type of society, in some regard. We have to take on board the profound statement by professor Headley, in his book The Jamaica Crime Scene: “The cause of all street-level crime and violence must be found in the nature of society itself, not in the mental or emotional states of its citizens”. These societal causes are complex and warrant thorough, scientific studies.

Those Christians who favour the death penalty and other aspects of the Old Testament, retributive, justice system over and above the New Testament, restorative, justice system should probably ignore the admonition of the prime minister, go to the beach instead and not attend the holiday of prayer. After steadfast and earnest praying and fasting we may have an epiphany on the New Testament, restorative way of Jesus.

We may finally start to understand our crime problem, and truly come face to face with the solution to our deep desire and our natural, survival instinct to cleanse the nation of criminals and protect ourselves from harm and danger. The new, Jesus solution will demand that after we pray and fast on the holiday, we deliberately and actively transform the nature and soul of our society, not in some otherworldly, spiritual way, but simply that we truly cross over from one earthly, retributive justice system to the earthly, Jesus system of restorative justice. Beware of the consequences of prayer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Extraordinary Things


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things; like smash world records in front of millions of people, or shoot someone dead in the head and hide amongst people who know them. How do you contrast the emotions that attend an athlete who breaks world records and a murderer who destroys lives? It is easy to understand the way of the athlete through proper training and preparation, even though we marvel at the results. We have immense difficulty comprehending the way of the murderer because, unlike the athlete who prepares to win the event and is thrilled to break a record, the typical murderer does not leave home with a gun prepared to commit murder. We have to understand what happens later.

It is time to tell angry, young, black males in particular and many black people in general that the world does not owe them a living. The transformation from social and political protest against authority (colonial, neocolonial and native) to the admission of personal and collective responsibility is a guided transformation that many of us older ones owe angry, young, black males. All those years we have allowed this country to bolt like a runaway train are now catching up with us. It is not so much the lack of education or sports facilities or even the lack of good parenting. It is a cockeyed notion of payback time because we are owed.

As good as the Antigua Grammar School was in the 60’s, we had to attend classes at the Princess Margaret School and the St. Joseph’s Academy and survive teaching ourselves. When people talk of the good old days I want to sew their lying lips tight using the needle and thread of a shoemaker. They are walking around and deliberately falsifying the past just to make the present looks like badness just born or badness just came into style and fashion. A one-handed man could have counted, on one hand, the families in my village with good parenting skills, especially when stand pipe opened after a long drought.

The central cause of the poor work ethic, or no work ethic at all, amongst angry, young, black men is the notion that it is “black man time now” and that the world owes us something that we must extract at all cost. Hence we can borrow and don’t pay; and we are entitled to get blue vex and curse and see red when we are gently reminded to pay or dues or taxes. You can’t owe people and pass them by without saying respectfully saying howdy. We gleefully did this to the so called first world and we extended this irresponsibility to ourselves, including our university. We showed no respect . But we know about respect.

Criminals understand respect. In criminal gangs the first, cardinal rule is that no member can disrespect the boss, and live. They also understand that notwithstanding all the virtues of Rastafarianism in addressing and redressing the consciousness of black people, the call for the chanting down of Babylon must also extend to the chanting down of ordinary people when they do extraordinarily, evil things. Babylon is a manifold beast in many guises and Rastafarianism cannot be selective in its chanting. Also, a religion that has the smoking of an illegal herb as an important sacrament (which illegality is aided by seemingly colluding lawmakers and lawbreakers) plays perfectly into the hands of high class, white collar criminals who concoct the deadly joint of marijuana, cocaine and guns for effective distribution and marketing.

We should read the Joint Report by the United Nations on Drugs and Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean (Report N0. 37820, March 2007). It lists narcotics trafficking as the strongest explanation for the high rates of crime. This single activity compromises and corrupts the entire society and all its institutions at all levels. We can blame the police, because they deserve it; so too we can blame politicians, and the untouchable big wigs that operate the trade from unreachable, withering heights. But then, a Trinidadian friend explained me something (as he so beautifully phrased it). He told me about a place in Trinidad where the drug problem was so awful, taxi drivers refused to go there, until the army had pitched their tents there to commandeer the place. Then the taxis returned. But the ordinary mothers of the area protested against the army because they were now going through economic hell due to the lack of the essential drug money.

We have to admit that the drug trade has corrupted the entire fabric of our society from top to bottom. Admission is the first step towards healing. The corruption is worse in a small island where we are all family, friends and neighbours. No wonder we falsely refer to the good old days when we knew or neighbours better and how the recent foreigners are committing the crimes. How many more natives and tourists must die before we admit that Antiguans and Barbudans have the potential to become and have become violent people just like other, seemingly ordinary people, with no assistance from outsiders?

When we talk of reparations we must be clear what we are talking about and we must be clearer about the mixed signals we are sending. Can it be that the modern-day slavery we are engaging in through the corrupting effects of the drug trade is comparable to the Atlantic Slave Trade? Or do we have to wait another 200 years for a fair comparison? In any event, we cannot continue to chant down Babylon, turn a blind eye, go along to get along and expect reparations for the Atlantic Slave Trade. We have no moral authority to demand what we rightfully deserve when we cannot demand that we do better with what we have. It would be like a drug addict withdrawing money from his own bank account to blow on another fix.

So when an ordinary, black youth leaves home with a gun, just to intimidate, not to kill anyone, and he meets resistance, he is reminded that the whole world, including his own, poor, suffering neighbour or a tourist, owes him a living and he is actually appalled, overwhelmed and angry and will extinguish a life because someone can be so unbecoming, so mean, defensive and so downright disrespectful to refuse to hand over, without an attitude, what was owed to him in the first place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Return


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Of all the rundown, forgotten offices in town, she had to stumble into mine. The one with the rotten, twisted sign. The partially opened, creaky, wooden door ushered her into a constrained, rhomboid waiting room dimly lit by a solitary energy-saving light bulb that had seen brighter days and thinner cobwebs. No sign of a receptionist; neither a plant nor a flower, real or artificial; just a few jaded, screw-face magazines and a small, ancient book on the floor in a corner; three benches outlining the complete unevenness of the floor; three strangulated pictures on the walls depicting the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria; a signed seaman certificate dated 1492 and a pinup 2008 almanac. She no doubt thought the sign outside must be wrong. This could not be the office of a private investigator. But it was.

She turned to leave as I waltzed through the door apologizing for the absence of a receptionist. It’s awfully difficult getting good people to work these days. Everyone, including the criminals, is working three or four jobs to get money to meet needs and wants, including taking a cruise. Taking a cruise. Queen Isabella! If only I had a mite of what they have when I started out.

She came to see me because her son was killed. I told her she should go to the police. She told me that would take forever. Trying to relax her, I pointed out that the police was not too far away, as if taking forever meant the time it would take her to get to a police station. She smiled and reminded me that of the four strapping policemen who came in from Canada, two of them, thus far, went back after they realized they would have to live here forever to make even a small impression on the police force. And it seemed I had come well recommended. After all, a man who discovered one new world while trying to find another and who was reincarnated as a private detective to discover more things, more than five hundred years after his maiden transatlantic voyage, must be good. He asked about my retainer.

I told her I had returned for many reasons. Some of my people, the tourists, could not understand how this continent and chain of islands had become so corrupt. After all, I had to remind her that the author, Charles Mann, had correctly written in his book, 1491, that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets and was larger than any contemporary city in Europe before 1492. I explained how the Americas had started genetic engineering by creating corn. There were black people here before 1492. How else did the banana, of African origin, end up in Peru before I came here?

When tourists referred to these countries, pejoratively, as a banana republic, how much had I and my people contributed to the endemic corruption she has to endure? Caught between the poor cocaine producers in the south and the rich consumers in the north, these islands have become nothing but transit points. Lives in these in transit terminals become shorter and shorter as trafficking increases more and more. In protest, I hear many a Rastaman have ceased smoking herb, or they are growing their own, since the shippers now marry marijuana, cocaine and guns in one all inclusive package for optimal distribution.

I recovered the little book off the floor and explained to her that evil had long inhabited and nested itself in the fabric of these parts. I quoted from The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolom√© De Las Casas that says, “……for in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from heaven.” Some years later, Las Casas described butcher shops that sold human flesh for dog food: “Give me a quarter of that rascal there,” one (Spaniard) customer said, “until I can kill some more of my own”. The twisted irony is that these charming islands are so beautiful, the beauty hides the ugliness; but then again, good and evil have always walked together, even in Eden.

Then I told her I would accept her case under one condition. She and her family and friends must petition the government to deploy a reformed army with crystal clear rules of engagement. You cannot have a group of women talking about taking back the night when criminals are in charge and soldiers are waiting for an invasion that has already happened. The reformed army must pitch tents in real and present danger areas as well as areas of potential danger. A reformed army is the primary and principal force best suited to assist the police in winning back the confidence of the people in the security forces of the state.

Those who see the army as a traditional army should visit the website of the Regional Security System (RSS), It underscores the changing roles of the RSS, which comprises both military and police personnel. “The threat of external aggression or destabilization, once seen as a problem, is now almost non-existent and Member States are no longer concerned with the threat of external aggression from any of its neighbours, but rather with the more pervasive influence of narco-trafficking, terrorism, crime and their consequential impact on civil society. The increase in crime is aggravated by the influx of criminal deportees from…….and by the availability of firearms…” They changed the role of the army on the web and left the old army marching aimlessly on the ground. Move from at ease and come to attention, our attention!

And so I concluded, the government cannot continue to refuse to permanently reengineer, reform and deploy the army, with crystal clear rules of engagement. The government cannot take blind refuge in citing (inciting) the image of the country in the eyes of tourists and wait until tourists are killed to pull out all the stops. Tell them I sent you. I am the original tourist and I am scared stiff living and working here. If they still refuse, warn them that if a man more than 500 years old can see the way to stop the immediate haemorrhage, whilst other long term measures are put in place, and they cannot see the way out, then they have long passed their expiry date. And so, it is time for all of them, as I close my office and bid you goodbye forever, to sing with me, altogether now, “Garn Ah Guassa”.