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.