Gang membership comes with a price


For the sake of justice let’s hope the jury in the Ephraim Brown murder trial got it right by acquitting the two men who stood trial charged with second-degree murder.

For the sake of the family that lost the 11-year-old who was well and truly loved let’s hope that the person or persons responsible for his death by gunfire will find the moral decency to take responsibility for causing the death of an innocent child.

Although, the odds of that happening are next to impossible. For the person who would have the presence of mind to fire live rounds in and amongst a group of people who have nothing to do with whatever rage drives him is hardly likely to have the presence of mind to recognize the gravity of such actions and the need to atone for it by facing justice.

Yet, one can still hope.

We seem to be growing increasingly desensitized to the killing of young men by other disaffected young men throughout the community and beyond. The outrage that met the first rash of killings that began in force now almost a generation ago has been replaced by a disillusioned acceptance that some will be shot and some will be killed. The task of keeping vigils for those who have been killed now rests mainly with the mothers of young men who died from gunfire.

Yet, we know that more will follow because there is already a system in place waiting to pull new members into its fold.

When we teach boys not to feel, when we do not show them the tenderness that any human must have in order to flourish, then the unintended consequence is those boys are primed to become homicidal or suicidal. If that sounds too harsh, then let the hard evidence contradict that.

Journalist Dwight Drummond who grew up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood has been quoted as saying that his mother did not let the neighbourhood raise him, she did. A lot has been made of the problem of parenting or lack thereof that fails these kids. Some are uncomfortable with that charge because there are so many other factors informing the conditions for what makes a boy into a gang member.

In fact, it is perfectly normal for young people to form social groups. The person who does not, as he enters his teen years, would be considered a loner or ‘antisocial’. So when young men join ‘gangs’ we have to consider that at some level they are doing the wrong thing for the right reason. They are seeking social connections with people with whom they identify.

But in the case of violent gangs, the common bond is the problem. These kids have little sense of belonging, neither to mainstream society nor, too often, within their own families. Where is the love? What they consider to be love, that sense of brotherhood and oneness we all desire, comes at a price. And there is collateral damage – children like Ephraim Brown, and communities that cannot trust the young members of their own neighbourhoods to care for or about them.

There are no easy answers. The many who care to see a change in this grievous condition work hard with meager resources to rescue as many as they can and to engage them positively so that they can experience a broader range of emotional options. But the tragic fact is we will keep losing young men to violence as long as we fail to grow them with genuine love.

Jimmy Cliff called it a long time ago: “Treat the youths right, so dem no deal with dynamite.”

A note on democracy in Haiti…

The problem for Haiti is that everyone keeps expecting that chaotic nation to be like every other democracy in this hemisphere. It clearly is not. For too long, foreign interests have felt it their prerogative to dictate to Haiti how to be. What would happen if foreign interests stopped imposing expectations on Haiti and allowed the people of the country to work out their own organic way of managing their internal affairs? The paradigm of top down political leadership and governance may eventually emerge there but, for now, why not stop meddling and leave the Haitians – a clever and creative people – the space to conceive their own way.

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