Seeds bear the ‘bad fruit’ The role of music and schools in crime reduction

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The Jamaica Observer headline of Sunday, February 2, 2020 was both disheartening and angering. It screamed that some 110 people had been murdered in January alone — a slight uptick on the 104 killed in January 2019. I’m aware of a further six people who have been killed since, which moves the murder total so far this year to at least 116. Nine women and three children are among the 116 victims so far.

Then, on Tuesday, February 4, another Observer headline shouted: ‘Fatal drive-by shooting near Ackee Walk’. The report revealed that eight people had been shot. We later learned that three died.

My anger at our inability to control, suppress, curb, or defeat this monster of crime is now at an almost unbearable level.

Sad, so sad that we are only in the second month of our new year and already we are forced to seriously consider this crime issue and write about it, again, with the hope that this time words will spur our leaders to right action. We should have been able to move past this plague in our nation long, long ago. We must go back because crime is a destructive theme that runs through everything that can move the nation forward. We have to tackle it and win now.


Admit we have failed

We must seriously acknowledge, as the Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang did on social interventions, that what and how we have fought the crime monster has not worked. I am boldly saying it cannot work. Our Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke has pointed out that four times as much money has been spent on crime in the last four years than in the previous years; yet crime is higher now, at least murders.


The reality is screaming at us: We have failed.

We, therefore, need a different approach with some fresh minds, with new thinking and, more importantly, with the political will to do what is really necessary to produce change. We have talked, talked, and talked but we keep doing the same failed things. Could it be our personal or political pride that keeps us doing what we are doing whether it works or not?

Help is being offered, ideas suggested, but who listens or cares enough to seriously take action? We need a radical approach now, with a totally integrated strategy. We must attack it from all angles simultaneously; home, school, church, and society with strict order enforced.

One angle that we must determine to use in our coordinated approach is our music. Ironically, we celebrate this month of February as Reggae Month. It’s time we seriously engage our musicians as partners in our fight against crime. The impact of music on thinking and behaviour is an established fact. We have to decide whether we will allow the music to use us, or are we going to use it for positive outcomes.

I host a programme on radio on Mondays and Tuesdays on Bess 100 FM, at 10:00 pm to midnight, called Life Reasonings. A caller recently expressed dismay at the fact that we have allowed our musicians to release songs that promote murder and the abuse of our women, then we wonder why high on our list of social ills is murder and abuse. I concur, and what I propose as a solution at this time is a double-edged sword of temporary regulation and reward. In other words, let’s find ways to encourage our musicians and music producers to hold off on releasing any more murder- and abuse-promoting music for now. In addition, let’s find ways to convince our radio DJs and street and party sound system DJs to stop playing any murder and abuse music for a while.

On the other hand, I am suggesting to both the Government and private sector that they collaborate in finding and funding current musical talent to produce positive and uplifting music. There are many more Koffees out there with Grammy potential. But we all know that the destructive power of payola in our system keeps them from rising to the top. Those who know what I’m talking about know what I’m talking about!

So, let’s unearth some new talent and even refresh some old ones and release them as our new partners in our coordinated fight against crime. Maybe we will win the fight and some more Grammys at the same time, too.


Fix crime by fixing education

A report of a Harvard study by David J Deming revealed the following: “The findings suggest that schools may be a particularly important setting for the prevention of future crime. Many high-risk youth in the sample drop out of school at a very young age and are incarcerated for serious crimes prior to the age of high school graduation. For these youth on the margins of society, public schools may present the best opportunity to intervene.”

The Gleaner of Friday, January 31, 2020 carried the headline ‘Unfair and unfortunate’ bringing attention to the hearing for the teacher from Pembroke Hall High School of whom a video went viral for comments she made in anger last year. Teachers, parents and students turned out to give support accepting that her reactions may not have been right, but ‘provocation mek Peter swear’.

It raises the issue of the indiscipline in schools and the difficulties with which teachers have to contend, more so with little recourse. Time come to fully address the weaknesses in our educational system.

It is no secret that crime is now a systemic problem. It is no secret that in some communities we have some crime-producing factories called schools. The fact is indisciplined students form an undisciplined society; crime and disorder will reign. We cannot afford to divorce indiscipline in school from issues of society. The teacher’s behaviour raises questions of wrong, but so far no mention is made of what caused a fellow student to record the incident. What is a phone doing in class? Was it a ‘set-up’ to rile up the teacher for fun? Who disciplined the student recorder? Are phones the norm in classes?

The area of discipline in high schools, especially those serving large numbers of children from low-income areas, must come up for special attention. If our educational system and our educational authorities cannot make teachers feel protected, then it forces teachers to feel the need to stamp their own authority.

Our society cannot bury its head in the sand and not face the realities of what many of our teachers have to contend with in many of our schools. It is not uncommon to have teachers beaten and threatened in some schools. Since the start of the year we have seen reports of teachers beaten (Dumfries Primary, St James) and shot to death (Vauxhall High, Kingston).

Many teachers are overwhelmed emotionally and end up in tears. They feel powerless at the abuse suffered regularly. I have counselled many at the height of their pain and frustration. This is not a matter to be swept under the carpet. The indiscipline of society reflects its origins, in the homes, and schools.

We then must attend to fixing discipline in the schools by teaching it, and enforcing it, as it is the last bastion of hope before they are released on society. In our reality, inculcating values and discipline in schools must be a priority. Put a specialist teacher for this area in every grade at least with requisite time to teach values and with the authority to discipline.

I am sure I heard that teachers cannot give detention or ‘lines’ any more. Someone correct me and tell me it is not so. How do they convey to students the profound truth that there are consequences to wrong behaviour. No child can grow successfully without discipline, and discipline is inculcated through order and certain positive values. This is where the Government, as part of its crime-reduction strategy, should be investing more funds; instead of on more police in their present state, who, in some cases, are no better than who they are policing.

Can improvement in the quality of schools be an effective crime-prevention strategy? So asked David Deming in his study and research. Criminal activity, he observed, begins in early adolescence and peaks when most youth should still be enrolled in secondary school. It therefore must not be lost on us that the majority of our crime producers just left school, and many are still in school. It is as if they left school to begin crime college or crime work; hence, the criminal age range is, in the main, the 17 to 25 age group. What is that telling us? Is it that we lost them in school — the place that should be final preparation for productive living?

Let’s get back to our roots of a disciplined educational system. Let’s add to that discipline the teaching and evaluation of positive values as an accompaniment to our return to discipline. We must do so if we are to find lasting solutions to nip the early criminal beginnings of some.

Both reggae music in its various accepted expressions and the education system with our teachers are connected to our crime problem and are critical to the solution. The end results of problems that appal us are all part of the general indiscipline and unprincipled behaviours we permitted when they were seeds. Then we forget that it is seed that bears the now unbearable fruit. Let’s search some more for answers.

Copyright © 2020 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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