“‘Hurry up and come back’, was the first thing she said to her son the day his life was taken…” “Footprints” starts out with the harrowing act of youth violence…the sad image of a mother sending her son off only to not have him return. This seems to be commonplace in our society.
This song is one of the most powerful of the last decade and I remember it being in heavy rotation around the Caribbean region when it first came out. What I do not remember is any major discussion about it’s message. Rising youth violence and crime is not just an individual issue, it is a population issue and has implications for population health.
During my time in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I saw many funerals for young people killed by the barrel of a gun or the blades of a knife. I have two very young cousins who are growing up without fathers because of this violence. I know of a family in constant pain because of the choices of one child. Almost every day, there are news stories from across the region of youth committing violent acts against one another…of youth deaths…premature deaths.
I remember a few years ago, there was a case in Antigua where a (Black) young man allegedly killed a (White, foreign) young woman while she was on vacation. The news reports–and the online comments below the report–worked to demonize the young man as a ‘no-good’ foreigner whose sole goal in life was to bring negative attention to the island. Among those comments were a few dissenting voices–some knowing the conditions under which he grew up–questioned the system that seeks to limit options for immigrant children. Someone went as far as to say that the young man had spent much to his formative years in Antigua, and therefore much of his socialization occurred there; so to paint him as a foreigner is to direct attention to the wrong issues.
He would be considered one of the many at-risk young people around the region today, having many of the risk factors associated with rising violence: poverty, lack of opportunities, no significant bonds with adults, lack of a connection with educational institutions, and the presence of cultural values that encourage and reinforce risky behavior. You see, as a society, we are quick to say that drugs and alcohol are the culprits. Yet we somehow fail to see that there are also underlying factors for drugs and alcohol use.
Just last week, Barbados hosted an inaugural working group on preventing crime by focusing on vulnerable youth and at-risk populations. Although held under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, there seems to be an active consciousness to thinking about violence as a public health issue. By the end of the meeting, there was greater emphasis on fighting “the scourge of youth violence where youths are disproportionately represented in the ranks of both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence in the Caribbean.” (See full article here.)
Like CBSI, there are many other initiatives attempting to research the issue of violence across the region and to implement viable interventions:
A few years ago, the Wellcome Trust started the ‘Fighting Back: tacking violence in the Caribbean’ project “to map the full extent of the problem and get to the heart of its possible causes.” The hope is to use the information gathered to design more effective intervention and prevention programs. More information can be found here.
The IADB also has cases form various islands on developing protective factors and mitigating risk factors here.
Imagine, this post started while reflecting on a song; a song that details many of the risk factors for engaging if violence.