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Let’s Not Call Them Thugs

Let’s Not Call Them ThugsAs the recent incident at one of our secondary schools suggests, not only are we faced with violence involving youth in the community, but such violence has weaved its way into our schools.

One would hope that the school is the place where society can expect to be violence and drug free. Sadly, that is not the case not in Antigua and certainly not elsewhere.

There are countries around the world where schools are fortified with metal detectors, cameras in the hallways, guards patrolling hallways, policemen at the doors and in patrol cars circling around the block, and a general sense of fear by everyone students, teachers, and administrators. This worst case nightmare scenario has not yet arrived in Antigua.

But is it far away? If there is a threat of that, then something must be done quickly to slow and then halt the progression towards that frightening scenario.

However, knee jerk reactions by teachers, parents, school officials, and government leaders will only provide temporary, feel-good band-aids.

Expelling students from school – be they 13 or 18 – will potentially turn youths who are inclined toward violence into hardcore, violent adults. The act of expelling students is one that also turns them loose into a society where there are no formal (or informal) programmes that could help to turn them around – plus give them another chance at being educated. In expelling them, we are literally – not figuratively - abandoning them.


The young men involved in this incident could possibly be incarcerated. If this happens, they will be shoveled into a prison where they will be mentored and coached by older, seasoned, and even more violent criminals. And who knows what other experiences they will be exposed to there.

Yes, I know that there are many people who will say this is what they deserve. Their behaviours do need to be addressed. But how we address them and the behaviours of other youth who increasingly exhibit similar tendencies will mean the difference between influencing them to adopt socially acceptable behaviours or forcing them to degenerate into hardened, lifetime criminals.

Let’s think this through.

•    If we shunt them off to prison to punish them (as their behaviours seem to deserve), what effect will that have on them and on their future?

•    Do you think that this experience (expulsion, and potentially prison) will "teach them a lesson" – a lesson that will transform them into "good" young men?

•    Are there behavior modification programmes in the prison that will help them to "see the error of their ways" and teach them to adopt more socially acceptable behaviours?

•    Will they be taught (in prison) the knowledge and social skills they need to contribute meaningfully to their own development and to the development of a nation that needs positive, skilled, creative, resourceful, and energetic young people?

•    Are there community-based programmes that will help them to modify their behaviours, teach them pro-social skills, and help them not only to continue their education, but motivate them to be more academically successful this time around?

•    Are there community-based programmes that will teach them work-related skills if they are not doing well academically?

Zero Tolerance Policy 
Certainly, without question, a Zero Tolerance policy in schools is the way to go: Zero drug use; Zero drug activity; Zero violence; Zero guns or other weapons; Zero threatening behaviours! Zero… Or else!

One of the things that perturbs me is the "or else"!

I don’t think that we have thought through the ramifications of the "or else," and what it will do to these youth – who no matter their behaviours of today – represent our nation’s tomorrow. Frightening… isn’t it? To shunt them off to an institution where there is no proven intervention or rehabilitative programme is to further deny them the possibility of contributing meaningfully and positively to our future, and more importantly – to their own future.


It is because they represent our nation’s tomorrow that we must go beyond our angry assertion that punishment is the answer to this troubling issue.

Yes, they must be held accountable for their actions. But we, adults, must be held accountable for our non-actions. What do I mean?

I know that many of you have questions about the phrase above: “Further deny them." What did I mean by that?

Well, this is not the first violent activity related to that school and many other schools in our nation. The issue of violence and criminal activity among our young people (in or out of school) has been in and out of the public spotlight for years.

So what have we done to address the slow, yet constantly encroaching violence, drug involvement, and other criminal activities in and around our schools? Where are the intervention programmes? Where are the prevention programmes?

Where is the training for teachers and other school officials? Where are the community programmes that would empower our youth to adopt more pro-social thinking, behaviours, and lifestyles?

Where are the training programmes for parents so that they are tooled with the skills and techniques to help them in their increasingly difficult task of parenting?

Where are the programmes to boost the efforts of community groups and churches and to give them the kinds of training they need to help in a synergistic and integrated island-wide effort at prevention and intervention?

Our failure to put these things in place is a failure at our level to recognise that these problems will not go away on their own. The public angst that has shown up around the current violence should be accompanied with public shame at the fact that we have not developed sustained, serious, and proven attempts at helping youth who may be headed in the direction of, and the destination to which these young people seem to have arrived.

Did anyone see it coming? What were their behaviours like prior to these incidents? Are there any records that document prior negative behaviors? How were they doing academically? What was their attendance like? What were their relationships like with teachers and other students? Did any of them have sessions with the school counselor?

As a former official with the District of Columbia Public Schools, and a former teacher at the Greenbay Government School and as a parent, I can unequivocally say that these behaviours did not just show up on the day of the violence. It was a long time coming.

The question is: Who noticed? And what could they do about it? What was in place to help these young people address their growing destructive behaviours?

Let me put on another hat. As a clinical psychologist, I can also say that there is a possibility that such behaviours are themselves cries for help. Just like in cases of suicide, subtle cries for help, when they go unnoticed, can grow into full blown violence (at self or others) and other destructive behaviours.


In failing to notice cries for help – and in failing to address such cries for help… we adults fail our young people.

I want to be clear that I am not pointing at any specific individual or institution. I am not criticizing any government agency or official. I am saying that we all must hold ourselves accountable.

And, rather than seeing such violence only as a chance to punish, we should see such violence as cries for help by youth who need help… who know they need help… and who know they are not getting the help they need.

Rather than seeing the youths involved in this incident as the only ones who need help… we should look around – open our eyes and see that potentially there may be tens of other youths in each school (including elementary schools) who are crying out for help.

Thugs? 
Madame Minister, locking “the thugs" up will send messages to other youths. You are right. But are you sure that the message that you intend to send is the message that they will receive?

I strongly disagree with identifying these youths as "thugs". That kind of labelling of misguided youth who commit violent acts will not help them or other youths. While their behaviours might be "thuggish," I am sure that if you meet with some of those young people one-on-one, you would be left with a different perspective of them. And if you dig deeper, what you find might surprise you.

I have worked as a clinical psychologist with youth in a juvenile detention facility housing at times over 400 young men. Many of them had committed atrocious crimes (including homicides).

However, when I met with them individually, I could not but privately lament to myself that somewhere, at sometime, someone had dropped the ball. Individually, these were misguided, and yes, often violent young people who had committed serious crimes.

Many of them had failed in schools. Most of them were from poverty stricken homes and neighbourhoods infested with drugs and violence. Most of them were already using drugs. Many of them had parents and family members who were already involved in the criminal justice system. And, some of them had been diagnosed with mental health disorders – after they were incarcerated.

But one thing stood out. All of them aspired to something better – something different. They just didn’t know how to get there. My job – our job – was to have them understand that what they were doing would not get them what they wanted… and then to get them to buy into using more pro-social methods of achieving the "success" and different life and lifestyle that they secretly wanted.

Would I call those children thugs? No.

Let’s reserve words like "thugs" for hardcore criminals with a long history of violence and mayhem. I have also worked with "thugs" – some of the worst criminals from the District of Columbia: drug kingpins; serial murderers; serial rapists; serial child sexual abusers. Thugs? Yes.


These kids in our schools are not thugs.

Let’s not drop the ball with the young people here in Antigua who are involved in violence and other negative behaviours… whether they are your children, someone else’s children, or mine. They belong to us… negative behaviours and all.

In November 2006, I wrote an article entitled “Violence and Drug Prevention Needed”. As a matter of fact, I thought it was so important that I included it in my latest book: Radical Thoughts & Empowering Perspectives. In that article, I indicated what I thought needed to be done to prevent us from getting to where we are today. (I will republish that article on Caribarena.com in a few days as part 2 to this article.)

In that article, I give a brief outline of the school and community based prevention programmes and strategies that I suggest we implement across the nation to stem the slowly increasing tide of violence and drug use among our youth.

In another upcoming article, I will outline school- and community-based intervention strategies and programmes.

In the meantime, I suggest that the authorities look for best practices and demonstrably proven, successful programmes from across the world that will help us in the effort to foster resilient and law-abiding youth who are focused on their educational, professional, and personal development. I also encourage them to develop critically needed intervention programmes to help youth like those who were recently involved in that violent incident.

Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D. is an Executive Coach, Organizational Consultant & Clinical Psychologist


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16 Comments In This Article   

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Thugs..certainly not!

#16 Sojourner Truth » 2011-11-24 05:43

Insightful article! I join Dr Mottley in asserting that we must take collective responibility for the issues and the solutions. All of our young people are are critical to our development......we cannot afford to write any of the off..Instead we find ways to help them see how they are valuable and can add value.
The Minister mentions that they will need to have programmes for the counsellors who they will train in conflict resoultion, anger management etc and this utterance bothered me because if you are a counsellor you come to the job with these skills already. Therefore those in the school systems parading as school counsellors are NOT. A first degree in psychology does not a counsellor make..and many of them do not even have a first degree in psychology. This is a big issue. If the Ministry is serious about student suport, and prevention, they they must do the right thing. Find the right people for the job.
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Sojourner Truth

@Antigua Woman

#15 Dig It » 2011-11-24 00:55

Antigua Woman,no "thumbs down" here! Well said, and, please don't get discourage, especially, when it comes to our youths! They need us more than ever!
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Dig It

@ Skyewill & MEDASAE

#14 John French II » 2011-11-24 00:36

Notes From A Native Son Of The Rock. Much Appreciated. Brother, to be honest, I struck a blank as I tried to add others more indigenous and cultural. You made my day and I am sure educated and satisfied many a youthful yearning. Praise be! To The Most Merciful! I have enjoyed your suggestion that all(young men) and I include young females should visit and enjoy the blessings of the motherland. Had intended to visit Ghana next March, but Duty in the OECS calls and Honour must obey much to the FAM's disappointment. Will do so in 2013 with the FAM and spend a month teaching. Together with a Ghanan Brother, Scientist and Innovator have been trying to do some things on the Rock but having the **ens of a time. He is at one of Canada's leading Universities and doing innovative research with Graduate students and activities in Ghana, ZIM, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa. Can get no traction on the Rock. Not deterred. Will keep trying. Nov 24 will see the major lecture for the LTCH Memorial at the Multipurpose Center. Major Speaker is from a London University. Look forward to an interesting turnout of folks interested in Economic Development. Go Well. Respect.
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John French II

@ John French II

#13 skyewill » 2011-11-23 23:18

How about "MEDASAE", means thank you in Twi
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skyewill

Very enlightening article.

#12 Antiguan Woman » 2011-11-23 21:30

When i mentioned in a previous post that standing pompously and using words such as "I will not" and, "or else"coming from our Min of education,was not reflecting in my view the attitude of someone who cares, I was given thumbs down, obviously by some persons who sees everything in colors.I said just like the writer stated Their attitudes may be deserving of expulsion,but it should not be left there, it is obvious that there are some serious underlying problems here,and it is only natural that there are many others out there who will someday fall into the same situation,what then,will we Expel them all? I do hope the suggestions of the Doc will be taken into consideration.
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Antiguan Woman

RE: Let’s Not Call Them Thugs

#11 Nameless » 2011-11-23 20:57

It is far easier to educate a child than to repair an adult.
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Nameless

We owe it to ourselves!

#10 Dig It » 2011-11-23 16:03

Dr. Mottley, welcome back! A very good article! You are certainly right that we shouldn't call these youths "thugs," amongst other things! Many of us have, especially, those at the Ministry of Education, have failed to put proper measures in place to deter our many of our youths from venting anger and violence in our schools and communities! In the old days our youths have not only parents but the community as well to guide and protect. Today, it is all so different because many of us are afraid of the consequences of approaching or telling these youths what to do beause of a possible violent reaction or physical altecation. Yet, we all owe it to ourselves to do our part, if our officials fail to!
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Dig It

Bad Begets Bad: Unpleasant Truths From Devil's Bridge!

#9 John French II » 2011-11-23 16:00

Notes From A Native Son Of The Rock. Thanks! Merci Beaucoup! Muchas Gracias! Quote:
A Thug walks down the street,...in a strange world
Maybe it's the Third World, Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language, He holds no currency, He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sounds, The sounds, Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterlings and orphanages, He looks around, around, He sees angels in the architecture, Spinning in infinity, He says Amen and Hallelujah!
A Dr.Teacher From Greebay School! A Dr. PM From Grays Farm-Greenbay!
A Dr. Minister of Education who Enjoys Playing In The Mud!

Antigua & Barbuda's "Bewildered Electorate" has hit the Motherload on Redonda. Quote:
We are going to Lady Nugent, Poorboys and Pilgrims with families And we are going to Lady Nugent, And my traveling companions Are ghosts and empty sockets I'm looking at ghosts and empties
But I've reason to believe We all will be received In Lady Nugent.
Doc, I Sincerely Hope that you will meet your Kindred Spirits in the Hon Dr. PM & The Hon Dr. Min of Education. Your Mind and Contributions will be Terrible Things to Waste. Respect.
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John French II

RE: Let’s Not Call Them Thugs

#8 Reality » 2011-11-23 11:31

The current term used by commentors on NYC blogs is "aspiring rapper".
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Reality

RE: Let’s Not Call Them Thugs

#7 fnpsr » 2011-11-23 11:19

Marcus well said! I have often spoken that the island needs persons with real world experience. This article is a testament to that. Not only is Dr. Mottley the epitome of real word experience, he is also "home grown"'. But too often it is said, that the powers that be don't pursue local talent. Dr. Mottley should be utilized to help address the problem. Yes, I agree with him, that the troubled kids are not thugs. They are troubled and with Dr. Mottley's help they can be saved!

"Let's fix the little things before we attempt to fix the big things."
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fnpsr

Dr. Motley

#6 tenman » 2011-11-23 10:37

Dr. Motley well said. I have waited long for an article of this breadth which really addressees the issue from a trans formative stand point.We all know that in this country after the weeping and knee ** reactions are done, the same issues will keep repeating themselves.One of the inane arguments made for the wastage of moneys at the ministry of sports was it was an effort to control youth crime. Initiatives like what Dr. Motley alludes to will curtail youth crime not building fences on fields where only cows graze

..
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tenman

@HTH Peppersauce

#5 Nameless » 2011-11-23 09:59

You see things in black and white but there are also shades of grays. Just a something you may want to think about.
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Nameless

Prevention better than cure!

#4 Nameless » 2011-11-23 09:43

VERY GOOD ARTICLE PLEASE SEND A COPY TO MS QUIN FOR STARTERS.
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Nameless

Prevention better than cure!

#3 Nameless » 2011-11-23 09:41

I think this article is asking "what is going to happen with these young adults after they have served their time ? How will they fit into a society that they have been away from for such period of time and how can we put resources into place that will help to prevent if not lessen crimes among our young adults?" Some serious questions!!!!!
As a society we only see the after effects of some actions because we turn a blind eye and fool ourselves into believing it is not happening and we sometime think it has become the norm.
I think if we put resources in place to help some of these young perople some of these crimes would not be committed.
If we put resources in place that will help them while in prison, then some of them will not become hard core crimminals and lastly if we put resources in place after they have been release back into "our" community the road for them to adjust to some what of a normal life will be easier.
We can pretend all we want, but these same young "thungs" will one day be release back into society and what then?
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Nameless

They are thugs.....

#2 HTH Peppersauce » 2011-11-23 08:17

As a society, I think it is our responsibility to identify which members do not appear to be able to play by our rules, and then separate them. Young Destroyer will never be a productive member of society. He will burden us with his crimes, and as long as he continues to m****e the legal system, he will continue to do so.

Until our court system agrees that it is up to them to separate the wheat from the chaff, the island will continue a downward spiral. I'll leave forgiveness and rehabilitation for a higher being. As long as they are sharing our space, I say we 'warehouse' in a government facility, the bad apples that can seem to get along with others.
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HTH Peppersauce

They are thugs.....

#1 HTH Peppersauce » 2011-11-23 07:28

You can talk all you want about the socio economic conditions that drove them to crime, or whatever the influences have been that got them on the wrong path. The reality is that although the programs you describe aren't available in school, they are not available anywhere else on the island.

So whatever the reason for their straying, the next time one of these little thugs holds a cutlass to your daughter's throat, you can discuss his inner child with him, or how society let him down.

When I was younger, I had a job in a fruit processing plant. Food would pass by a remarkable speed, and it was our job to look for flaws. When we'd see produce that did not pass inspection, it was our job to separate it from the rest. Permanently. We didn't discuss why it had soured, or rotted, or whatever. We just separated it from the rest, so it would not do harm to the rest of the produce.
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HTH Peppersauce

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Marcus M. Mottley Ph.D

Marcus M. Mottley Ph.DMarcus M. Mottley, Ph.D. is an Executive Coach, Organizational Consultant & Clinical Psychologist

 

 

 

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