1970s study showed gang problems

In the late 1970s when I began making predictions as to what some of the social consequences of rapid economic growth without sensible social planning, management and treatment would be, I did not base my considerations purely on conditions I had seen in the Cayman Islands. An essential part of my analysis had been informed by comparative studies of social conditions in other places of the world where I had lived and studied.

And I continue to stress that the need for a comparative overview of social issues here is of paramount importance, if we are to gain an understanding rather than impressions and opinions about the causes of social breakdown and methods to combat them. Our problems have never been unique, although their causes and consequences differ somewhat from that elsewhere. But rather than study our problems and open up the debate on the social consequences of our economic and social structures, we condemn those defining the problems as the problem.

I was shocked but not knocked out when I read of the decision to place policemen in some of our schools, especially after rereading the government’s study of Social Breakdown and Youth Violence, which I had chaired. The findings of this study make it clear that there was a gang culture in our schools, in fact the public schools are the breeding grounds for gangs and nurture and sustain them even when there is a lull in violence.

Recently I was ask to give my definition of a youth gang and I defined it as a group of youngsters who decided that there exist or should exist a bond between themselves that must be honoured and respected by themselves and any knowing or unknowing person. In Grand Cayman schools, these young people establish a special bond or sense of social unity where belonging is an end in itself and where youngsters are members for the sheer pleasure and satisfaction of being there. Many times it is the secrets held from teachers, parents and the majority of the community that gives these youngsters the pleasure and satisfaction of belonging. A youth gang needs face-to-face contacts, spontaneous interaction, intensity, involvement with the whole of their being and schools are the perfect environments for their creation and growth.

The dynamics of the youth gang is not so different than that of a lodge or other societies of secrets, where members are drawn into the ranks because of curiosity and a need for a sense of social unity. Ganging or grouping is a natural human phenomenon and young people imitate all their lives. What of course worries us are the highly destructive actions of youth gangs. However, the lack of productiveness of a youth gang is a subjective view since young people seeking meaning and excitement are moved by defiance rather than compliance.

But unlike street gangs, youth gangs in Cayman do not see interaction as a means towards an end, but as an end in itself and this should give us some cause for optimism. However, to place police in these schools to carry out searches of persons and personal items is to invite the intensification of the conflicts and perhaps attract negative parental involvement. The police are already viewed as the enemy; therefore, placing them in an even more confrontational position with youngsters and some parents will intensify not lessen the value of conflict and confrontation in the eyes of youngsters engaged in or being drawn toward youth gangs and violence.

My question to the government is where are the youth workers and social workers who should have been trained and employed since the study of Social Break Down and Youth Violence was completed. We should by now be aware that our major cultural and moral values and outlook have been eroded by economic considerations and international cultures that promote violence as entertainment and that our youth have turned defiance into celebration and delinquents into celebrities.

Frank McField