Good intentions can cause bigger problems
Minister Anil Roberts is quoted as saying the closure of the LifeSport programme was a sad day for young, black men since the cessation was due to the greed of certain people.
I want to agree with the minister but for a very different reason: we perpetuate expensive mistakes in our attempt to address the at-risk males. Margaret Wheatley, a management consultant, once said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and failing to achieve anything useful.”
We need to recognise in at-risk communities only a small proportion of youth will become gang members although very few youths have no risk factors associated with violence and gang membership.
To structure an intervention, one has to look at the risk factors which include the individual, the family, the peer groups, the school and wider community.
To spend the sums of money reported without an understanding that the targeted individuals require more than a change in their values and actions (a difficult task in itself) but that there has to be community-based support systems to encourage and sustain such changes is to continue to harm the youth.
By giving money to the young men without a sense of how they fit into their neighbourhoods and how they will be encouraged to sustain change is to encourage economic dependency. This in turn leads to an increase in serious crime. It is not a sustainable solution.
By hosting such well-intentioned programmes we contribute to the attractiveness of the gangs since the funnel for money distribution is through them. When we couple lax law enforcement to this, we are exalting the gang as the primary community institution. There is no more stigma to poor behaviour, but the miscreants get “rank” and lead, like a pied piper, increasing numbers of the young.
The quality of life in the neighbourhood will deteriorate, driving those who can help avert the crisis to leave for a safer residence. Families, children and neighbourhoods are hurt as the gangs take control of the area.
We would have increased the motivation for violent crime (fewer personal targets and more government funds) and reduce the informal neighbourhood capacity for guardianship and regeneration.
Let us help the poor, young black men by resisting the temptation to seek quick solutions. The causes of crime among the young are many and are complex in nature.
We have to engage “the many” in the community to combat crime, a long-term task. We have to seek ways of increasing social interaction among neighbours and not strengthen the financial capacity of the gangs.
There has to be support and respect for the cultural heritages and a development of the community leadership which can then build trust between the at-risk youth, the wider community and the institutions which then enable the development of economic capital.
We have to focus on strengthening families and getting the schools to work so that jobs can be created. We have to resist naming the programme as though it will resolve the fundamental issues.