June 20, 2006

Mr. Prime Minister, can YOU fix my broken family?

As the child of divorced (gasp!) parents, I’ve never been a big fan of the term “broken family.” I’m even less a fan when used in the sentence, “but we also recognize that most crime originates in neighbourhoods blighted by joblessness, poverty and broken families,” as Mr. Harper commented at yesterday’s World Urban Forum in a speech that was so inappropriate for the venue and audience it made me laugh out loud as he stumped himself to embarrassment in front of a brilliant, global audience that indeed didn’t come into town to hear him talk about his plans for broken families or the mining industry in Canada.

But back to the point, crime originates in joblessness and poverty. Fact. If there is a link between crime and SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES, it is solely because of an increased incidence of poverty. As someone who felt confident enough to increase the size of the poorest income bracket, eradicate the national childcare plan, and scrap the Kelowna Accord, I’m a little surprised Mr. Harper doesn’t know this.

I don’t have a lot of time to post an extended rant citing all the evidence that proves Mr. Harper’s “broken family” theory on crime in neo-con rhetoric (I’ve got to go to work for Mr. Dion, a man who has admitted ending child poverty should come before GST cuts); however, I leave you with below. It’s a letter I wrote to the Globe and Mail in response to this article. Oddly one of the few letters of mine the Globe has never published. If you don't have a subscription, I've added the text of the story below my comments to make this one of those terribly annoying/lengthy posts.

"Dear Globe and Mail, Although I support a more nuanced analysis of the problem of gun violence in Canada, I was hugely offended by Glendene Lemard's link between so-called "broken families" and gangs.

"Firstly, I would expect a little more social awareness form Ms. Lemard and the Globe and Mail's editorial staff. 'Broken families' is normative term that is only surpassed in it outdated-ness by its political incorrectness. Families where parents are no longer living together are called families. Families with one parent raising children are called families. If you insist on labeling for the sake of statistical analysis, they are called 'single-parent families,' not broken families

"But Ms. Lemard made a spurious correlation claiming that 'gangs are a substitute for broken families' without any legitimate research backing her claim. She wrote about a study linking gang participation to immigration with no mention of any link between emigrating families and single-parent families. She then wrote about a former gang member who joined a gang because he could not find a job, with no mention of a legitimate link between unemployment opportunities and single-parent families.

"Ms. Lemard does manage to segue into a judgment-ridden diatribe about the lack of family values and positive socialization, and only in brackets mentions urban poverty and economic inequality as someone relevant factors.

"Ms. Lemard and her brackets did no justice to the true problem of gun violence: systemic, socio-economic barriers. Before she receives any credibility on the issue of gang violence, she had best put away her blatantly conservative value-judgments and do some decent research."


Guns and poses: Coming down hard won't stop violence

Yesterday's visit by Prime Minister Paul Martin and Toronto Mayor David Miller to a northwest Toronto community notorious for gang-related crime, and Ottawa's announcement that tougher gun laws are on the way, both show that gun violence is a major concern for Canadians.

Seventy per cent of Toronto's homicides for the year have involved guns, and a large portion seem also to involve black males. Between 1996 and 2002, 10 per cent of all violent crimes committed in Toronto were linked to young men of Jamaican origin. This is high, considering that Jamaicans make up only 3.5 per cent of the city's population.

One reason is drug wars. The drug trade in Jamaica, Canada, the United States and United Kingdom is closely linked. Cold-hearted drug leaders, or "dons," use gun violence to express their rule of law. Break the "law" and punishment is immediate and sure: You die. As the drug industry has gained strength in Jamaica, so has the trade in illegal guns.

Gangs are also a big part of the problem. Jamaican drug gangs (known as "posses" in the United States and "yardies" in the United Kingdom) have been associated with high levels of gun violence in urban centres. But gangs are a substitute for broken families: One Jamaican study found that children whose parents had emigrated were at high risk for joining street gangs or "corner crews," and consequently to engage in more violent behaviour. A former gang member in Jamaica (high school educated, he joined a gang at 15 because he couldn't find a job) once told me that he would kill to protect his "brothers." The bond was strong and the need for respect was paramount. Of course, if the lack of family values and positive socialization helps perpetuate youth violence, other issues (urban poverty, economic inequality, lack of access to jobs and social services) all play a part.

But why do Jamaican immigrants have a high rate of involvement in gun violence? Other immigrant groups also face the pressures of single-family households, lower levels of social support and recent migration. Certain aspects of a Jamaican culture of violence deserve to be considered.

The island nation has one of the world's highest homicide rates: In 2004, the rate was 44 per 100,000 persons. In Canada, the rate was 1.9. The world average is about eight. Jamaica's epidemic started in the 1970s when politicians fighting for political power armed poor young men. In the 1980s and 1990s, gun violence became linked with the drug trade, but that first system of political patronage has had devastating consequences. The criminal justice system has failed to provide an outlet for conflict and dispute resolution. Today, a third of all Jamaican homicides stem from dispute; another third are about reprisal. Minor disputes in Jamaica have the potential to be deadly. Police reports show that quarrels over the ownership of a cooking pot, payment for a pack of cigarettes or a bingo game can lead to murder. Overall, the gun is the main weapon used in reprisals, robberies and drug/gang-related killings.

Efforts to stem gun use in Jamaica have had minimal effects. In an attempt to get guns out of the hands of criminals and rid the streets of violent offenders, the government resorted to extremely punitive measures, such as police raids on inner-city communities, curfews and declarations of states of emergency. And still, gun violence increases.

One lesson here is that a punishment-driven approach is no answer. This method is alienating and divisive. Residents in poor urban communities feel at risk of violence from drug dons, gangs and the police. People feel they are targeted. Unable to trust authorities, they create codes of silence; giving information to the police can be deadly. Jamaica has slowly learned that good police-community relations require a citizen-friendly approach. Community residents in high-risk areas must be empowered to participate actively in finding solutions to deal with violence.

The main antidote the world over is prevention. Helping high-risk adolescents to complete schooling and changing the skills and attitudes of youth are both cost-effective. Canada, too, must strike a balance between the need to stop violence now and to reduce it over the long-run. The perpetrator-chase strategy can lead to moral panic and the risk of race and class profiling. Investing in prevention is the best way.

Glendene Lemard, a Jamaican, is a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

5 Commentaires:

Blogger James Bowie a dit...

This is nothing new for the CPC.

I was with Peter Julian and Stockwell Day in the West block. This was all for a course I was taking at Ottawa U.

Stockwell blamed deadbeat dads for crime and poverty. Room was full of people.

6/20/2006 8:52 p.m.  
Blogger Denise B a dit...

Criminalizing poverty and criminalizing single mothers is a classic Conservative move. Even Bill Clinton caved to the right wing when trying to pass his PWORA Act. He added a clause that in order to apply for welfare based on dependents, the identity of BOTH parents must be known. Ie, no dad, no financial support. So brutal.

6/20/2006 9:40 p.m.  
Blogger Diamond Fan a dit...

Richard Diamond will be a strong and cool father figure to all children from broken homes.

6/23/2006 6:59 p.m.  
Blogger Broken Families Book a dit...

You should check out the new book by Rick DOuglass. It is awesome, it tells about the broken family epidemic and the hypocrisy of government!

8/14/2007 11:22 a.m.  
Blogger Broken Families Book a dit...

Sorry! you can find the book at Authorhouse.com book ID 46755 it is a must read for anyone interested in the hypocrisy of the governments actions!

8/14/2007 11:24 a.m.  

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