Why "Stop The Violence" Campaigns Are Ineffective

Today, I want to write about something that has been bothering me for a long time. Once in a while there will be a period of seemingly nonstop violence in St. Lucia, as I’m sure is the case in other Caribbean countries. For example, during last year's Christmas season and early January, I could hear multiple gunshots from downtown Castries almost daily. Nearly every day in the news I read about some murder or group of murders that had occurred in the north of the island. Many of these murders happened disturbingly close to my home.

In the wake of such violence, it's common for the ministers and other government officials to release statements calling for an end to violence. From as early as I can remember, I recall hearing minister, teachers, and other officials calling for violence to come to an end. However, violence still continues today in St. Lucia. All of these calls for prayers and short-term solutions failed to stop the gun and gang violence in St. Lucia.

Why is that? Well, the first thing we need to realize here is that short-term solutions for violence are never going to work simply because they are short-term. In order to have an effective campaign to stop violence, we need to think in the long-term— something that many in charge seem to be incapable of doing.

Perhaps it is time for us to start looking outside of bureaucracy to stop the violence in our communities. But again, this presents a unique set of challenges for most citizens. We fear violence. Nobody wants to be killed by a stray bullet or to become involved in some criminal activity that they previously weren't involved in. However, for us to stop violence, will need to go into the belly of the beast and see what is really going on. (This mostly applies to middle-class and wealthier St. Lucians who have the privilege of not existing in communities with heavy amounts of violence.)

We also need to conceive of a long-term plan for St. Lucian society, one that eliminates violence as a whole. We cannot eliminate gun violence or gang violence uniquely. This is like suggesting that we should just remove a piece of a cancerous tumor instead of the entire thing. It simply doesn't make sense.

Violence and abuse are actually seen as fundamental to most people’s upbringing in the Caribbean. Violence starts from the time we are children and many St. Lucians actually use biblical justification to prove that violence is necessary for raising a child. (Side note: This biblical justification ignores the multitude of passages where Jesus calls for kindness and love.)

The lessons we learn as children carry on into adulthood. When we learned that violence and abuse were fundamental to our existence, we learned to use violence and abuse to solve all of our problems. Violence became easy to us because that was what we learned as children.

This is not saying let all children run amok. (Yes, I do have to clarify this.) Actually, many psychologists have developed ways to raise children that instill discipline without resorting to abuse or violence. This is not new--this research has been around for more than 30 years. Still, we rely on abuse and violence to build the foundation of our nation's psyche. This is one of the biggest issues at the root of gang violence and gun violence in St. Lucia. We see violence and abuse as normal and refuse to do anything to fight against it until it becomes unacceptable to us.

One of the issues with building the foundation of our society on violence and abuse is that we learn a very black-and-white way of viewing the world. Since our childhood experiences inform our experiences in adulthood, we grow up seeing problem-solving in a way that valorizes punitive methods. We think that punishment is the only way to accomplish our goals to the point where we are blind to alternative solutions and will fight to the death for the belief that punishment is the only way to get anything done. However, violence begets more violence and this ends up being a very ineffective way of viewing our society's current issues, especially with gang violence and gun violence.

Once you add in social factors on top of this foundation of violence, we begin to see that we're in quite a predicament as Caribbean people. The prime minister of St. Lucia recently claimed that poverty and violence are unrelated. I find that this claim has little substance in a country where the majority of people exist in poverty — and have little access to education, health care and social services that send the societal message that their lives have significance. Additionally, multiple studies have linked poverty and crime across the globe. These studies should not be interpreted in a manner that allows for discriminatory practices against the poor. Again, we need to think non-punitively and use this information to weave a stronger social fabric. Poverty does beget violence. Desperation does beget violence. And ultimately, a society that is based on violently of bringing children begets more violence in adulthood.

The campaigns do nothing to address these underlying issues and in fact, acknowledging the truth of these issues is almost taboo. From as early as I can remember campaigns to stop violence in St. Lucia have done nothing in the long-term. They pay lip service to the public and weakly satiate our desire for our government to take action on our behalf.

Government officials and those in charge of leading the country completely ignore the root cause of violence in our communities and they aren't interested in seeking out alternative solutions to ending violence in St. Lucia (or throughout the Caribbean, as I’m sure this is a regional problem). This would mean doing critical analysis of our society and educating themselves about the vast array of research that currently exists regarding community violence. And again, these officials would then have to acknowledge that violence in childhood is correlated to violence in adulthood. This is clearly something they are unwilling to do as bills to ban something as simple and ubiquitous as corporal punishment in schools have not yet been passed.

Additionally, prayer is not a valid solution to ending violence in our communities. This is another way that government officials quickly placate the public. Calling for prayer taps into our religious population’s sensitivity towards their beliefs. Using St. Lucians’ religious beliefs is a very easy way to manipulate them— something missionaries have been doing in our country for years.

While I do believe that there is something to be said for the power of prayer for some, prayer doesn't stop people from being abusive, it doesn't stop people from experiencing poverty, and it also doesn't stop violence in our region. Living in San Souci, I hear prayers on a loud speaker every day of the week for hours at a time. Sometimes within the very same evening, I will hear gunshots in Conway which have never once ceased due to the fervent prayers that I hear in the background as I work. And trust me, they’re praying loudly enough.

To stop violence in the Caribbean we need to do something radically different. Repeating the same things that have never worked is a hallmark of foolishness and shines a light on the lack of caring on the part of people who are in charge of governing our country. Community violence should be approached not just with short-term solutions but with effective long-term solutions.

The answers lie in a nonviolent approach and approaching community violence from a place that is largely non-punitive. Having recently read “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg, I believe that there are multiple solutions to end community violence just within the pages of his book. This proves to us that others have found solutions to community violence. Somewhere out there out the answers we seek are waiting to be found. All we need is a group of government officials as well as a group of citizens who are willing to search and find these answers.

Until then, I suspect I will be sitting at my desk listening to gunshots in the city below for a very long time.