Young people who are bent on criminality can look forward to one of two likely outcomes: the grave or prison.
That was Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ message to residents of Layou as they held a march and rally against crime and violence in the Central Leeward town.
Layou has recorded four murders in six weeks, driving the homicide count in St. Vincent and the Grenadines this year to a record-shattering 50, with five weeks remaining in the year.
Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security, outlined the opportunities that are available to young people, including in education, sports and culture.
“These opportunities are preferable by far than to go to crime,” he told the gathering at the rally at the Layou Waterfront on Friday.
“I want to say this to the young men in particular. I want you to use your brain. If you look as to what is happening, once you get involved with things, you look for easy money and criminal activity, one of two things going to happen to you: you’re gonna die young or you’re going to go to jail young,” the prime minister said.
He repeated, saying:
“If you don’t take care of yourself and look for the opportunities which are available — the lawful opportunities in school, in training, in the jobs — the search for easy money or bad company going to make two things happen: you’re going to die young or you’re going to go to jail young.”
The prime minister noted that the majority of people who are being murdered are young males.
“Now, how does a young man when he grows up in a community, which is a good community, how does he go on the wrong track?” Gonsalves said.
He said the first thing is that some parents “ain’t providing good training at home…
“That they ain’t making sure that he or she starts from young to know their prayer and go to church and go to school.”
The prime minister said it is important for parents to raise children to have respect for themselves, each other, and for God.
Gonsalves further said there are a lot of families in which the men are not around. “The men have to shoulder their responsibility,” he said.
“And in the case of the women, while you’re holding things together and you’re trying to hustle a dollar, you have to remember your child.
“And you have to do the upbringing properly. And you have to make sure that they watch things on television or things that they do with their cell phones and so on that it leads to healthy and good living.”
Gonsalves spoke of the role of the school in helping to ensure that young people do not take a wrong turn.
He said that the overwhelming majority of teachers are very good.
“But in between, betwixt and between, you have some of them who ain’t care whether Friday fall pon Monday. And we have to make sure that the leadership in the schools do what they have to do in the classroom.”
The prime minister said there is a role for the church to play in helping to guide young people away from crime.
He, however, said preachers must be mindful of how they present their sermons.
“By far, the pastors are good people preaching the word. But I want to encourage the pastors, to look out especially for the young men and you’re not going to get the young men if you’re trying to frighten them to go to heaven
“You can’t frighten them to heaven. You have to talk sensibly to the young men. You have to preach properly to them about peace and love and caring one another,” Gonsalves said.
“But if you go inside ah the church and all that you hear is hell fire and think you going frighten the young men to heaven, you ain’t going succeed in doing that.
“You have to talk in a positive manner to the young persons, including the young men.”
As regards the community, the prime minister said there are a lot of organisations that young people can join, including Scouts, Guides, Cadets, and police youth clubs.
“I have not seen any reports of people going into the magistrate courts as accused persons for any crime or any serious crime who is a churchgoer regularly, who going school regularly, who taking advantage of opportunities, or who belong to the cadets, a youth club, youth organisation,” Gonsalves said.
“You have to belong to something — a sports club. I don’t see people who play pan going to the courts as being accused of doing any serious crime.
“The point I’m making is you have to find useful activities; is not rocket science, you know.”
The prime minister said there is a role for the community as a whole, with older people setting an example.
“Not every argument, not every difference of opinion has to end up in a fight. You can agree to disagree. That is how life is. But you can’t at the first time you disagree, you look for gun or you look for knife or you look for cutlass,” Gonsalves said.
” I am talking to you as someone who has been around a long time and the good Lord has blessed me with long life and has given me responsibility, through you,” the 78-year-old leader said.
“I am appealing especially to the young men. Is not them alone. We have to help — all of us have to try to keep them on the straight and narrow,” he said, adding that the few bad people are giving the community a bad name.
“… the bulk of the people all over St. Vincent and the Grenadines are loving, law-abiding people — singing calypso, dancing, enjoying themselves, involved in productive activities, going to church, going to school. Overwhelmingly good people,” Gonsalves said.
“So my message is simple. If you’re a young man and you’re on the wrong track, come on the straight track. Because I tell you, the evidence before you, you will either die young or you go jail young. And it’s a waste of a life; complete waste of a life.
“Young men, listen to me. Young woman, you have your boyfriend, you have your husband, young woman you have your boyfriend, you have your husband. If they’re on the wrong track, help bring them on the right track.”
The prime minister said he was very pleased to see the work that MP for Central Leeward, where Layou is located, Orando Brewster is doing “with police youth club and with the youth generally and with sports and with culture” adding, “and we have to continue to do that work.”