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NDP Vice-President and Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock. (iWN file photo)
NDP Vice-President and Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock. (iWN file photo)
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Opposition spokesperson on national security, St. Clair Leacock has proposed a “boot camp” type programme to steer at-risk youth away from crime.

Leacock, a vice-president of the New Democratic Party (NDP) commented about the April 24 shooting death of national footballer Zenroy Lee aka Chucky, 31, in Murray’s Village and then the shooting death, by police, of his alleged killer, Romano Pompey aka No Mercy, 35, in Redemption Sharpes, about three hours later.

The Central Kingstown MP said that 20 years is regarded as a generation, and noted that people who first voted for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) in 2001 are nearing their 40th birthday.

He further pointed out that those who first voted in 2020 are now between 20 and 25 years old.

“So generally speaking, people between age 23 to 40 are of the Unity Labour Party generation. To use the local language, they are Gonsalves pickney; they are the children of the revolution,” he said.

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The opposition lawmakers said 90 to 95% of the homicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are committed in the southern belt of St. Vincent, namely South Leeward, Kingstown to East George and almost 95% of the victims are under the age of 40.

“So, you have to say that that is a part of his responsibility. That’s a part of his legacy,” he said of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security.

Leacock said he does not attribute all murders to poverty, noting that there was greater poverty but fewer homicides in the country years ago.

“But something radical has happened to St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said and suggested that a significant number of young men “have taken leave of our society”.

He said that while the number is unknown, they are “enough to create disharmony in the society.

“… They don’t care what you say, … they have nothing to do with it. They are in a totally different world,” Leacock said, adding, “How did they get their requires study.”

He said that he referred Gonsalves to this during a recent telephone call and the prime minister said the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies was looking into the issue.

“I’m concerned about what’s happening in St. Vincent and Grenadines,” Leacock said, mentioning his experience as a cadet in the 1970s and 80s and a successful exchange programme in which Canada cadets came to the Caribbean and Caribbean cadets travelled to Canada.

“I used that design to say, maybe in our foreign relations call, maybe in our home affairs requests, we can call for similar kind of assistance, either from the US Southern Command, or again, from Canada, or from the United Kingdom, to assist us in a similar programme, not necessarily confined to the cadets themselves,” said Leacock, who is a former commandant of the St. Vincent Cadet Force, in which he attained the rank of major.

“It may even be able to broaden it to sports and to cultural groups. But, fundamentally, the time has arrived for us to have what I call a kind of boot camp programme in our islands,” he said, noting the success of the Coast Guard and other youth summer programmes.

“But a lot of our young people need to be put into a boot camp programme to discipline themselves, to regiment themselves and to order themselves,” he said.

Leacock said another limb of his proposal is to prevent young people aged 25 to 40 from taking leave of society.

“And remember, I’m always making this case, an argument for us to be a second-chance society,” Leacock said.

“There’s something that happened that we don’t know about,” he said and spoke of his experience in his constituency and in the communities “where some of these crimes take place.

“Because sometimes you hear people say, ‘Well, boy, the people here were under a virtual curfew.’ ‘They were under siege.’ ‘This happened, that happened and the other happened.’ ‘People saw this that’,” Leacock said, adding that he was speaking generally and not about any specific case.

“Our society is aware, very aware, very often, of young people who are losing their way…  when something is going wrong or not so right about an individual. But it remains nobody’s business.”

He said that if one researches a lot of these people who have come before the courts, or are discovered to be “in gangs”, people would say “‘Is a long time’ or ‘he dropped out of school’, ‘you had problems with him in his football club’, ‘he stopped going to church’, ‘all of a sudden he hanging out here with this’, ‘he find new company’, and all sorts of things.

“In other words, we can trace back. And remember that word, trace back a lot of behavioural things from the early inception.”

Leacock said that in times past, people had their children in their 20s and became grandparents over the next 20 to 25 years. If they were lucky, they would become great grandparent in their 70s.

“A lot of 30-year-olds can tell you they have grandchildren. … People don’t have time to parent their own children much less to grandchildren, and other children,” Leacock said.

He said the point is that the country needs to have, whether it being the social welfare department or an amalgam of government ministries “trace programmes where they can begin to say where these things went wrong, where suddenly a guy who was talented, … start to get violent in your own very own football club … and they start to [take up] the new company. But again, it’s nobody’s business.”

Leacock said the society needs to start doing the traces, but, at the same time, have counsellors or some other people to start taking an interest in society.

“… to begin to pay more attention to those young people who are falling through the cracks, to get them back on the straight and narrow and to get them into second chance opportunities to save them from yourself.

“There’s an urgency for that and to confront, aggressively, this iniquitous culture of crime and violence that’s emerging in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We can’t just leave it to a politicisation of the argument. It has to be deeper than that,” Leacock said.

“We need to have systems in place to address what I call systems failure among our young people, to create a new second chance opportunity,” Leacock said.

He said he was contemplating “an advertisement from De Major, trying to reach out to our young people.

“But if I do that, I have to make sure that I’ve thought through it. And that there are the resources and systems and people in place to follow through because I don’t know how deep the water is.”

Leacock said he does not want to find himself “with an issue for which I was not properly prepared.

“But we have to have a reach-out-and-help programme of tracing, assisting, accommodating and turning people away.”

He said this cannot be the traditional academic, skills-based, sports-based or Pan Against Crime.

“As I said in the Parliament, if pan was the solution to crime, Trinidad and Tobago would be the most successful place in the world because it’s the land of pan. But they have an escalating crime rate.

“If sports was the way out of crime, Jamaica, too, would have been the most successful Caribbean country. But both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have the highest crime rates. So, there’s something else or there’re somethings else,” Leacock said.

One reply on “MP suggests ‘boot camp’ type programme for youth at risk of becoming criminals”

  1. There you go Mr. Leacock! But military training alone will not do the job of rehabilitating our youths. It must be coupled with public service, academics and apprentices.

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