Friday, April 19, 2024

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Can’t follow Boyce all the way


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I like Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Erwin Boyce. He is young and intelligent, and has a heart. Having interacted with him over the years I never got the impression that he was the self-promoting type. He does what he has to do and moves on to the next job without fanfare.

He is also the kind of person I enjoy having a conversation with – well, more like an argument – again because he has never shown himself to be thin-skinned, at least not that I have noticed.

Let me sum it up this way: If he were appointed Commissioner of Police tomorrow I would have no problem with the decision.

Having said that, however, let me explain the preamble to this article. Last week one of my reporters, Kimberley Cummins, attended a meeting hosted by the Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA) at which Boyce was the featured speaker. In his address he introduced a new idea for penal reform at Dodds Prison, given that the number of repeat offenders suggested that the current sentencing regime was not working as effectively as Barbadians would like. He spoke of observing a penal system in Florida where inmates are charged a boarding fee for the time they are incarcerated.

“To me that is an idea for consideration. We are always talking about family,” Boyce said. “When something happens we hear how good a person was, and when persons are arrested you see a long line of persons behind them at court giving them the necessary support that is required.

“Perhaps we need to charge $2 or $3 for every day you stay in prison. One of the things that we preach in the office daily is ‘Crime must not pay, we must take away the assets of crime, you should not benefit from crime; long term, short term, medium term’.”

So far, so good. This is how I interpreted the execution of Boyce’s suggestion: If, for example, you are sentenced to three years’ incarceration, you would be expected to work off your $2 or $3 per day by painting Government or private facilities for which the prison would charge the entity an agreed fee.

But no, Boyce wants the family to pay – and that’s where I have a major problem. The veteran policeman thinks that to impose this burden on the family could serve as an impetus to help guide straying family members away from a life of crime.

“That might assist as a deterrent or might assist families in keeping more of a check on the management of their children or relatives,” he added.

This is where I have a major problem. At what point in life (what age) does a man’s child cease to be his responsibility? In our system, once a person turns 16, when it comes to criminal matters the police treat that individual as an adult. When an individual turns 16, the state says it is under no obligation to keep him or her in school.

Given our socialisation – the way our society functions – many parents do feel that their sons and daughters remain their responsibility until death parts them. My view is that if a parent feels that way that’s fine, but which state, state agency or state operative has a right to impose on another perpetual responsibility for an adult?

When parents try their best, when the school puts its all into trying to fashion a responsible young mind and when others in a community throw in their two cents worth, the only persons left to pay the price for wayward behaviour is the guilty party. Simple as that!

So my friend ASP Boyce, the principle of your suggestion is okay – let the imprisoned contribute to the cost of their imprisonment – but to unilaterally saddle a third party with that responsibility would be as wrong as any criminal activity or tendency we are trying to curtail.

However, this matter is not just about Boyce, the police or deterring criminal activity, but about the profession of journalism and one of the uglier sides of the Barbadian society. You see, Boyce’s comment reminded me of a related subject I wanted to deal with for some time.

Each day we, like newspapers all over the world, publish stories involving reports from the law courts. We publish, depending on a number of factors, everything from the youngster caught shoplifting to the fellow on a murder charge. Our interest may be attracted to the item, on one extreme, because it is absolutely hilarious, and on the other because it is deathly serious.

In all my years in journalism, however, I have never heard of any lobby for newspapers to publish the names of the parents of persons who run afoul of the law – unless that parent is a “brand name” person. And it does not matter whether or not there is any connection of the parent to the alleged crime.

So we really do not care if the fellow charged with slapping his girlfriend in the face during an argument is the son of Mabel the market vendor from Belleplaine. If the circumstances are the same, however, except that it happens to be the son of senator X or businessman Y, it appears that we breach every journalistic and moral code if we do not “shame” the parent.

What’s even more bothersome is that when the bandwagon starts to roll, especially if it is a social media bandwagon, it does not matter if the son is 18 or 80 – we are less then good investigative journalists if we do not identify the parent and provide all the necessary fodder to justify all the “I told you so”, “All these ‘children’ are the same”, “Nothing don’t ever happen to these big-ups” comments that start to fly like the proverbial bat out of hell.

Just as I asked in relation to the comment by ASP Boyce, let me ask here: At what point does a parent stop being responsible for his son or daughter?

And in this case I will go further: Why does our society see it as necessary so often to punish an individual for his or her success? If an individual makes a mistake and the law recognises him or her as being old enough and of sound mind to take responsibility for that action, then so be it, but I can’t accept any scenario where one adult must be made to pay for the actions of another, simply because of the act of birth.

What’s worse is when our primary motivation for imposing hurt is to satisfy some inner craving that’s motivated by a spirit of salaciousness.

Perhaps a reference to John 8:9 is appropriate here: “When they kept on questioning [Jesus], He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’.”

I know that would not include me because my sins are many. As the old people use to say: “Today for you, tomorrow for me!”


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