Once upon a time, in the good old days, every child used to be every adult’s responsibility. And every child knew that the authority of ‘big people’ was to be respected. Misbehaving children were routinely reprimanded even by strangers who believed they had an obligation to keep the youth in line. These days one has to be very careful. Parents now warn their children not to speak to strangers. And rightly so! Predators come in many disguises.
All the same, I still can’t always resist the impulse to be protective. Late one evening, I was out for a brisk walk. It was close to 7 o’clock and getting quite dark. So as soon as I caught sight of three little girls meandering along, I immediately began to interrogate them. ‘What you doing coming home from school so late? You don’t know that somebody at home wondering what happen to you at this hour? You should reach home long time.’
They casually tell me that they’re on the evening shift and that’s why they’re coming home so late. End of story. But I persist. ‘You could still walk a little faster. You don’t know that you mustn’t make dark catch you on the road?’ I stopped myself in time before adding the four-letter word, ‘girl’. But, I wonder, would I have said the same thing to three little boys? I hope so.
Teacher, Doctor, Nurse
I’m walking at a pretty good clip because I’m not coming home, oh so cool, from the evening shift; and I’m not stopping to smell the roses and swing on light posts and stone mangoes along the way. I’m exercising to keep up the circulation and the market value. So I persuade the girls to pick up the pace.
As if that’s not enough of a victory, I start to trouble them with the prospect of future careers. You know the kind of idiotic questions adults like to ask children. Hear me now, ‘So what you want to be when you grow up?’ The girls quickly respond. Right off the bat: teacher, doctor, nurse. They know the rake with these ‘faas big people’. Tell them just what you think they want to hear.
I immediately fall in the trap and start to pontificate. Good, good, good! You can be anything you want to be. You just have to behave yourself and study hard, etc. etc. Silence. Then, to keep the conversation going, I ask another foolish question. ‘So why you want that job when you grow up?’
The prospective teacher gave quite a nice answer, I thought: ‘The children have to learn.’ Pure altruism. No consideration of the fact that she probably won’t be able to buy a house on a teacher’s salary. The prospective doctor’s response was equally generous. ‘I want to make sick people get better.’ You can hear that these are practiced answers.
The youngest hasn’t quite mastered the art of telling ‘big people’ what they want to hear. She says she wants to be a nurse so she can ‘jook them.’ The rest of us burst out laughing. Realising that this is clearly not a politically correct answer, she quickly revises her position: ‘I want to clean the children teeth.’
Well, since many of us feel that dentists take pleasure in jooking their patients, it seems like this child instinctively knows where her true talents lie. (OK Dr. Lawson-Myers, I couldn’t resist that jab. Please don’t jook me the next time I’m in the chair).
Police and Thief
Then the girls proceed to discuss other careers they’ve ruled out. ‘Me wouldn’t be a thief. Dem will catch you and put you in jail.’ And there was absolutely no enthusiasm for being the policeman who would catch the thief. ‘Me no want turn police.’ Why not? ‘Me fraid fa police.’ And then came the gem, ‘If me was a police, me woulda run from myself.’
I had a very good laugh. But the more I thought about it, the more clearly I could see the profundity of the child’s insight. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings! As we know all too well these days, far too many police are running away from their better selves. Their badge is no longer a sign of an honorable profession. It’s nothing but a passport to illegal wealth.
And it’s not just a case of taking a bribe from a motorist wishing to avoid a ticket. That’s bad enough. And the briber is just as devious as the one who is tempted to take the bribe. What is even more troubling is the complete cynicism of many police, both men and women, who do not seem to know what their duty entails.
You no longer need any commitment to principles of justice in order to become a police officer. ‘Is just a work’. And if it doesn’t pay well enough, that’s the excuse for all kinds of ‘bandooloo’ rackets. Many police routinely engage in downright criminal activities without even a shred of shame.
But it’s not simply a clear case of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Civilians are no more innocent than the disreputable police. One of the big problems we have in Jamaica is the fact that a lot of us have just given up on the responsibility of policing ourselves.
That’s why we have to keep on running and a-running and a-running away from ourselves. It’s pure fear of the police within. And if we were to make the mistake of listening to what’s left of our conscience, we might actually start behaving like nice and decent human beings. Horror of horrors! For the sake our children, we really do have to try much harder to make Jamaica a less fearful place. And that’s my Easter sermon.