The inequality of life

Killed on a city street in our capital while committing a robbery earlier this week, Kevin Fields achieved the kind of notoriety in death that he seemed determined to attain during his young life.

In the now widely viewed posts on his Facebook timeline, Kevin had glamorised a life of fast money and crime, which was chronicled in many photos in which he was featured with stacks of cash, guns, jewellery, and even a bulletproof vest.

20131123ianaNot surprisingly, his death elicited little if any sympathy for him because he was a criminal—one of the many young, gun-toting delinquents who populate our communities. Some people considered him to be less than a person, he was “a piece of garbage” deserving to be mowed down, while others even revelled in the ending of his life, calling it a “beautiful thing” worth celebrating since it was one less criminal to worry about.

It also didn’t take long before the public condemnations of his actions and the life he lived descended into divisive discussions about race, disadvantaged communities, parental guidance, and whether successive PPP/C governments or the opposition should bear any blame. Talk of “these people” and “that community” could be found in the discussions.

These discussions aside, a real focus ought to be placed on systematic failures that interact to produce delinquents in our society – from failures in the home and the education system to the juvenile justice and welfare systems.

From the evidence available to the public, Kevin Fields was a criminal guilty of serious crimes. And when he and others take up guns and come at us to take what is not theirs, it is not surprising that some of us are willing to dismiss their violent deaths as “deserved,” overdue even, judging by the amount of times you will hear proclamations such as “about time” after they meet their ends.

But Kevin Fields was still human, and still very much a part of our society, whether we chose to see him or not. The same is true for every other young delinquent living on the fringes of our communities. I remember on one occasion trying to engage a known young criminal in a community I frequented and it struck me how hopeless he felt. Poverty is not just being short on money and being deprived of certain resources, it is much more. And for him and the many others like him, the gun in hand doesn’t make them rich, even if they manage to profit from crime for a few years. The majority of these delinquent youth are not poor in the sense that we think—some are from good homes—they are poor in their other ways. It’s the kind of poverty that stealing to survive can’t remedy.

In his book, The Killing Fields of Inequality, Goran Therborn argues that human development is not simply determined by how wealthy an individual or nation is, but by an individual’s ability to function fully as a human being within the context of their environment. In other words, it is not all about money.

The “inequality of life” is what ought to be of serious concern to policy makers, Therborn says, and as you explore his arguments you come to an understanding that where we live and how we live have an impact on survival, life expectancy and choices.

I didn’t study sociology in great detail to pronounce on these matters with authority but I do know that we ought to be concerned about the delinquent youths in our society who fall at the hands of law enforcement and licensed firearm holders as part of an ongoing vicious cycle of poverty, crime and death. Perhaps the time has come for us to study in greater detail what is going on with these lost boys and the conditions they are growing up under. Research has long established that the poor, disadvantaged, socially downtrodden or excluded people have much shorter lives than the rest of us.

Simply looking around our communities, we could gather data to support the theory that delinquency is a greater problem in the disadvantaged communities, as are crime and violence. While negative stereotypes about certain communities are being perpetuated out of fear and in some cases naked racism, there is a disproportionate number of troubled youths in communities categorised as disadvantaged.

And while some of us are running ahead, others are falling behind. Some of these young boys and men like Kevin Fields have fallen so far behind that we find it hard to empathise with them.

Personally, I cannot subscribe to the notion that if the courts cannot keep criminals off the streets, maybe bullets can. I believe that suspects and criminals have rights too.

Further, in a decent society fundamental rights are respected, particularly the right to life. This is not to suggest that Fields’ rights are above the rights of citizens who he would have violated and hurt over the years. The point is simply this: criminals should be arrested, charged, tried and sentenced, not shot on sight.

In this instance, Fields is reported to have shot at the businessman and was killed when he returned fire. But does this mean that we should value his life less?

According to the Crime Chief, Kevin Fields was not known by police to have been involved in criminal activities prior to Monday when he was killed. While it is credible to suggest that he was engaged in illegal activities, this does not change the fact that he died tragically and at the ripe young age of 21 years.

Few people are likely to argue that Kevin Fields was a law-abiding citizen paying taxes and contributing in his own small way to the development of Guyana. But why wasn’t he?

While we could argue it’s a matter of individual choices, we live in a time of increasing inequalities in opportunities. Have we thought about whether these youth who are in conflict with the law have anyone in their communities extending a helping hand?

People are speculating about Kevin Fields’ life and are saying all manner of things about this young man. But what do we know about him outside of the gangster-leaning public profile he was building and showing off to the world? Nothing much, except for a few comments in the press about how he was a “troublemaker.”

As reprehensible as his conduct might have been—criminal, a preoccupation with materials things, and bragging over ill-gotten wealth—he clearly needed guidance. Was anyone around to intervene in his life and offer him more than fast money?

Whatever the circumstances, he has paid for the consequences of his criminal conduct with his life. Maybe we ought to look a little closer at his story before we sound off about how worthless he was and how he deserved to die.

Have a question or comment? Connect with Iana Seales at about/me/iseales