We have been advised to be watchful around Georgetown during this season. Still, while commuters sit in traffic, men are reaching through the windows and grabbing their bags, phones and other valuables. People are being ambushed on the pavements and in the streets. It is commendable that there is an increased police presence around Georgetown, but still thieves are disappearing in the crowds. These occurrences during the Christmas season are often spoken of nonchalantly, almost as if the robbers have rights to rob the people because they too deserve to have a merry Christmas. The fears of some people are so well written across their faces that they are attacked even when observant. Many have accepted that this is part of our culture around this time of year and the onus is on the people to protect themselves. But, how can we accept this as part our culture? How can we accept that criminals will rob the innocent because they too want to have a jolly Christmas?

They seem to bathe in the tears of the people they hurt with no thought of karma; most of the robbers are young people who perhaps think that some later repentance would absolve them.

Some of us blame the system for the choices of the people who decide to walk a path of crime. Certainly, more opportunities can be created to aid in the people developing themselves and most Guyanese deserve better wages and salaries. Yet most men and women who are underprivileged do not choose a life of crime.

I saw two short films recently at Herdmanston Lodge. It was a University of Guyana event in collaboration with the Women and Gender Equality and the European Union Delegation in observance of Human Rights Day 2018.

“E-Wasteland,” the first film, was set in Ghana. It was released in 2012. Many of us do not stop to think about what happens to the world’s electronic waste. “E-Wasteland” exposed that around the world tons of second-hand and condemned electronics, some illegally exported, arrive in Ghana every year from mainly developed countries. Poor and uneducated people work to salvage metals, such as copper, brass and aluminum and recycle what they can from the waste. The images of men working in the dust and smoke made me wonder about their life expectancy. There was no dialogue and there was a calm among the people. Cattle grazed amidst the waste and the men slept and it told that perhaps they were contented with the hand life had dealt them. But they were working in conditions in which no human being should have to work.

The second film was “Machine Man,” which was filmed in Bangladesh. In it, women, men and children worked all day in the worst conditions. In some instances, they were doing the work machines would do in other places – sorting waste for recycling, building blocks with their bare hands and collecting coal. Women even had their babies in slings as they worked. When they spoke in the film, however, they did not seem tired, frustrated or discontented. They seemed to have accepted their fate and were contented and satisfied that they could earn.

Though in both films the people’s human rights were in many ways being ignored, the need for survival kept them searching and finding life from the dust, smoke and garbage. They refused to lay down and die, to beg or to steal. They risked their health and their lives to make an honest living. Most Guyanese do not work in such awful conditions, but we must remember that there are citizens who can relate to the people in those films. We often hear whispers about what is happening to Indigenous communities because of mining—the pollution of their waterways, for example. I know of miners and other workers who have been poisoned by mercury and every year we lose miners due to accidents in the pits.

There are people in this world who lose the right to choose the course their life takes. Physical slavery still exists in some places. There are children and women in our country who are in bondage; some trafficked and forced to work as sex slaves.

But most of us have choices. While some may have compassion for those who choose to commit robberies, usually stating that the white-collar criminals often go unpunished, every man at some point must make a choice. We may believe that our options are limited, and our desperation justifies the hurt, but there is always another option.

In a few days, while many will be celebrating with family and friends, there are those who will be dealing with the trauma because they were robbed. Some of those who will be celebrating with their relatives are the bold thieves causing distress around Georgetown. I am sure there are children who are also fed by the deeds of the robbers, but like the people in Ghana and Bangladesh and many other parts of the world who are working in the harshest conditions, slowly being killed to live, many also parents, the thieves who are parents have a choice; it is unacceptable for them to believe that stealing to feed their children is the only way.

There is no honour among thieves, it is said. Often, they would kill or cause bodily harm if their victims resist. Is there any excuse? Jobs do exist that will not pay as much as the Christmas thieves will make off the people they rob, so they will never consider those jobs. But many of them are victims of the demands of the time we live in. The goals of many are short-term – to own gadgets that will become e-waste, wear the latest fashion, to fete or to feed their substance abuse habits. They are not stealing to educate themselves. They live for today because some perhaps believe that their tomorrow is not guaranteed. Their selfishness consumes them, and they lack compassion.

While the people of Ghana and Bangladesh who were featured in those films could have easily turned to a life of crime, they chose to make their lives in the face of the threat of death the pollution creates. And though many of us can never imagine our hands or feet being dirtied in the work we do, every job on this planet has to be done by someone. Show the thieves who roam Georgetown the films, question if they are inspired, or motivated to choose another path. I’m sure some will be, but others would see no sense in the struggle. The days would appear too long and the dollar too slow in coming. They would think it more profitable and easier to grab a woman’s purse or to follow a man from the bank. They would choose to continue to hurt other people, often risking death and imprisonment for short-term solutions to life’s long-term problems.

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