Given the historical context of this very issue with the former prime minister, his comments are understandable. We “The People” associate negotiating with gang leaders as a weakness or somehow rewarding gangs for their evil ways. Our unwillingness to even appear to be negotiating is in danger of shutting down all communication. As a result, we are making our National Security Minister’s job much more difficult.
So here’s an alternative perspective for We The People to consider. Namely that not-negotiating with gang leaders is a mistake.
What do you do when you have a problem that you can’t solve on your own? You talk to the people who can help you solve it. And if the problem is caused by an organisation, a community or some such network … you talk to the people who can affect change. The people at the top.
So if you’re having a problem with gangs, it seems to make some sense to talk to the people who lead these gangs. But why the instinctive—obstinate even—unwillingness to even communicate with gang leaders?
Who are gang leaders? Gang leaders lead groups of young people, mostly males, who are primarily concerned with the same things we are concerned with: survival, dignity, respect and living a good life. Their particular strategy to achieve these ends for themselves is via crime, and in that respect they are different from you and me.
But why do they choose crime? The hoodies and gun-toting gang members aren’t genetically evil or pre-disposed to crime. They became that way because of the communities they were born into.
In the same way that the possibilities available to the son of a Bangladeshi villager, are different from the possibilities available to the son of a US Senator, the possibilities available to the son of someone born into these “gang-infested” areas are given to him.
It’s no accident that children of movie stars are much more likely to work in the movie business, or that young men are third, fourth or even fifth generation, firemen, policemen and marines. If you are born into a family and community where there is a strong historical tradition of living life a certain way: be it farming, policing, or talking with your mouth full, you will most likely continue with that tradition.
What I’m saying in essence is that many gang members, many people who are criminals, didn’t go “Hmmm, let’s see now; I can earn an honest living and live to a ripe old age, OR I can get a gun and shoot people, dodge bullets and most likely die or be in prison before I’m 30.”
It doesn’t work that way. They merely followed a path given to them by their social circumstances. We all do. In other words it’s not their fault that they were born into a culture of criminality, and if we don’t collectively act to make other possibilities available to these people they will follow a traditional path to gang-life.
What’s wrong with “negotiation” anyway? There will be no “negotiation” with gang leaders. The way that I’ve read this connotes imagery of negotiation at gunpoint; being held to ransom, the way Yasin Abu Bakr held us to ransom in 1990.
But is that the negotiation that’s being forced down our National Security Minister’s throat? If yes, then I agree. Let’s not have any of that. (Ironically, not talking to them now will make that scenario much more likely in the future.) But if not, what’s the problem?
Negotiation is the mechanism of compromise; it is how we work out competing interests. Your employer wants to keep cost down and your salary low, you want to work less hours, have more holidays and have a high salary. How do you come to an agreement that serves both of you? You negotiate, and the more power you have the better you are able to negotiate.
These gang leaders may actually be in a powerful position. They could in theory hold us to ransom, but if at least some of them see that it is in their interest not to do that, then it is in our collective interest to talk with them.
And where our interests do in fact compete. Yes, we negotiate. That’s how people live together.
It is not unlikely that there are some people within these gangs or gang infested areas who are curious to see if they can provide a better life for themselves and their people. Better roads, better relationship with the police, jobs for their people. That’s what I read they are demanding. This is what most of us already have and perhaps take for granted.
Come on people. These are not unreasonable demands. But maybe it’s the word “demand” that get’s our ire. What if the media used the word “requests” or “pleas”?
If this was medication for a sick man to ease his symptoms, would you not at least listen and try to give him something to ease the pain?