‘4%’ will annoy and shock you and that’s why you must read it
“To be or not to be” Larry Scott’s first book ,”‘It’s only 4 %’: Crime In Bermuda”, is controversial from the first page when it burns a former Premier, then buries Ministers and judges before condemning legislators and financiers. In fact, everyone but teachers receives a cut from his sword yes, priests and Whitehall are included. Examining “Crime in Bermuda” and why black men end up at the front of the line is the central thrust of his treatise quoting from a variety of sources like the 1960s American icons Angela Davis and Martin Luther King Jr, to the Bermuda Constitution and Ontario Superior Court Judge Patrick Le Sage. But his favourite visionary of youth culture seems to be Jay-Z, “I got ninety-nine problems but a bit-h ain’t one.” The opening chapter will make you want to vomit or immediately call a village summit and ask “what can we do to reshape our common community philosophy which used to guide young black men to success upward; pants up, respect and not disrespect, overcoming barriers and not allowing our success to be deterred by circumstances, be they racism or economic privilege?” Second, the book names. Lawrence, or “Larry” as he is known, is a lawyer and has spent numerous years defending young black men and he, above the ordinary citizen, should know the law. But as a layman I think he cuts it too close and puts himself at risk of being a part of that “4%”. While he apologises if he has offended anyone, I won’t be surprised if those named challenge him with strong rebuttals. So, is the law solely responsible for putting young black men behind bars? Or is it the bias of policemen and judges? Or just the repressive new laws calculated to almost guarantee that a black man does not have a chance when he is stopped by the police, “profiling”, and then before judges who are blinded by subconscious anti-black emotions so embedded in their lives that the verdict is automatically guilty and the sentence is automatically long? Scott would have us think so. This book will get you thinking from the luxurious Princess Hotel opening scene to the numerous tales of destruction he had to defend, to a legislative system that he condemns as being totally non-productive and ultra-right wing. (We should not be surprised. After all, Scott is a graduate of that radical left-wing Northern London Polytechnic of the 1970s) Scott covers a lot of ground the 1959 Theatre Boycott, bad police, drugs, “bad new laws”, incompetent prosecutors and the Kent State University (USA) killings. It will anger you and challenge your own beliefs about our current predicament but at the end I think you will ask yourself three questions.
When Bermuda was overtly racist, segregated and poor, “4%” of that population was not productive. Dr. E.F. Gordon and Rev. E.B. Grant frequently mentioned their concerns about this group in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. So you might ask, “What has changed, Larry?” Well we know that that “4%” were not shooting or at the front of the prison list or were they, but, in smaller numbers? But the “4%” prior to the shootings are a faint memory compared to the 96% who were very productive masons, carpenters, businessmen, doctors and lawyers. There were few scholarships in those days so academic numbers were small but they did not allow this to prevent them from fulfilling their ambitions. Dr. Eustace Cann, Dr. George A. Williams, Dr. Thomas Stowe, Sir John Swan and Dr. Vincent John did it. They did not make excuses and use their plight as a crutch. They became the role models for the “4%” to do better and we did. They had goals, saw the obstacles and refused to allow them to destroy their lives. Well, Scott would say my outdated “history” does not solve the problem of the “4%” today who have sent a deathly chill down our spine and almost numbed us into disbelief and inaction because of the shootings. But we cannot ignore the fact that when society was even more repressive, than it is now, black men worked hard to achieve and in being employed, and skilled, they avoided prison. They had guts and fortitude to strive to the top. Parental, church and community support helped them take one step at a time up the ladder. The establishment of a black bank- Provident and Bermuda’s first political party PLP- are just two examples of how blacks were determined to forge ahead in spite-of the obstacles. Don’t forget W.G. Brown and his 20 plus grocery stores or the establishment of the Bermuda Recorder, Hill Travel and the Quality Bakery. But the “4%” today don’t seem to have families that emphasise internal values or they are overcome by the media and peer values that develop them into disrespectful hard-core monsters who create havoc. (Read his opening case histories and see the graphically tragic realities not pulp fiction- unravel before you. Frightening!)
Second, Scott dismisses “the third flank” foreigners who in this “repressive” system of laws and poor parenting do well in our “poor schools” and the “legacy of racism”. These guest workers came from countries that had “4%” plus, but they come with the same goals and visions of our West Indian forefathers. Maybe if these young men knew this and many other aspects of our history they would be more inclined towards the road of good, respect and accomplishments? Let’s not overlook the fact that the “4%” in Bermuda has had more teachers with masters degrees and PhDs; more technology in schools to assist with learning computers, Smartboards-, more educational TV educational trips and other advantages than the “4%” of Dr. Gordon and Rev. E.B. Grant’s day. And they have air-conditioned classrooms. So, is our emphasis and concern about “4%” because of the violence we have recently seen? Or do we believe it is a bigger percentage out of control? And how do you resolve it? Scott tells us to clearly look at the type of laws we pass which are restrictive and not progressive. Some will argue, however, that at the end of the day after all of the books and reports are written, the answer will be “parents” and “peers”.
Third, Scott says little about the lack of teachers for dyslexia and other learning needs in schools; adequate reading being a key need. A detailed study of the “4%” would confirm or deny the frustrations boys must feel in an environment also lacking apprenticeships. But this is not Scott’s responsibility but that of the Government to do such detailed surveys and then provide resources. We must also collect data to see how many had fathers or significant role models. And by the way, who has even bothered to ask them why they are the way they are. We might learn something. Larry Scott’s book is a must read because it will annoy you and shock you. You won’t want to dance to Jay-Z but you will want to take hold of the true meaning of what parenthood has to be: the life long responsibility for the development of a child is challenging as it is in an age of seductive technology, and “domineering” peers. Scott would say I’m a product of “The Waltons”, America’s ideal family, hence a dinosaur. But in spite-of-it all, a black boy can succeed and do well. 96% show us daily. Scott’s “4%” must not be allowed to grow but become instead a part of our “common spirit” of good values, belief in God, respect, sacrifice, hard-work, productivity and volunteerism. Yes, the dream of social reformers. Hope! There are no games or I-pods/pads that will get them there, only good parenting and mentors can do that. (Read “Successfully Raising Bermuda Boys” if you want tips of what is good and bad parenting) and don’t mix-up what I am saying: I have seen good parents do dumb things and wonder why their children fail and I have also seen good parents do everything right and their children end up in the “4%”. Bermuda today has more resources in such a small place. More than any country in the world but its people are critical of everything weeds on the road; a ferry boat that breaks down for a few hours; the lack of bees; the Premier not being featured on the front page when she met the Queen (a comment made the day a youth was shot and killed). Not one of these issues showed any empathy for a young man who had died in a violent way. And with the loss of empathy went empathetic youth leaders like Sammy Wilson, Palmer Wade, Alice Brown, Lorraine Fubler, Ada Joell, Larry Burchall, Derek Tully, Goose Gosling, Enith King, and Valerie Smith to name just a few. And prior to Care Computers, we had Cecille Musson-Smith and Mr. Jean Jacques filling in the gaps to name but two. We had leaders who guided youth and had a special impact on the “4%”. But today that network of community disciplinarians/guardians are attacked and as a result have disappeared. (See the bloody attacks on me over the years for daring to raise: 3 national hangout surveys (1977, 1987 and 1997); how we name our children; raise mommas boys and sell lewd chewing gum to our children.) So that “4%”, who have had every single advantage to do better than their parents, are now exposed to gangster rap, violent TV and video games, ill-disciplined peers, all of which inculcate a cold disregard for life. Lord help us! But Scott would say those boundaries of old were never strong enough to sustain progress. What progress? The village has abandoned its youth who are left to determine their own morality of right and wrong. Get the book. Get angry. Then get involved. The “4%” need us now. They can destroy 96% of what we struggle to retain. There are no shortcuts. We cannot leave it to fate to be or not to be.
Dale Butler is a Member of Parliament, a former teacher and principal who has authored numerous books. He has two sons.