The “don’t care” epidemic

Some time ago, we referenced the “broken windows” theory as it relates to crime prevention. The concept behind the theory is “that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening,” according to Wikipedia.

At the foundation of this theory is the respect for the law and respect for those charged with enforcing the law. While there are many angles to the “broken windows” theory and many arguments for and against, we believe that the underpinnings of the theory is pride.

For a very long time, we have lamented that Antigua & Barbuda has seemingly lost its basic community pride. We seem content to litter and we seem content to see the litter. Things that are broken, like windows, remain broken and there are no individual or government driven beautification programmes of any real significance.

Occasionally, we hear of a “beach clean-up,” where community-minded or environmentally conscious persons organise themselves to tackle a particular area. Those efforts need to be supported and applauded because they are necessary, but, unfortunately, they are too few and too infrequent.

It has become a situation where people just don’t seem to care. Even in the case where people want to care, or once cared, they become frustrated and eventually fall victim to the “don’t care” virus that has spread across our bit of paradise.

It is very much the “broken windows” theory in action. If one neighbour decides to ‘not care’ about fixing their windows then that leads to another not caring about mowing the lawn and so on, and so on. Until, we have a community of broken windows and unkempt neighbourhoods. All leading to increased criminal activity.

And that is the point. Ignore the little things and eventually they add up and graduate to big things. Before you know it, there is a degradation of societal values; no one cares about their community, no one cares about their neighbours and fewer care for basic law and order or community pride.

We are lead to reflect on our lack of community pride after hearing about the illegal dump on Wireless Road. According to the Chairman of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), Fitzgerald Lewis, a young man who identified himself as the operator of the illegal dump, was collecting waste from a number of commercial entities that were unaware he was dumping the items at that site and not taking them to the established Cooks Landfill.

Apparently, the young man claims that he was given permission from the Central Board of Health (CBH) to operate a recycling plant some years ago. However, based on what was observed of the site, the Solid Waste Authority said it appeared the individual had run afoul of that operation.

The sad thing here is that this young man knows better but does not care. By his actions he has demonstrated little respect for the rule of law and his pollution has endangered the health of his neighbours, all in pursuit of a few dollars. We should say more than a few because the heavy equipment that was discovered on-site cost more than a few dollars.

Mr Lewis said NSWMA has given the youngster until February 28, 2015 to clear the site, otherwise the police and other authorities would be called in to handle the situation. We note that he said that he had already reported the matter to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael, who heads CBH, but the real question is: what will be done about it?

If we allow these kinds of infractions to go without consequences then the “don’t care” virus will become an epidemic and the bad situation, which we have today, will only get worse. And certainly, just asking the young man to clean up the mess is not sufficient. He would learn nothing other than he can do, as he likes.

Like Mr Lewis we hope that everyone will take these matters seriously. Some may say that we are making a mountain out of a molehill and it is just a bit of garbage, but this lack of respect for law and order is what is leading us down the road to more serious crime. It is the slippery slope that the “broken windows” theory addresses.

Many people have already begun to politicise the matter and have started making claims of who the young man may or may not be associated with. It does not make any difference. What makes the difference is the actions that he has taken, and the actions that the authority will take in this matter.
And if you don’t think that the little things matter, here is an example.

Some years ago, our country hosted a national clean-up day. It was a fantastic show of volunteerism and civic pride. At the same time, there were those in our society that cared little for the effort. In the midst of the clean-up efforts there were more than a few reports of wanton littering in areas that had just been cleaned. Those actions by a few selfish, self-centred persons marred the event and caused many of the enthusiastic volunteers to vow never to return. The thought was: “why should I spend my time cleaning up if people only continue to litter.”

It was a frustrating slap in the face and a national clean-up campaign of that scale never returned.