Saturday, October 29, 2011

Be streetwise

TREE-LINED and recently spruced up, Osmeña Boulevard is pretty as a postcard scene, and as deceptive.

Last Friday, at midmorning, my mother’s attention was caught by a group of teens that jogged across the street while the traffic lights turned red. One boy slowed down to pick something from the nape of a female passenger in one of the idling jeepneys.

Before my mother could blink, the youth was standing on the curb, sliding the medallion up and down the broken chain, as if taunting its owner, who, my mother thinks, may not have known what hit her.

Media reports and anecdotes from victims and eyewitnesses attest that a culture of street crime runs through this uptown area.

Remembering the 1980s when “rugby boys” started roaming the area while inhaling from bags containing this high-inducing glue and knowing the heavy traffic of tourists and pedestrians in the area, the trend does not surprise.

What perturbs is the rapacity of the current street operators. What they lack in years and height, they more than make up for predatory instincts. They hunt in packs, begging from or distracting victims before striking. Even in daylight, they chase those whose bags or valuables they fail to snatch at first attempt. They threaten and scare security guards or bystanders who intervene between them and their prey.

Who would have associated the ages of 11, 9 or 7 with mayhem?

Others blame drugs and alcohol abuse, not just by the youths but by their parents, if they can be called such. Often cited for worsening juvenile crime now is a juvenile justice law that keeps youths below 18 years out of jail. Among the “batang hamog” in the streets of Manila, a birth certificate is carried around to facilitate their release in case of an arrest.

The breakdown of family, environment and social institutions is blamed for the corruption of youth.

Yet, is it possible to view this in another way, that rather than deteriorate, the youth are sharpening and peaking? By some oversight, lack of imagination or failure of nerve, we fail to channel their energies into areas that benefit society, such as finding solutions to problems they best know how to tackle?

Remembering my mother’s anecdote of the necklace thief at Osmeña Boulevard, I found myself revising my initial assessment of the teen’s flaunting of his booty: would a hardened criminal risk all for a moment’s prank?

The failure of one generation to understand and thus reach out to another generation lies at the heart of a disaster like the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 that was authored by Senator Francis Pangilinan, as well as the botched attempts of the police to drag juveniles out of the street for some desultory feeding, hair-trimming, clothing and lecturing (attempts proven to misfire as soon as the same youths are picked up again from the streets for another crime for which the law refuses to hold them accountable for).

Yet, what can we learn from the efforts of some groups to wean away some of the hardened veterans of streets and even get them to motivate former allies and compatriots to leave their brotherhoods?

In March 2012, the Kaspersky Conference for Young Professionals will be held in Hong Kong to involve youths in fighting cybercrime. According to Katlene O. Cacho’s Oct. 25, 2011 report in Sun.Star Cebu, the Information Technology (IT) security company, Kaspersky Lab, invites students to work with other experts. Philippine students have until Dec. 1 to submit their papers in the competition for the best original research on Internet security and cybercrime.

IT’s not tapping something new in tapping the young. Shouldn’t we be applying this approach, too, in our streets?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 30, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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