I had for a long time hoped for a regional discussion on crime because it has been so rampant in the region, granted, in some countries more than others. This, despite recognizing that CARICOM has been a talk shop, known for failing to implement policies agreed on, quite often unanimously.
It was an opportunity for persons in SVG to hear the views of our PM, who over the years appeared to have been reluctant to voice his opinion on a matter where this country stands out in terms of the number of homicides per 100, 000. We were in fact led to believe that it was largely a gang and drug affair, so one was safe once outside of that category. Having welcomed a regional conversation on crime and criminal activity I am aware that a starting point for resolving criminal activity and arresting its almost phenomenal growth must seriously begin at the national level.
Always ready to score political points our PM, according to Trinidad’s NEWSDAY, accused opposition members and the media of politicizing crime. Journalists, he considers, too cowardly to enter into politics speak in general terms but have no contribution to solving crime. This is strange. Is it that being a journalist is a pathway to enter politics and that to discuss or report on criminal activity demand that they have to come up with solutions?
“We have a common position on what we can do nationally so that we can get rid of a lot of opportunism which we get in dealing with the issue of crime.” I assume that “we” as expressed refers to our national government and not to CARICOM generally. The question is, “how do we scale up solidarity at a national level?” How can there be solidarity at a national level when over the years efforts by the Opposition to have a joint approach have been rebuffed? Wouldn’t tackling crime at the national and regional levels mean involving all stakeholders? The general understanding is that crime has a multiplicity of causes; that is, being ‘multi-faced’. Why then should the PM argue that “Poverty as an excuse for crime” is a “narrow economistic argument”?
Whether or not PM Gonsalves meant it in the way it was expressed he seemed to have been targeting women especially those whom he considers “high-maintenance women” as a major cause of crime. “To maintain rank in the community they (the criminals) get a fascination with guns. They associate with young women- in some cases beautiful young women who are high maintenance (my emphasis)- and they have to rob and steal and kill and deal in drugs in order to maintain them.” I suspect that women’s groups will have their own response to this.
“Drop-Outs” are also singled out as a source of criminal activity. One must ask, what has given rise to dropouts? Is it simply to get involved in criminal activity? To what extent have we as a nation been paying attention to this ‘category’? What percentage of students at the secondary and tertiary levels have dropped out from the school system? Do we know why? Do we care? I assume that when we talk about ‘drop-outs’, it is this group we are talking about.
Our PM tried to build a case for the ‘reinstatement’ of the death penalty. On this matter he disagreed with the Pope and his Catholic mother. I am not sure if this is the recent conversion of a ‘brought-up’ Catholic son. It might be interesting to know if this issue was raised with the Pope on his visit or visits to the Vatican. The matter of the Death Penalty has been around with us for some time. It does not appear to me that the facts allow us to state with confidence that the existence of the death penalty equates to a reduction in criminal activity. But we must not forget the cases of persons who had been found guilty of committing serious crimes and have spent years in goal and on occasions even been executed for us to find out later that other persons had after some time, pleaded guilty or that the availability of DNA evidence was able to uncover serious miscarriages of justice.
Let us, however, bring this matter back home. One of the things that has stood out over the years is the high number of unsolved crimes. I Witness News quotes the Commissioner of Police to the effect that of 42 homicides last year, arrests had been made in only about 10 or 12 cases and the pattern has been so over the past years. Based on such evidence, potential criminals might be firmly convinced that their chance of evading arrest might be strong and therefore the death penalty might not necessarily be of concern to them.
PM Holness of Jamaica stated, “We must as a collective group agree that greater resources must be placed into our ability to gather intelligence and interdict and prosecute.” We have to remember that pumping resources into fighting crime does not stop when we increase the number of police. There is so much more that is involved in solving crime and arresting the high rate of homicide. We are now into the fourth month of the year and already have 12 homicides. Last week there were 2 in a matter of a few days. There has been much talk at the CARICOM symposium.
Let us not await some CARICOM MASTER PLAN. Let us bring stakeholders together and begin what should be a serious task ahead, using perhaps some well-known facilitator. We have to ensure that we are fighting a common cause to which we are committed. Here is where Leadership becomes important. We have to move beyond ‘ole talk’.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian