by Marlon Bute
St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is a pretty safe place. In fact, SVG is one of the safest places in the Caribbean and the World. And so, I reject the notion or claim as aired on the OMG Show on BOOM FM that SVG is the second most dangerous place in the Caribbean. The popular radio host, Bing Joseph was actually referring to a YouTube video which listed the safety of Caribbean countries based on one single, indicator, the murder rate. Jamaica topped the list and SVG came in second. So as far as that YouTuber was concerned, SVG was more dangerous than Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and St. Lucia and other Caribbean countries.
But, there is one fatal flaw in the analysis. One simply cannot sensibly use a country’s murder rate as the the sole basis to assess that population’s safety.
How about other crimes like carjackings, armed robberies, kidnappings, home invasions and so on? What are the hot spots in SVG where citizens should absolutely stay away from?
I visited SVG twice in 2022, during the months of October and December. Before then, I hadn’t been back to SVG in almost 20 years. Admittedly, I had some concerns prior to arriving in SVG for personal safety. 20 years is a pretty long time to stay away from your homeland. People change and places change. But, I soon was disabused of those concerns just a day after arriving home. SVG hadn’t changed much. The town was still teeming with commercial activity and I was soon to discover that over 2 dozen food and entertainment spots had popped up since I left. I visited many of them and most times they seemed well patronized with the young and the not so young imbibing in a drink or two, or dining, and simply frolicking as young people do.
There were times that I, like others, including my brother, Grubby, a University professor and historian left those entertainment places pretty late. There was a time that, the historian and UWI lecturer, Dr. Cleve Scott and I limed until 4 AM. We hadn’t seen each other since we were at UWI in the early 90s. We felt super safe. At no time did we express concerns for our safety. And, I suspect the same hold for the hundreds and thousands who visit the various entertainment districts on a weekly basis. They feel safe.
Now, I asked about kidnappings, carjackings, robberies, home invasions and so on. These things are extremely rare or simply unheard of in SVG. I do not recall of hearing of the home of a family being busted in by robbers as they sat for dinner or as they slept and of that family being terrorized. I do not know that folks are kidnapped and held for ransom as is frequently the case in a neighboring island. I do not know that Vincentians are ever relieved of their cars and their cars ransacked for jewelry and other valuables. I do not know that businesses like supermarkets, restaurants, banks, shops, minivans and so on are robbed as happens in a couple other Caribbean countries. And I do not know of a place in Kingstown or throughout the whole of SVG where Vincentians are afraid to go or simply do not go to, for fear of being the victim of a violent crime.
One cannot say the same for several of our Caribbean nationals. Even a walk in their capital cities could end up in a mugging or you being the victim of a pickpocket.
Vincentians wear jewelry freely and boldly. They take out their wallets and purses and wads of cash in broad daylight as in the darkness of night without fear of losing it. And it must be noted also, that unlike a few of our Caribbean neighbors where patrons at supermarkets, banks, restaurants and so on are greeted by armed guards, even some with machine guns slung over their shoulders, that that is something that’s completely alien to SVG. We pretty much go about our business freely and safely and the very absence of heavily armed guards is an indication of how safe we are and feel we are as a people.
When is the last time any of us visited Barbados, or Trinidad or Jamaica or even Haiti? How about the French Islands? Let’s go Caricom wide. How about Guyana and Belize? I find the fact that our Police are mostly unarmed and haven’t seen the need to wear bulletproof vests, an indication of how safe we are as a multi island state. We generally get along quite well with our police officers and they are almost never the target of crimes unlike other countries where there appears to be a tremendous mistrust and a lack of respect for the Police.
Now, I think that as a people we have to be alert and aware of our surroundings and that we ought not to take our safety for granted. We ought to do the things to keep our homes and families safe. Lock our doors. Lock our windows and so on just as I do in Canada. We have to look out for our neighbors and we have to cooperate with our police officers and work with them to keep SVG safe. We do have crime. All countries have crime. We simply are not at that stage as yet where we can’t walk the streets of Kingstown or enjoy SVG safely.
We go to the rivers and to the beaches and to the mountains and the small villages throughout the islands of SVG, safely. Further, we are actually welcomed when we do so. It has been so since I have known myself and I suspect that SVG would remain so once we are determined to keep it safe.
The issue of the high murder rate in SVG is of tremendous concern to the government and the opposition. While, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of these murders are drugs related and therefore, relatively isolated from the rest of the population, we should want all our young people to find legitimate and useful ways of making a dollar instead of resorting to a life or crime. Our population is quite small. So we need to do our best to create an environment where everyone has an opportunity to become a productive member of society. Those who live a life of crime, chose that life. We could make it harder for them to make that choice.
Our record murder rate that rightly puts us among countries with the highest murder rates in the region, doesn’t make SVG unsafe. It means that we have to prevent it from spilling over into other areas.
What people need to understand is that the ratio of murders per 100,000 cannot be used as the key measurement of safety in SVG and has limited comparative value because it distorts the reality of the experiences of the vast majority of Vincentians. And this by no means reduces the urgency of the police and the government to design and implement safety measures to reduce our murder rates in the short term.
More police patrols, more lighting in entertainment districts, CCTV cameras at strategic points, neighborhood watches, anonymous tip lines, removal of dark tints from private vehicles, electronic surveillance, community policing and so on are all proven to help in crime prevention and detection.
But, for now, I can’t think of a Caribbean country that I have felt safer in than in SVG. I have lived in or been to several of them. For safety, we are paradisal.