Guns and Murder
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
February 17, 2023

Guns and Murder

“Dis man have a gun, dat man have a gun, Man, dey will kill each other fo’ fun” These are just two lines from a popular Caribbean song. But, hold a minute. This is not a song of today, a song of our times, it is not a song about Trinidad or Jamaica or SVG, as one is apt to think.

No, it is a song from Sixty (yes, 60) years ago, and it was about- Barbados of all places. This popular song was composed and sung by the then very popular Barbadian folk group, the Merrymen, in the mid-sixties and it was lamenting the situation of crime and illegal weapons in their country.

Well the Barbados of those days would seem to be a Sunday School compared to the Barbados of today, and as for T&T, Jamaica and SVG of the 21st century, there could be no comparison. In fact I raise it for dual purposes, first to indicate that illegal guns and their deadly use has been with us for a long time, but secondly to emphasize that the situation which concerned the Merrymen then, is but child’s play compared to what it is today.

It is against this background that we were informed that the Prime Minister/Minister of National Security held an emergency meeting with the “top brass” of the local Police Force last weekend to discuss the state of violent crime in our country as the death toll from such activities this year prepared to move into double figures before the number of weeks in the year could reach that number.

Press reports quoted Commissioner of Police Colin John as admitting that “2022 was not a very good year for the police…”, but saying that last weekend’s meeting had resulted in a “nine-page document” detailing plans for a “more effective and efficient” Force especially in the area of homicides.

I don’t know how reassuring was his statement to the public though, naturally, it will take some time for us to notice how effective those planned measures will be or whether they represent the proverbial paper tiger. What is not in doubt is that the homicide rate has reached frightening proportions and the boldness of the murderers has reached unprecedented heights. As a result, public response has been lamentation and criticism of the police and local authorities.

This state of helplessness is moreover reinforced by the fact that too many of us, for one reason or another, complicate the situation by lumping murders, brazen murders committed sometimes in the view of witnesses, under the broad heading of “crime”.

We cannot equate what is happening now with far lesser acts of lawlessness. We have reached a very dangerous stage which demands urgent measures. The murders alone are sufficient to raise alarm, but we cannot ignore the weapons of choice, nor the fact that it indicates a prevalence of illegal firearms and a willingness to use them with deadly effect.

It also brings into focus the situation of the prevalence of such illegal weapons. How do these young men, alleged to be killers, get access to such weapons? And, there is the accountability factor. Up to now the Police Force and Ministry of National Security have not explained the success, or lack of it, of their gun amnesty of a few years ago? Was it effective and worthwhile? Should alternative methods be used?

This lack of accountability is exemplified in other areas too. One such area, even by the admission of the police, is that of the worrying number of unsolved murders. To add to the concerns the police do not even bother to keep the families of the victims informed of the status of their investigations.

Another area of concern, though it is not related to murders is that of praedial larceny.

The government had introduced a much-touted “innovative” measure of “rural constables” to combat this worrying practice.

Today at every consultation with farmers, praedial larceny is raised, so has the “innovative” solution been appraised? Are the “rural constables” effective?

There are wider societal problems as well dealing with the seeming “acceptance” of known criminals by some who should set examples.

Even in Parliament, senior members behave like “bad johns” of old, in full view of the entire population. What example are we setting? We are in a serious mess and crime-fighting measures are not just restricted to the Police Force. We all have to play our part.

The slippery slope is getting steeper and merely throwing $40 million at it will not do. Collective solutions are needed.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.