I know that there will be a number of opinions expressed in this week’s newspapers about the British monarchy, since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. I will not belabour the issue now, except to say that the dignity and well-being of Vincentians will not be best served by perpetuating a constitutional monarchy. We should make the change and do so soberly, with a decent sense of ‘nowness’.
In light of the recent spate of murders, I want to say a few words on this critical subject.
In the last global assessment I have been able to find, St Vincent and the Grenadines was ranked # 7 in the world for the highest number of murders for every 100,000 citizens. This is way too high, no matter how you spin it. All of us must use our collective might to suppress this state of affairs. Even though most murders will repeatedly occur in very specific areas where thuggery thrives, there is an emerging climate of concern, if not fear, in all parts of ‘The 32’. This does not augur well for the way of life we aspire to achieve.
What is wrong? – is the criminal justice system at fault?
To begin with, there are more than a few of our younger citizens who don’t rely on the police or don’t trust the police. This thinking is unfortunate. It is a shame because so much has been invested in our police force. We all need a police services organization that is well purposed and integrated within the communities, defending the vulnerable from the criminal element and working to create harmony and a feeling of order, safety and comfort.
While I support the view that the problem goes beyond the police, I do not agree that in absolute terms, we have a weak criminal justice system. However, we still need to promote the alternative approaches to traditional policing, conflict resolution and rehabilitation – including how matters are dealt with before the courts.
We really need to do more community policing. And it is not about setting up mobile units and patrolling the streets alone, but about changing the way how police, church, sports administrators, cultural artistes, the farmers and the homemakers and other community leaders interact with each other – sharing information, exchanging ideas, counselling each other and generally promoting community integration. Pan Against Crime has been a commendable initiative, but by itself, it just cannot realise any meaningful objective.
Time to re-build some of our communities
Let us re-design those communities which seem to be both the source and target of many a murder. Let us re-build physically and socially, the slum-like sections of Paul’s Lot, Ottley Hall, Glen, Choppins and elsewhere.
Have you walked or driven through the side streets in Paul’s Lot recently? There are derelict structures just suited for sheltering homeless druggies. Sellers of illicit drugs ply their trade right in the middle of these cross streets. Not a worry in the world!
Paul’s Lot is literally in the centre of our capital. Let us spend some financial and social capital to make it a place of which we will all be proud.
Where are the murders taking place?
Have you noticed that the vast majority of our murders take place to the south-eastern and south-western quadrants of mainland St Vincent – say from Choppins to Chauncey? We may unjustifiably want to use a broad brush and paint our male youth population with it. But we have good and decent young men from all parts of St Vincent and the Grenadines. How is it that we don’t hear too often of young males from the Windward side of St Vincent for instance, being involved in gun-related murders?
Is drug trafficking the source of the problem?
There is a strong link between murders and drug trafficking. I know I am stating a well-known fact. Is it that we don’t have the intelligence- gathering mechanisms to increase the level of drug interdiction? If we solve the drug problem, the murder rate will plummet. Perhaps we can even get as low as sister island Grenada where the number of murders for the year currently stands at five.
We have spent a lot of money on educating our youth. But perhaps, we will admit that we have not expended enough energy in support of those who have been inclined to drop out of the system at too young an age. We have to tailor programmes to suit everyone – training them all to become productive, self-respecting citizens.
We can’t lose the youths
We are losing too many of our youths who may comprehend a math concept a bit slower, or differently, than the average. They may end up leaving the system, feeling under-appreciated and under-valued. Their sense of value and purpose, as they see it, later comes through other means. If they live or wander into the wrong community, they get involved in drugs and their life is taken through a gate to a place from where few return.