TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe seemed peeved that the United States does not appreciate the efforts of the Bahamas to get crime under control. It’s as though Big Brother has let him — and the Bahamas — down.
Four days earlier, the US Embassy in Nassau issued a warning to all Americans living and travelling here to beware of crime.
“The Americans,” said Mr Wilchcombe, “will issue the warnings, it’s their choice; they will do what they want and what’s in their interest. We can talk to them. We have to develop our relationships and I think Americans will have to appreciate that we are making efforts and are making a dent in the crime problem.”
Mr Wilchcombe is wrong when he says that “it’s their choice” to issue warnings. On the contrary, it is the US Embassy’s duty to issue these warning. The Embassy’s first duty is to protect their own citizens, not the reputation of the Bahamas. The latter is the responsibility of Bahamians. No matter what kind of relationship is developed with the American Embassy or its government, their first duty will always be to their own.
“We don’t have to worry about (their warnings),” said Mr Wilchcombe. That is where he is wrong, and, being an intelligent man, he knows this is a mis-statement. His very next sentence proves that he is fully aware of the fall-out from these travel warnings.
But “we do have to fix the problem at home”, Mr Wilchcombe said. This is very true, and he goes on to explain the outcome of the warnings: “We could kill all we have built in this country if we don’t move away from a country that has a lot of crime.” Anyone with any sense knows that this is a statement of the obvious.
Mr Wilchcombe should recall an incident that happened many years ago near the Cable Beach hotels. An American visitor, who was in some branch of law enforcement in the US, spent the evening in the casino of one of the hotels. Believing the advertising posters that the Bahamas was indeed one step removed from the Garden of Eden, he decided to walk the short distance back to his hotel. The area was not well lighted. He was mugged, and robbed.
Although in pain, he was even more angry that there was no warning that there was crime in the Bahamas and even in tourist areas safety could not be guaranteed. Indeed, he was so angry that on his return to the US he took out full-page advertisements in various leading newspapers warning about the criminal element in the Bahamas, and advising that it was not a safe place to vacation. Almost immediately, government had street lights installed in the area. However, the Bahamas government – and the hotels — had failed in their duty to warn visitors to be careful. Needless to say, the US advertisements did not help our tourist industry.
Mr Wilchcombe said that the US government’s recent warning came despite government’s reports of an overall decrease in criminal activity this year compared to last year. We can give government credit for trying very hard to paint a rosy picture — in fact so hard that The Tribune and many others do not believe their crime figures. It would be unfair to say that somewhere in their reclassification of crime there would be no area of improvement, but government — we won’t blame the Commissioner of Police because we do not think that today he is wholly his own man — has so reclassified serious crime that it would be almost impossible to fairly compare this year’s figures with last year’s.
We also know — from calls that we receive from the public— that all serious crime does not appear on the daily crime sheet. Again, we do not blame the police for this.
For example, the late John and Betty Kenning’s property at Cable Beach, which has been sold to a British bassist and lead songwriter for the internationally popular heavy metal band Iron Maiden, was broken into and ransacked recently.
The elderly caretaker, who had been on the property for 43 years, was still the caretaker. The robbers sawed through the iron chain on the front gate, brutalised the caretaker with a knife, wrapped him in duct tape and left him in a pool of blood. About $8,000 worth of electronics was stolen.
This break-in was not reported to the press by police, obviously because the international name of the owner could have attracted international publicity. The Tribune found out about it because of several calls from the public inquiring as to why such a heinous crime had not been published. One of the callers informed us that we were failing in our duty to keep the public informed.
However, it was one case that the police should have publicised if only to show how quickly a private citizen, working with the police, can help solve a crime. The police deserve full credit in this case, as does the citizen who followed every lead to help them. In a short period of time, two persons were in custody and a third was being sought. The trail led to a house where all of the stolen goods were hidden as were the thieves.
As usual, the press is criticised for not doing its part. But doing its part should not mean to assist in the strategy of hiding the evidence. In the early days, the mind set of the hierarchy of the police force was to keep the bad news quiet. There was one officer – former Assistant Supt of Police Paul Thompson, now retired — who believed in keeping the public fully informed and encouraging them to be a part of the crime fighting team. This was one of the reasons that Mr Thompson was such a good officer. He soon won top brass over to his way of thinking, especially when members of the public would phone The Tribune as soon as they thought the police were failing in their duty to keep the public informed.
And so, it is not the press that is making the criminal into heroes. It is the job of the press to alert the citizens to the gravity of the situation for their own protection, but also to let them know that they too are a part of the problem if they don’t back their police force.
However, if the whole truth were to be known there are those in the criminal element who seem to think they can bend the ears of some in places that can help them beat the law.
For example, during election campaigning in Eleuthera a few years ago, all our reporters would hear was the boast of a certain element telling their “boys” to get their fast boats ready because if their side won the election they would be back in the drug business. They were so brassy and bold, holding nothing back that some of their remarks were published. There was so much more that could have been published, but we believed that enough had been said that those to whom the arrow pointed would get the message and rethink their strategy.
If any of those strings still exist today, they have to be cut if the police and decent members of the public are to win this war against crime. The criminal has to know that the only escape route for him is to give up his life of crime and re-enter society.