By ADRIAN GIBSON
AS this year draws to a close and the celebration of Christmas in a few days takes hold of our national consciousness, it is clear that a tsunami of death and mayhem has surged over Bahamian society. Above all the other Bahama Islands, New Providence is rapidly deteriorating into a crime-plagued, filthy and populous township where the spiralling rate of violent crime appears to be only comparable to a pandemic for which there seems to be no wave of immunisation.
In what appears likely to be yet another record-setting year for murders, our society is being gripped by ghoulish, criminal incidents that know no frontiers and have crept into nearly every nook and cranny of our country. When hearing reports of murders, brutal assaults and robberies in outlying, relatively quiet islands such as Family Islands, it is clear that the high rate of violent crime has mutated across the archipelago. It is baffling to note the daily stories of death and violence that are sending shivers down the collective spine of the entire Bahamas, a once quaint society that, in the past, policed itself.
At this rate, as it relates to crime, the Bahamas will soon be on a respirator and appears to be a banana peel away from slipping into a state of disorder as the criminal element becomes more and more emboldened.
Indeed, crime is a hot button issue that has catapulted to the forefront of the national consciousness and engendered the public’s fury as fellow Bahamians are falling like stunned bugs at the hands of vicious criminals and there appears to be a depreciated outlook on the value of human life. In their state of alarm, Bahamians have become more distrusting of their fellow countrymen and are swiftly arming themselves with cutlasses, shot guns, bats and taking other safety measures to ensure their security.
The rule of law, as noted by the great philosopher Aristotle, is preferable to that of any individual. British philosopher Thomas Hobbes opined, in his work Leviathan, that without the rule of law, life would be “nasty, brutish and short.” The law is expected to fundamentally underpin all societies, however, the authority of the state is being openly challenged by organised and sadistic criminals.
The crime hotspot – New Providence – has been beset by house break-ins, vehicle and boat thefts, arms trafficking, migrant smuggling, highjackings, money laundering, identity theft, fraud, cyber crime, robberies, rapes, drug peddling, and heinous murders and drive-by shootings. This year—like recent years—has been one of murder and bedlam, as carnage has been left about the nation’s streets and a blanket of grief is draping many families across the archipelago. As a vicious cycle of retaliatory violence is being unleashed and our nation descends into becoming an absolute madhouse, it is obvious that our moral fabric is tattered.
Locally, the notion of selective justice must be stamped out. Respect for the law has been eroded even at the highest level of government by influence peddling and deal-making. It is known that some of the country’s movers and shakers fail to heed the law themselves as there is a conspicuous level of deception and transgressions by some unprincipled politicians and white collar criminals that, for the most part, go unreported.
Crime is an insidious scourge on our society that must be tackled at every level. There is a common consensus among the populace that the crime rate is too high and, for many, that capital punishment should be carried out, so it perplexes me how time-wasting committees continue to be appointed and/or are deferred to. Surely, the movers behind such committees should realise that the Bahamian people are not intellectual midgets!
Indeed, over the last few years, international attention has been drawn to the Bahamas due to the spate of tourist-related robberies and crimes against locals—the Inter-American Development Bank recently published a damning report, cruise ships are warning visitors and the US Embassy itself is sounding the alarm.
Relative to tourists, the police must also pay special attention to certain drug peddling taxi-drivers who, it is claimed, offer illegal substances to tourists or facilitate their drug hunts. Certainly, our economic lifeline – tourism – is in jeopardy and becoming seriously endangered. Unfortunately, the public-at-large will have to bear the price for the misconduct of social miscreants and when the country’s image is tarnished by boneheads.
Some time ago, I called for a “212 day”, pursuant to the Penal Code, chapter 84, section 212 of the Bahamas’ statute laws. On such an occasion, throngs of police officers should be deployed on to the streets to conduct this dragnet operation. Indeed, such an operation would net thousands in fines, lead to the apprehension of wanted criminals and target those individuals who are selling food out of the back trunks of vehicles without health certificates and other documentation; apprehend those who illegally light fires and destroy government/private property; arrest persons who unlawfully affix signs on buildings or public property (e.g. utility poles); fine persons who do not have a permit from the Commissioner of Police that allows them to ply their wares or hold demonstrations; fine hawkers and those loiterers who harass persons outside of banks, at ATM depots, pharmacies or while waiting at a fast-food drive-thru; penalise those peddlers of fruits, clothes and phone cards who do not have the proper documentation; throw the book at persons who play loud music or make noises to the annoyance of others, and so on.
I supported the implementation of the 12 hour shift for police officers. Frankly, I still do. When it was launched and I noted a dip in violent crime, I thought it was a commendable move on the part of the Ministry of National Security, the Commissioner of Police and all parties involved.
That said, I also understood the complaints of the Police Staff Association (PSA) and felt that the Ministry of National Security could curb their fervent protests by merely offering extra compensation or—if the monies could not be paid—giving them the time off, for example, if an officer works four days on a 12-hour shift each day, give that officer three days off. If the PSA was sincere in its protests, I have no doubt that they would’ve agreed to such an understanding and this, by extension, would have averted claims that the government violated the Employment Act by slavishly overworking officers without compensation, claims of fatigue and, as it finally turned out, the threat of legal action.
Indeed, now that the 12-hour shift rotation has been terminated, I’m quite disappointed that an amicable resolution could not be arrived at. Even more, the question most people want answered is whether the purpose of the 12-hour shifts was merely to demonstrate that there could be a dramatic reduction in crime, particularly since the timing seemed contemporaneous with a spike in violent crime. The police must be out in full force during this Yuletide season—for the criminal element, their presence must be undoubted!
While enforcing the law and addressing serious crimes, petty crimes must be dealt with before they become larger criminal undertakings.
In a column published on June 21, 2008 I said:
“In fighting crime and reversing the apparent lack of reverence for authority, law enforcement officials must adopt former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s ‘broken window’ approach and seriously enforce the laws across the board – without ignoring any infraction. Furthermore, it is high time close circuit television (CCTV) is installed, more strategic Defence Force patrols are directed at minimizing the smuggling of illegal weapons/ammunition, that police officers are heavily deployed to those boroughs with the highest instances of crime and that police officers strengthen their relationship with certain communities and thereby better their intelligence-gathering abilities.”
Today, there is evidence that some of this advice has been taken into account but there remains much room for improvement.
It is a sad fact to note that Bahamians have today resorted to living in caged enclaves, due to the social menaces that most likely cropped up out of a broken home – absentee parent – and the unrelenting pursuit of material possessions. Even more, it is troubling to note that Bahamians are seemingly becoming anaesthetised to the accounts of the daily bloodbaths that are vividly broadcast on the nightly news programmes.
According to a former college professor of mine — Guyanese social scientist Dr Silvius Wilson — as a society “we must look at the root cause of crime”.
Sometime, I wrote in another column that Dr Wilson had told me: “Crime also stems from poverty, inequality and people’s life chances, their education or lack thereof and an inability of some to rationalize. Very often, when a fight occurs for example, signals break down in their ability to reason. While it is good for the police to detect, they are only a wider approach to crime.
“We must look at the social issues and consider them in a holistic way. It is very seldom that you can point to a social issue and say that it occurred for one or two reasons. There is a complex genesis as to its occurrence. We must look at where it started, what are some of the manifestations and have a sophisticated and focused response to crime,” he said.
Instead of pontificating on petty political matters, the church could have a huge impact in the fight against violent crime. It appears that the church lacks the impetus and the spiritual wherewithal to take a hands-on lead in addressing this pressing matter. My criticism of certain church-related practices in New Providence arise as I have witnessed my grandfather (Edward Gibson), an ordained Bishop in the Church of God (Long Island), exhibit kindness and a spirituality that has been manifested in his Christian/community outreach – not the pursuit of material wealth, meddling in the affairs of the state or in the use of empty words as I’ve observed with many New Providence-based pastors.
I firmly believe that after a convicted murderer is sentenced, a death warrant should immediately be read. Furthermore, all appeals should be heard within 18 months after sentencing.
Political and social activist Rodney Moncur’s determination to remain vocal about violent crime and punishment is impressive. Mr Moncur has projected himself as a fair-minded campaigner in sensitizing a seemingly desensitized populace to the travails we presently face. Mr Moncur’s campaign in the public’s interest is a far cry from so many of this country’s movers and shakers who seem too insulated and too preoccupied with themselves to be genuinely concerned for others—too indifferent to the suffering of victims. The information on crime and the state of our nation as seen on Moncur’s Facebook account is a telling, and sad, indictment of our societal deterioration.
In the Bahamas, there remains a need for more judges and support staff to alleviate the backlog of cases; a serious programme to attach electronic tracking devices to the ankles of accused offenders on bail, which was supposedly initiated but little has been heard of it since then; and a sex offender’s database must be created.
As school children continue to glorify violence and sadism, it is incumbent upon parents to instil a sense of ethics and responsibility so that a new generation of anti-social criminals is not bred. And, what about the implementation of National Youth Service, as seen in Guyana and Israel?
Crime has reached a point where the police/officials and the community must engage in wider dialogue and consultation to effectively confront it – it requires a national partnership. The police commissioner, Ellison Greenslade, seems to be devising strategies to disrupt criminal activities and effectively target the criminal element while impressing upon the public the urgency of their assistance in making it difficult for these scoundrels to evade detection but, more can be done if all the community stakeholders work in unison to collectively fight crime, from the home to the streets.
Indeed, there is a need for a social renaissance. Some time ago, I was saddened when my grandmother (Lenora Gibson), who lives on Long Island, asked me if people could still leisurely walk around in Nassau. She asked that question because she was likely thinking about the upsurge in violent crime and how walking may leave a person more exposed to becoming a victim of crime.
Frankly, it is high-time that the police are equipped with helicopters to track and chase criminals as well as conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance exercises.
The Bahamian society is a powder-keg. Maybe, just maybe, our political and community leaders could also go to the blocks and visit the prison to discover – first hand – what led these individuals into a life of crime while drafting and implementing a more effective plan to fight crime. Talk is certainly cheap and we’re paying a high price for all this talk!
MERRY CHRISTMAS BAHAMAS!