By SHARON TURNER
I BEGIN with this truth – we as Bahamians say we want crime to decrease, but what we really mean is we only want certain crimes to decrease, while at the same wanting to be otherwise free to ignore the rule of law whenever doing so provides us personal benefit or pleasure.
Generally speaking, we as Bahamians do not honour the rule of law, we honour the rule of man – meaning we will support or extol anyone we perceive to be doing something to benefit us personally, whether or not that person is breaking the law to do so. This is why drug kingpins are glorified as heroes, corrupt politicians are treated like royalty, men of ill repute are elevated as Person of the Year and criminal bosses are feted like rock stars.
Rule of Law and democracy go hand in hand – you cannot have one without the other. Unfortunately though, we resist accepting that lawlessness breeds lawlessness and that criminality is a selfish master – you can give place to it and faithfully do its bidding, but when it is ready, it will without warning or consent take your sons and daughters and friends and loved ones in a cacophony of bullets and bloodshed, rape and red hot fear birthed by being forced to stare down the barrel of an armed robber’s gun.
As long as we lie to ourselves and believe the “big” crimes like murder are not connected to the “small” crimes we commit every day, we will continue to see weeping and lamentation in our country as the norm rather than the exception. This is because it is not the size of a crime we need to be focused on as the root of our problem, it is our mindset about crime and the rule of law that is killing us both figuratively and literally.
Einstein once said insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. In The Bahamas, our brand of insanity with respect to crime is coddling it, justifying it and arguing in favour of it, yet crying on the airwaves and at funerals and at crime scenes when crime takes something away from us we were not prepared to lose.
Laws are made to protect the rights of the individual. Whenever you a break a law, there is someone on the other side of that law whose rights have either been violated or put at risk. There is no such thing as a victimless crime. Therefore for you and me to have a fighting chance of feeling relatively safe in our country, we must respect the law, since not doing so equates with not respecting the rights of others.
And when you do not respect those rights, it means you do not respect one’s humanity, which means you will do whatever you want to with their humanity – whether that is to crush it through rape, imprison it through violent crime, violate it through theft and annihilate it through murder.
We ask how a person can look another person in the eye and take their life. It is simple – when humanity means nothing to you, taking it means nothing to you either. And you learn to diminish humanity when you are brought up with the mindset that the thing created to protect humanity – our laws - mean little to nothing.
The way we view the rule of law in our country is also an indication of how we view ourselves, because if we do not value our own identity through honouring our own rule of law, this in actuality is a form of self-hate. This is why we will go to the United States and immediately fall in line with the rule of law there, but then return home and want to run hot if anyone insists we follow our own laws. This is symptomatic of a people who have not yet come to esteem who they are as Bahamians, and thus esteem their ability to make their own laws that are for the building and strengthening of their own democracy.
Recently, we have watched as both our government and some sectors of the fourth estate (media) continue to mislead and misinform respectively, the Bahamian people about crime – specifically the crime of selling and buying numbers. Both pillars are telling the public that the hallowed pillar in our democracy – the judiciary – has declared that crime cannot be touched. It is a lie, but it is a lie that continues to be pushed, wilfully so.
Do the government and the media understand the ramifications of what they are doing by continuing to push this lie or any lie of its kind? The courts are the defender of our rights in a democracy. If the courts are saying that our rights under the law are not to be protected through the enforcement of those laws, then the judiciary becomes of no use to us in a democracy. But that is not what the courts have said on the matter of numbers or on any other crime in the country. Both the government and some media houses are inexcusably misrepresenting this vital pillar of our democracy, and should be condemned for doing so.
As for the overall state of lawlessness we are currently grappling with in our country, when the general public breaks the law it is one thing; but what of lawbreaking when it is at the hands of the government itself? The examples of both our supreme law (Constitution) and laws of parliament being broken and/or arrogantly scoffed at in the last eight months have been well documented and in some cases, ignominiously celebrated as groundbreaking achievements, including:
• May 2012 – the Prime Minister failed to make the Attorney General his first Cabinet appointment in keeping with the Constitution. His first appointment was instead Works Minister “Brave” Davis. The Attorney General was not sworn in until days later.
• May 2012 – National Security Minister BJ Nottage announced his meeting with convicted criminals at Fox Hill and his agreement with their complaints that the tougher anti-crime laws passed by the previous government were too tough and sentences needed to be lessened.
• June 2012 – the government planned to give pay raises to its Ministers of State without Parliament approval. It is against the law to raise the salary of Ministers, MPs and Senators without the passage of a resolution in Parliament to approve the same. The media was made aware of this and questioned the government, which then claimed the raises were simply a “typographical error” – an “error” on every single salary page in the 2012/2013 budget.
• June 2012 – over 80 Bahamians employed with Urban Renewal were not kept on with the government, for what Minister Brave Davis in an interview said was their “not sharing the government’s vision”. His statement suggested that the government broke the Employment Act when it decided not to continue their employment for that reason. The Employment Act says: “No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall discriminate against an employee or applicant for employment on the basis of…political opinion.” Since Mr Davis said it was these persons’ perceived political opinion that cost them their continued employment, the government would have broken the law in letting them go.
• July 2012 – grown men are reduced to tears on national television as they stand on the rubble of what used to be their homes in urban areas of Nassau. These Bahamians made homeless by the government’s Urban Renewal programme, said their dwellings were demolished, and demolished without the notice and procedure mandated by law. Minister Davis branded their homes as “useless” in media reports. He could certainly have that opinion if he so chose, but the law says that if the government wants to demolish a property it deems unlivable, the landowner/occupier should be given 30 days notice and the opportunity to make representation to the relevant authorities with regard to their property being designated by the government as unlivable. If this was not followed as the men claimed, then the law was broken in these matters.
• September 2012 – National Insurance Minister Shane Gibson admitted to reporters his releasing of personal NIB information protected under the Data Protection Act of then FNM Abaco by-election candidate Greg Gomez. What was the Prime Minister’s response? From a rally podium during the campaign he publicly and jokingly acknowledged that he knew what his minister did, and simply said that if it were him, he would have done things differently. Differently how Prime Minister, by not breaking the law, you mean?
• November 2012 – Prime Minister Christie gave a communication to Parliament on the holding of an opinion poll on gaming that the law did not enable him to hold. He announced a date and all other relevant procedural information for what would have been an illegal poll. Were it not for the outcry from segments of civil society that apparently made the fear of a no vote particularly cogent, the Prime Minister – by virtue of his communication to Parliament – fully intended to carry out what would have been an illegal national vote.
• December 2012 – Numbers bosses through their webshops advertised and held grand sweepstakes ahead of the opinion poll on gaming, offering houses, cars and other prizes. The sweepstakes were all illegal under the Lotteries and Gaming Act. Did the government shut down the illegal sweepstakes? No.
• January 2013 – Former NIB Chairman Greg Moss in a press release admitted to authorising a letter of comfort to Doctors Hospital for the payment of heart surgery for a Grand Bahama woman – an act that broke the law (the NIB Act). Both the Prime Minister and Minister responsible Shane Gibson confirmed being aware that this law had been broken – a law the former chairman said he would break again if he had the opportunity. What was done about this breach of law? Nothing.
These are documented instances of the laws of the land either being broken by the government or otherwise being declared as unworthy of respect, with little to no pressure from either the media and/or the Opposition to right these wrongs. Why? Because in these instances, it was simply “a law” being broken, simply words on a paper not being followed – no big deal, because to us the law is by and large no big deal unless we need it to protect ourselves or those we love; then suddenly the law becomes something we should all respect.
But with this mindset, the law can never become something we would all respect, and another person’s rights will never become something we will guard above all else, and so the crime that we keep saying we want the police and the church and everyone else, except our individual selves, to do something about, will continue. The bloodshed will continue. The fear of walking down one’s street because of the out-of-control level of armed robberies will continue. The rapes will continue. The often disingenuous quest for answers will continue.
And they will continue because the harbouring and protecting of criminals will continue, the illegal numbers racket will continue, the hiring of illegal immigrants will continue, the bribery (tipping public officers and officials) will continue, the fraud will continue (giving false declarations to customs), on-the-job theft (both of time and materials) will continue, the buying and selling of counterfeit and bootlegged items will continue, the theft of electricity and other utilities will continue, and the breaking of pretty much every traffic law on the books will continue, just to name a few.
In short, the crime we hate will continue, because the crimes we love will continue.
The reason many of us refuse to acknowledge the link between what we call small crimes and large crimes is that we do not want to change our behaviour and mindset with respect to the “small” crimes. We want to be able to commit those crimes with impunity, while at the same time demand that the police put the “criminals” under the jail.
We refuse to acknowledge the link because to do so would mean that we have to admit that many of us are also criminals – and for the benefit of the public, a criminal is not only a person who has been convicted of a crime – it is a person who commits a crime.
So if you stop and think about it, how likely is it that we will be able to put an appreciable dent in crime in our country, when many of us are in fact criminals walking freely, breaking laws and enjoying the liberty of doing so?
How does a nation of criminals stop the rise of crime? It is implausible, and can only begin to become plausible when we as Bahamians change our mindset about the rule of law in our country, and disabuse ourselves of the lie that says we can take lightly the rule of law, but still expect to live in a peaceful society.
Until we stop our love affair with crime, we have no ability to stop it from killing us.
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