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Why The Crime Epidemic, And What To Do About It?

  • A condensed version of a study into crime trends over the past seven years

By DR DAVID ALLEN

FOR the past few years, the Bahamas has been facing a powerful surge of violent crime, murders, home invasions and other destructive acts.

This has created a sense of fear and hopelessness in the Bahamas in general, but Nassau in particular.

With this in mind, the Allen Research Institute undertook a clinical, epidemiological study of the factors involved in the root causes of crime during the past seven years (2006-2013).

The study involved interviews with:

• Families of murder victims

• Students being treated for violent and disorderly behaviour

• Chronic drug addicts

• Troubled teenagers and parents

• Public and private psychotherapy groups

• Church focus groups

• Those in neighbourhoods at risk of violent crime

• Confidential interviews with persons involved in murder, attempted murder and other violent crimes

• Members of gangs, particularly persons involved in aspects of gang violence

The results indicate an ominous and pervasive culture of violence and destruction, caused by a powerful Social Fragmentation Syndrome involving:

  1. The Chronic Violent Drug Syndrome

The Bahamas was the first country outside South America to experience a national crack cocaine epidemic. The chronic violent drug syndrome is the continuing devastating blow delivered by the 1980s cocaine epidemic and its legacy.

Similar syndromes exist in Mexico, Columbia, Jamaica, and US cities like Miami, Washington, DC., New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Drug trafficking with its evil empire of local executions, revenge killings and murder of key witnesses has numbed and terrified the Bahamian public in a feeling of frustration and hopelessness.

These killings occur in the streets, highly populated and residential areas to create fear and panic among the public empowering the drug barons, their henchmen and associates.

The killings relate to any kind of tampering with drugs, drug money, the women of the drug dealers or fellow members of the gang connected to the drug dealers, or even someone being dissed or not respected.

The prevailing motivation is to develop a deep respect in the community so that one is looked up to and feared, by having what is called “stripes”.

Around 700 pounds of cocaine, 4,000 pounds of marijuana and 26,000 marijuana plants were recovered by police between September 2011 and December 2012.

This should be considered to represent only about 10 per cent of the drugs that did get through.

Since then, more drugs have been recovered in Bimini, Grand Bahama and Nassau, meaning trafficking is occurring at a very high rate.

Chronic addicts make up 1/3 of the addicts and use 2/3 of the drugs.

Of chronic addicts, 2/3 are involved in multiple crimes. Going in and out of prison, these persons are cognitively impaired and find it hard to hold down a job.

Although the number of new crack addicts does not seem to be increasing, there is an increase in older chronic cocaine addicts who populate programmes like the Haven and BASH. Many are found hanging on the corners in certain areas.

Another important and ominous development is an increase in the number of professionals or young persons with good jobs snorting cocaine. There seems to be as many women involved as men.

This keeps drug trafficking alive, and though slow in effects, it will have devastating effects on the persons involved, their families, their professional lives and the country.

Cocaine is like a train that starts slowly, but ends in catastrophic consequences. My concern is that the growing incidence of snorting cocaine can reignite an acute epidemic of crack cocaine or methamphetamine addiction which could have devastating consequences for our country, which is already economically challenged.

A burgeoning epidemic of marijuana use is confronting the country involving children aged 10 years old through adolescence and beyond. This destroys educational potential since the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s.

Guns and drugs go together. Young men and women said guns can easily be bought or rented. About 60 per cent of violent crimes are directly related to illegal fire arms. The proliferation of guns is the most ominous spectacle facing the development of our country.

This gun colonisation has gripped us all, destroying reasoning ability, and catapulting the country into a chilling state of fear, forcing us to live at our limitations and ignore our potential.

Life is cheap. Murder is common. Young black men are undergoing a holocaust. They are either dead, on drugs, unemployed or in jail.

Although not clear, suicides may be trending upward. We are also seeing possible increasing trends in suicidal attempts. It must be stressed that the same dynamics which produce homicide, also produce suicide.

Therefore, we must work hard to make sure we don’t have an exponential increase in suicides as we have had in homicides in the past 20 years.

People in the community live in fear and feel unsafe. More people are talking about self protection and seeking revenge. There is a prevailing feeling of hopelessness which affects the natural psyche.

The country is besieged by a deep anger and rage. A number of persons said they have to keep angry and live in revenge to survive.

Property is not respected. With a gun, what is yours is mine. One young man said, “Even if you lose the dice game, if you have a gun you still win!”

It appears that some young men in particular have lost the mind and even the ability to work. The cognitive impairment from drug use and alcohol contributes to this phenomenon.

Crack cocaine feminised drug addiction, ejecting the mother from the home. Left to fend for themselves, children are un-bonded, lack habilitation and social skills. There is little motivation for education in the home. Kids with behavioural problems go to school without books making teaching and cultivation of civility very difficult.

Young men and women join gangs for affirmation, protection, connection and empowerment.

This is a growing phenomena which has serious consequences for the country because the herd instinct is the most violent aspect of human nature.

There is evidence that turf wars are dominating some neighbourhoods. Young boys said to be safe, “you have to keep with your boys”.

In the past year the gang warfare has increased, spreading ripples of fear in our communities.

  1. Economic downturn

Men get their self-esteem from employment. Men without work become angry at their wife, girl friend or children suffer. Some persons respond by a wish to die. Although there is no direct causal connection between poverty and crime, there is a clear connection between the loss of money or status and increased rage or suicidal ideation – eg, a girlfriend said that after losing his job, her boy friend kept a noose in the bedroom, telling her he could no longer afford to give her what she wanted so when the time is right he would hang himself.

Young men who steal say that they have to pay their girl off, or she will leave them for another man.

Sadly, the person we love the most makes us most angry, increasing the incidence and severity of domestic violence.

Young girls and boys make themselves available to older men as a form of prostitution for economic benefit.

  1. Anger

When angry, subjects talked about outing (killing), poisoning and suicide. One third of some focus groups talked about killing or hurting someone. Some of these persons come from respectable families.

We have an anger problem in our midst.

Life is wounded. Instead of doing our grief work, we give over to destructive anger and shame, leading to resentment, bitterness, hardness of heart, and finally rage.

At the rage point we enter the “Violent Destructive Tunnel.” My work shows we become possessed by evil or negative energy.

Young men and women who have committed murder or extreme violence describe being taken over by a negative force. One man said: “All of a sudden I could not stop stabbing him, looking back I felt something was controlling me.”

Anger causes diffuse physiological arousal (DPA), the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and pulse increases. Because of the intimate connection of the heart to the brain, when the pulse rises 10 per cent above normal, the IQ drops 20 to 30 points. If men self-soothe by drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, their inhibitions are decreased, and violence and even murder may result.

A lack of words for hot feelings or emotions is known as Alexithymia. If a person cannot express, “I am angry”, “I am hurt”, they will act it out.

A young man who beat a woman said he wanted her to feel what he was feeling. When asked what he was feeling, he said, “I don’t know.”

  1. Affects of child abuse

Nearly all troubled children suffered some type of abuse, especially physical and sexual abuse. A US study of 14 teenage murderers found that 13 had experienced severe beating, incest, or forced sodomy.

Studies show that child abuse can be greatly reduced by neighbourhood walk-arounds. If every church adopted the surrounding community, they could observe child abuse, neglect and other crimes in the making.

Since there is a church on every corner, we could revolutionise the Bahamas in three years.

  1. Traumatisation

Murder and violence affect not just the victim. Each victim has a sociophile of about 100 people (family, friends, church, neighbours) who in turn are traumatised by the victim’s trauma.

Trauma symptoms include

• Flashbacks, nightmares

• Anger, revenge, fighting, rebellion

• Withdrawal, fear of being alone, need for gang membership. A young boy whose friend was killed in a mall parking lot said, “He was killed because he was alone. He should have been with his boys.”

• Magical thinking. A young boy told me, “If you get stabbed, just hold your chest and you will not die. My friend did it and he lived”.

• Upside-down values. A group of 12 to 15 year-olds said they did not expect to live to 30.

• Thinking violence is cool. A 15-year-old who stabbed another boy said if you kill you get stripes in the hood and will only spend six months in jail.

• Suicidal tendencies. When a young person committed suicide, the friends in the group said the person was better off, and they wished they could do the same.

• Poor cognitive skills, disinterest in school, inability to concentrate and poor impulse controls.

As a result of all this, we are confronted with an increasingly callous, indifferent public that has gradually moved into the danger zone of learned helplessness.

Sadly the people, including the church, are beaten down and are close to giving up, feel hopeless. Parents are advising their kids not to return home and encourage them to seek careers in the USA or Canada.

The dynamics of violence, murder and suicide

All violence begins with hurt, involving either abandonment, rejection or humiliation.

This produces a powerful shame response involving loss of face, low self esteem, a feeling of being disrespected, cheated, made fun of or betrayed.

Shame is “Self Hatred Aimed at ME” ie the person internalises the hurt and becomes destructive to himself and others.

The degree of the violence or murder is directly proportional to the intensity of the shame.

The intensity of the shame response depends on factors such as:

• the relationship of the person doing the shaming

• the witness of the shame process

• the surprise element of the shame

• if a person is shamed in an area they feel insecure about – body defect, insecurity with girlfriend

• alcohol or drugs

Violent crime can only be prevented by decreasing the shame response through love, caring and understanding, eg kind gestures, education, child protection and support, involvement with the community, caring for the indigent and unemployed.

In essence, the high violent crime epidemic of the Bahamas exists because we have evolved into an uncaring disconnected nation.

Recommendations

• Establish a National Crime Forum

It should be established by the Prime Minister for a 3-5 year basis to help with the implementation of anti-crime initiatives and tackle the root causes of crime.

It should be visible in the community and work in conjunction with the police.

It is ridiculous to put the full burden of crime on the already over worked police force. They cannot be responsible for ALL the root causes of crime.

The process of reducing crime in a population requires an effective social contract between government and non government agencies. Such a social contract can be created by the government establishing an entity called “The National Crime Forum” made up of a microcosm of society dealing with the root causes of crime.

• Reformation of the legal system

The legal system needs to be reformed so that justice is accomplished in a timely fashion. The government has provided legislation to enhance this. It will take time for this. The attorney general is making progress in working towards this goal.

• Increase recruitment of police personnel both locally and abroad

We have an excellent police force who works tirelessly to solve our crime problem. But our police need even more help. In our research all of the respondents said the increased presence of more police on the street and in neglected areas is the best deterrent to crime. They said Bahamians still have a fear of police and dogs. Combining both is a strong signal that business is not as usual.

The following is suggested: provide incentives to attract young Bahamians into law enforcement; recruit selected officer from other Caribbean territories to help; establish a mutual exchange programme with law enforcement with countries that have special expertise in the recovery of guns or arms.

• Strengthen the witness protection programme

Implement and strengthen the Witness Protection Act: (Bahamians are becoming afraid to give testimony to violent crimes).

• Capital Punishment

Enforce the law of capital punishment especially if a person has killed more than once.

• Close Circuit Television (CCT)

Much is being done in this area, and the results are promising. The technology improves daily and will prove even more effective in the future.

• Establish a national parenting programme

Parenting is a job which demands skills which can be taught and learned. Similarly, behaviour is learned, and as a result can be unlearned. The creation of a National Parenting Programme will contribute to short term and long term solutions to destructive behaviour.

• Train law enforcement personnel to be more sensitive to victims

Victims of crime and their relatives and neighbours are traumatised and the manner in which they are spoken to or cared for can make a difference in their ability to cope with the tragedy. The fact is, it is difficult to be empathetic when we are tired and under a lot of strain. In Brazil, policemen undergo special debriefing exercises in a community therapy programme to help them deal with their stress load and allow them to become more empathetic and understanding in dealing with traumatized persons.

• Enforce the Domestic Violence Act

Domestic or relationship violence and stalking requires quick decisive action. The Domestic Violence Act provides for this, but the Act must be enforced. One of the referrals to our programme had her finger chopped off by her lover – who said he did it because he loved her.

• Establish residential programme for extremely at-risk youth

The establishment of a residential programme for extremely at-risk youth based on a group psychotherapy model – as opposed to the boot camp approach – provides hope and habilitation for our young men.

Such a programme must not be away from society because this can encourage abuse. It is imperative for the clients participating in the programme to interact with their relatives and concerned persons on a daily basis, to prevent them from feeling isolated. If the resources are not there, our examination of both the Simpson Penn and Willie Mae Pratt institutions could be easily developed and expanded to incorporate this programme.

• Establish a mandatory national service programme for wayward youth

We meet so many young men who have been expelled from school and hang out on the blocks. Such a programme would be very helpful to them to give them structure and hope. It should be geared towards unemployed youth who are not engaged in formal education, employment, or income generating activities; and combine training in specific skills, work experience and discipline. It should develop positive attitudes and values by increasing self-esteem, respect for each other, and the country as a whole.

• Resocialisation: an innovative project

(The Family: People Helping People Project)

After seeing the initial data of the research a pilot intervention programme called, “The Family: People Helping People Project” was started six years ago.

Meetings are held every Wednesday afternoon in buildings in City Central Outreach Centre on Baillou Hill Road from 4–6pm.

The programme, based on a group therapy model, consists of an adult family group of about 50 persons and a teenage family group of 20 persons.

The Family aims to enhance re-socialisation by spiritual awareness, empathic connection, and instillation of hope, stress reduction, anger management, revenge elimination, gratitude, forgiveness, parental education and altruism.

During the group therapy sessions, a trained therapist invites participants to share their recent experiences and progress.

Discussion is free and open under the therapist’s guidance. Each session ends with a psychological/spiritual teaching, which is designed to foster education, growth, and character development.

Participation in The Family has led to many improvements in cognitive health. Data demonstrates that groups who participated longer in The Family have significantly less depression, compared to those who participated for a shorter duration.

Results also indicated many positive changes in self-assessment. Subjects feel significantly less anger toward others, show a significant decrease in desire for vengeance, and experience significantly fewer thoughts of both violent and nonviolent revenge.

There was also a significant decrease in loneliness.

Trends analysis showed decreases in feelings of irritability, negativism, resentment, and shame according to increased time in the Family.

An extended study with a larger number of participants is needed to assess long-term outcomes and further observe correlations between gratitude, forgiveness, and well being.

Additionally, there is a need to develop a comprehensive re-socialisation scale, to replace the multiple inventories used for simplicity and effectiveness of evaluation.

To this end, the Allen Research and Training Institute hopes to establish a number of branches of The Family around New Providence.

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