By PACO NUNEZ
Tribune News Editor
I rise to acknowledge that since our last meeting in this place, a fortnight overflowing with violence and death saw this year’s murder count approach that of 2012, the second highest catalogue of senseless carnage in our history.
Meanwhile, all categories of serious crime – attempted murder, armed robbery, rape – continue at unacceptably high levels.
And this without counting the stabbings, shootings and assaults tucked away from public view and official recognition in that new basement storage bin known as “Causing Harm”.
All despite our election pledge to make an immediate impact on crime.
As promised, we launched Project Safe Bahamas and Operation Cease Fire, re-branded Urban Renewal and School Policing.
We revitalised the Heads of National Law Enforcement Agency (HONLEA) and gave more financial support to the police.
As promised, we restored Tourism Based Policing to its former prominence, expressing an almost religious conviction that this would conjure “immediate” reductions in crimes against visitors.
Yet the violence has continued unabated.
And on our watch, this country’s lifeblood, those visitors whose interest and money we are desperate to attract, have been attacked and robbed. Raped and murdered.
We focused on crime prevention for businesses, yet street vendors, shopkeepers, honest Bahamians striving to make their own way in the world, continue to be terrorised.
We promised to counter the violence perpetrated with handguns and halt the proliferation of high-powered weapons.
But illegal guns continue to flow across our borders and military-grade firepower is still being used to settle petty disputes.
It is becoming daily more apparent that despite our efforts, the forces which gave rise to violent crime before May 2012 continue to hold sway in this country – a fact which should really be unsurprising as both parties have turned a blind eye to the true nature of these forces.
Both contend that what is needed is the removal or rehabilitation of certain “bad apples” from an otherwise wholesome barrel.
But the police are doing their job, investigating crimes and bringing suspects before the judge, and the court schedule remains packed, the prison full to bursting.
Were it a case of simply removing the rotten fruit, violent criminals would be an endangered species by now.
Instead, they thrive. Honest law enforcement officers admit that in addition to the usual suspects, they find themselves in pursuit of an ever growing rollcall of new criminals. Often young, fresh faced criminals.
The reality is that a widespread sense of hopelessness and futility exists among Bahamians – particularly young men – which hard economic times did not create, but merely inflame and cause to boil to the surface.
The pressure must find a release, and it often does so in the form of blind rage, directed either at the self or at someone else.
What we face is a criminal who no threat of punishment will deter, because he places no value on life, not even his own.
Who only became a criminal by taking one final step off a cliff where literally thousands more are already standing.
And to the extent that all of us uphold a national tendency toward dishonesty, entitlement and self-gratification, we are encouraging them to jump.
Regardless of the political twist and shuffle that is expected to mark every contribution made in this place, the grave situation I have just outlined is nothing to play politics with.
I am saddened to admit, in the run-up to the 2012 election, that is exactly what we on this side did.
And I believe we should be ashamed of ourselves for it.
I will probably be crucified by my colleagues for saying so, but it is the truth: no election time, 10-point plan could have made a meaningful impact on so complex and ingrained a problem.
We peddled an illusion of peace and security to a frightened population in exchange for power, and we should be ashamed.
I know that I speak for at least some on this side when I say we did not sow false hope maliciously.
Everyone wants to believe that public good and personal advantage live on the same street.
At the very least, we are all guilty of having been wilfully naive. Too quick to endorse facile, ready-made solutions.
As for those who consented cynically to the smearing of the landscape with lurid murder count banners, the condemnation of the other side for “allowing” crime to happen... well, perhaps they were just a bit more honest with themselves than the rest of us.
We are all supposed to be adults in here, and every one of us should know by now that telling the truth and doing what needs to be done are almost always at odds with the maintenance of popularity and attracting votes.
This is especially so in the prevailing climate of patriotism that we on this side are largely responsible for encouraging with our “We Believe in Bahamians” nonsense.
How, while professing this mantra of unqualified, unmitigated confidence in each and every son of the soil, could we tell the truth – or even admit it to ourselves?
How could we have acknowledged that the seeds of brutality and violence are not imbedded within a small group of deviants, or some invasive immigrant population, but rather are scattered across the very fabric of our culture and national identity?
I can only answer for myself, and admit that I lacked the moral courage to break ranks with the hubristic fantasy we have been guilty of pedalling.
I was unwilling to risk the political consequences and feared becoming an outcast among my colleagues.
I must also own that my cowardice helped delay, yet again, an honest and mature conversation about this issue – while young Bahamians continue to be sacrificed at the altar of political pretension on an almost daily basis.
For all this, Mr Speaker, I would like to offer my most heartfelt apology to my constituents, this Parliament and this country.