By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
REVAMPING the original Urban Renewal was a “fatal error” in the fight against crime, Social Anthropologist and College of the Bahamas professor Dr Nicolette Bethel told The Tribune.
Her analysis of the country’s crime problem comes as tensions over the issue have escalated, with police officers this week expressing alarm at the murder rate.
Speaking with the Tribune, Dr Bethel said: “Urban Renewal 1.0 was an integrated, multifaceted programme that attempted to take a fundamentally different approach to solving the problems of the inner cities.
“That approach involved bringing government services to a single point in a community, to make it easier for the people who have the fewest resources to have access to the governmental services that they needed.
“The idea was that they could pay light bills and phone bills in the Urban Renewal centres, thus shifting the question of inconvenience on to the people providing the services rather than the people who are supposed to be receiving them.
“The idea was to rethink our approach to the inner cities — rather than seeing those areas and the people who live in them as ‘the ghetto’ and dismissing them, by recognising that not all people who live there are criminals and the law-abiding residents of those areas are on the front line of crime and are menaced by violent criminals long before anybody else is.
“Urban Renewal 1.0 was designed to give the law-abiding citizens real opportunities to gain access to social services and community policing worked on the premise that if you can gain the trust of the law-abiding citizens in a troubled area it becomes far easier to solve, deal with and ultimately prevent crime.
“And the programme was accompanied by some real efforts by psychological professionals to help to heal people who had suffered long-term abuse, brutalisation and so on.
“This core is what I considered revolutionary at the time, and which was removed when Urban Renewal was reformed because it was considered a waste of time and money, and a waste of policemen’s training too, as apparently police are supposed to fight crime, not prevent it.”
“By focusing so much on the criminals, we lose sight of the law-abiding citizens in the same communities, and it is a long time since we have really sought to serve them or meet their real needs.”
Dr Bethel added that the policing of inner city communities that arose after Urban Renewal 1.0 ended helped inspire distrust in inner city communities for authorities.
“Imagine if you were,” she said, “a 12 year old living in inner city Nassau in 2002 and in 2003 all of a sudden police are put into your community and they’re not violent or menacing, they are friendly, father figures who are teaching you music. They are walking around, learning your names and so on and for five years you get to know them.
“Then, when you are 17, they are taken away, and the only replacement are police with guns. How are you ever going to trust your country again? That’s what I think part of the root of this particular kind of violence is.”
What replaced Urban Renewal 1.0 was an idea that urban communities are war zones which are entered by policemen, sometimes in riot gear, brandishing guns and threatening residents, she said.
“I have heard first-hand of the experiences of people who, having the misfortune to live in an area where a crime has been committed and the police are in pursuit of a criminal, have themselves been threatened by those police. One family had their dog shot in front of them, simply because the dog barked at police who were running through the yard in pursuit of a perpetrator.
“I cannot see that as something that would have been likely to happen under Urban Renewal 1.0, and I cannot really blame people who have had that happen to them from mistrusting the police and seeking to fend for themselves.”
She added: “The Urban Renewal programme and community policing programme of the early 2000s are things that could have made a difference. It reached into the communities using tactics not being employed under Urban Renewal 2.0, tactics that were important because there is a huge part of the community that does not feel it is a part of the Bahamian society, a part that does not feel there is a place for them so they make a place for themselves.
“Urban Renewal 1.0 also helped deal with the problem of guns by gaining the trust of people which eventually led police to the guns. That trust is now gone.
“With Urban Renewal 2.0, you have no one dealing with people in an intimate way, just people dealing with houses and the like. I have not found anything reasonable for why people thought Urban Renewal 1.0 wouldn’t work in the long run.
“With 2.0, they took the healing part out of it and they can’t put it back in. You’re not going to get those people back because you have to rebuild trust in the inner city community and that will take time. In 2002 there was hope; in 2014 there is no hope.”
As for criticism of Urban Renewal 1.0, which she said was considered a “waste of time” by many, Dr Bethel said the perceptions that the programme failed could “at least be challenged” since the country’s crime spikes began in 2007, after Urban Renewal 1.0 ended.
Tracing the origins of the country’s crime problems, Dr Bethel said a failure to deal with the then burgeoning gang and drug culture of the 1980s is partly responsible.
She said: “I think this upswing in crime is linked to the gang and drug culture that started in the late 80s; but we knew it was an issue back then, it’s just something we never dealt with. Concepts, issues and ideas were put in place to deal with it but they were resisted.
“At the end of the 80s, one of the responses to the rise in gang culture was a mandatory National Service system for young people. It was vigorously resisted from the then opposition and those who supported them, so for the whole of the 90s we did not deal with the youth gang issue, possibly because the change in government brought about better times; Atlantis came, the economy grew, things were great – but the prosperity did not solve structural issues.
“They just gave people opportunity to do something other than rely on the gangs.
“Now, today, I’m not even sure a National Service programme would work if reintroduced. They missed the opportunity.”
“While there was resistance to the proposed National Service in the 1980s when it was set up as a military programme, the resistance continued even after it was reformulated to be a programme of real service. Perhaps the sticking point was that it was to be mandatory, and many of the more privileged members of the society did not think that their children needed to be included in the programme.
“However, once again, I think the idea was a radical one which might have brought about a little more social cohesion. But who knows?
“Another thing we have done,” she added, “we sent a message that our young people are not worth protecting when we took police out of the schools.
“Too many things are done in our society without understanding the consequences of them or what perception they will create. I don’t think police need to be in the school all the time, but I do think students need to feel safe.
“When we took the police out of the schools we put them on Bay Street to protect the tourists. People are not blind and they got the message loud and clear. The safety of our children is less important than the safety of our visitors. Message received.”
Finally, Dr Bethel said the recent crime problems are unlikely to keep on escalating and called for a reform of the justice system,.
“Crime and violent crime rarely escalate and escalate,” she said. “I think this is a spike. In terms of the response in the short run, I think there needs to be a show of law and an imposition of consequences in a very judicious kind of way.
“Opening the courts will be great, putting police on 12 hour shifts will help clamp down on criminal activity yes, but those are not long term solutions.
“We have a group of men that have learned to fend for themselves because they don’t trust anyone else. They have learned to respond brutally.
“Let’s say you arrest them, rush them through the 10 new courts, then what? Fox Hill Prison cannot accommodate the needs that we have.
“Secondly, I’m not sure the justice system is at all just, not in terms of corruption, but that the people who tend to have the most access to all the options our justice system allows, like bail and appeal, tend to be the people that have committed the most serious crimes.
“The people that have committed the least crimes tend to wait the longest because we a trying to rush the hard criminals through.
“The justice system is not fair to the hapless kid arrested for having marijuana or for stealing somebody’s bicycle. They are the ones waiting on remand for their trial to come up for years in the same prison we put the hard criminals in.
“We need to deal with this. We need to be making the system work and the system just, make it serve the perpetrators, the victims and those that are in between.
“That’s something we need to think about, how we tweak, adjust and reform our justice system.
“In addition, we fall in the habit of de-humanising the perpetrators of these crimes. We need to make it a point to say we are all human and all citizens deserve the same attention.
“And we can’t be changing our minds whenever our government changes; we have to come to some consensus as a society on how to deal with crime,” she said.