DR Mike Neville, a respected forensic psychiatrist, has been leading a weekly series in The Tribune designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the escalating levels of crime in the Bahamas.
On the night of February 27, Dr Neville’s youngest son Sean, a father of a six-year-old daughter, was shot dead yards from the family home.
In a searingly personal account he describes the agony of and anger at such a shocking loss, the impact on his family – and expresses hope that the outpouring of compassion can be used to reinvigorate the fight against the scourge of killings and serious crime.
Illustration by Jamaal Rolle
MERE words cannot describe the agony that I have felt over the past few weeks. The loss of my son, Sean, has been unbearable.
All too often, I have been told: “You do not understand crime, if it happened to you you would think differently”.
I do not know yet if I will think any differently, but nothing could have prepared me for the depth of pain and despair that coursed through my veins. That fateful night our lives changed for ever.
I expected the anger and it springs into my body like venom; I feel like lashing out at anything and, of course, it is invariably at some little insignificance that does not deserve my rage. I can certainly understand how many of us are tempted to reach out for revenge and retribution at this desolate time.
I have also been reminded how many fathers and families have walked this same road over the past years. Their kind words and hugs are of great comfort as they are still struggling with this same desolation but it also magnifies the horror that we have all allowed this country to drift into. Each murder impacts so many; so many friends and family feel the same stab to the heart which, with each murder, kills a little bit of our very self.
When I saw Sean’s body lifeless in the road by my house, a sense of dread and a sort of numbness invaded my soul. It has not passed but, at times, gets pushed aside by my rage.
That night I felt that I was treated with callous indifference by our police, who swarmed the scene. I am not sure what they thought of me, but I was escorted away; I just wanted to be able to see my son a little longer. It is a crime scene, they said. But my rage boiled over when the media were escorted in for a “press conference” over my son’s lifeless body. As I reflect, I realise that the police are victims as well; each day they are exposed to murder and mayhem, they have to see and deal with tragedy beyond our comprehension.
It is inevitable that their minds have become hardened. It is easier for them to believe that we are all bad - “it is just bad people killing bad people”. This lessens their pain and gives the rest of us a false sense of security that somehow we will be safe. This is not confined to the police, with even a number of our acquaintances searching for sinister connections.
There are many good policemen and, of course, some bad apples and in the anger of death it is easy to see them all as bad. I do know, however, with complete certainty and sincerity that unless the police are part of the community and the community is part of the police we cannot progress; and if we continue down this unchanging road more officers will become victims as they lose their very humanity that we the community so desperately need.
The person who hid in the street by my house to ambush Sean and whoever may have helped with this cowardly and callous attack will become victims too. He may not realise it yet, but driven by his own jealous insecurities or just carrying on the way he has been led to believe he is entitled to act, his life changed that day.
He may still feel full of the temporary power that killing has given him, but hiding and shooting is but a pathetic pretence of power, which will pass; as sure as day turns to night and night turns to day he has condemned himself to losing his own chance of love. He has condemned himself to a life of looking over his shoulder or languishing in prison unable to share in the growth of his children and a family of his own. He has certainly failed as he can never rob all the people that loved Sean so much of all their wonderful memories.
In the midst of this nightmare a beacon of light has been shining on us, a beacon that we need to shine on the whole land. The outpouring of love and compassion has been amazing. The offers of help are overwhelming and the number of kind acts that were performed around us as we walked in our daze demonstrate the true Bahamas, that place of family, kindness and compassion that attracted me to The Bahamas all those years ago.
It has been a great comfort that so many people from so many walks of life really loved Sean; I have so many wonderful memories of him. The great athlete who represented The Bahamas at a number of sports. A great leader who was gifted at all he did. The entrepreneur who was building his own business as a contractor already successful due to his abilities and determined work ethic, described as the best boss ever by his construction team.
He had many projects completed and many on the way; he was surely destined to help build the new Bahamas. I mostly want to remember the loving son and dedicated father who brought us all so much joy with his love and humour. In 31 short years, he achieved more than I have in my lifetime; I and all his family and friends can cling on to those memories.
I want to thank so many folk from near and far that have helped us, so so many people told us how much he touched their lives, so many found Sean to be an inspiration to them.
I ask perhaps the impossible from all those kind offers of help; how can we harness the love and compassion that I have seen and felt these past few weeks; how can we slowly and methodically start to turn this tide of sickness? It must be time to push aside our tired complacency and reinvigorate our efforts.
I and so many other families will walk in this shadow of death for the rest of our lives, we must find a pathway of light to at least reduce the number of fathers and families forced to make this journey of desolation. I ask for your help in joining this discourse, not just to talk but to put in place small but proven effective programmes that may slowly turn this tide of destruction.
DR Mike Neville has spent 40 years - the majority in The Bahamas - working in the hospitals, courts and prisons at close quarters with offenders. Week by week, in a series entitled A Life of Crime, Dr Neville is examining the causes, effects and potential remedies of crime, from the cradle to the grave, looking at the reasons behind the increasing catalogue of murders, shootings, armed robberies and sexual assaults.
And we want you to be involved. Every Tuesday, you can comment on his articles in The Tribune and - resuming next week - call in to an hour’s live phone-in on KISS FM96.1. Dr Neville will welcome views – unconventional, challenging and supportive – from everyone. Join the discussions via comments on tribune242.com or email to firstname.lastname@example.org today.