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A Life Of Crime: Why Do We Kill?

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 call in to an hour’s live phone-in on KISS FM96.1 from 3pm on 677-0961.

Dr Neville will welcome views – unconventional, challenging and supportive – from everyone. Join the discussions via comments on tribune242.com, email to lifeofcrime@tribunemedia.net or on the radio today.

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Dr Mike Neville

IN THE midst of a major series examining the scourge of serious and violent crime in the Bahamas and how to solve it, Dr Mike Neville, a respected forensic psychiatrist, lost his son to the gun of a murderer. On the night of February 27, Sean Neville, 31, a father of a six-year-old daughter, was shot dead yards from the family home.

Dr Neville’s weekly series of articles in The Tribune have been designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the escalating levels of crime in the country and inviting views from readers. But with such a shocking, raw and recent experience he is compelled this week to consider the prevalence of murder, its many consequences and how it has come to blight the lives of so many – including his – here.

Why do we kill?

Because we can. Because we can.

The sheer banality of this statement fills me with rage, reality and nausea.

Humans have the capacity to be the nastiest animal to walk the earth; this capacity to destroy or kill whatever stands in our way has always crept alongside the desire to improve ourselves.

It is not new. Murder has been around as long as the written word – the ancient religious texts have Cain killing his brother, Abel. This awful act is generally interpreted as an early example of jealousy and anger. Religion and society have universally seen murder as one of the great sins and taboos of mankind and great efforts have been made to at least reduce its numbers.

In the Judea-Christian religions, murder is one of the ten commandments – “Thou shalt not kill”. In Islam according to the Qur’an, one of the greatest sins is to kill a human being who has committed no fault.

As we stagger through history there seems to have been all sorts of amendments or special circumstances when killing can be viewed as acceptable – even heroic and commendable. The obvious example is war, when young men are asked to kill other men and women and place their own lives in jeopardy; despite the obvious tragedy of all the deaths that war causes, it is often romanticised and glorified.

The murder rates around the world are changing and provide some fascinating insights into what is happening here in the Bahamas. In most countries the murder rate is dropping, in most of Europe and the United States it is now less than five murders per 100,000 people per year.

In the Caribbean and Central America, however, the murder rates are soaring to terrifying heights and are leaving much of the world behind. Where is the commitment to solve this problem as a region, for surely this murder count is a distinction any tourist economy could well do without?

The cost to a country of each and every murder is hard to calculate but affects the economy and the very fabric of society. We have already lost countless men and women who had still to make their contribution to society, young persons with talents and gifts to share. How do we measure the loss of law and order, which is rapidly eroding in front of our eyes, as the beautiful Caribbean becomes a hot bed of murder?

There is perhaps even a greater cost, for whilst death stalks us all our reaction to the fear and grief of these senseless killings is infecting us all. Each death impacts whole families and countless friends, invading our sense of security and filling thousands and thousands of us with anger, fear and dread.

The world has also changed. Modern media creates awareness as never before; we have created a new dimension of spin and counter spin, where truth is increasingly difficult to find. It even helps create new monsters of infamy, that allows sad and lost losers have their moment in the spotlight.

The world was recently mesmerised by images of Jihadi John, who terrified and revulsed us all as he killed his captives in his bizarre costume; in fact it transpires that he is a sad, pathetic, cowardly individual from London who has brought shame and pain to his family and whose fate is certainly already sealed.

Anders Breivic, a mass murderer who went on a rampage of killing in 2011, caused havoc in Norway; during his trial I was touched by an interview with a father who lost his daughter in the mayhem. He said that children were afraid of the mythical trolls who lived in the mountains in darkness but once you shone a light on them they are destroyed. He believed the trial shone this light on Breivic and was able to show how ordinary, banal and cowardly he was; certainly not someone to be afraid of.

We need a light, a very bright light, to be shone on the totally unacceptable number of murders in the Bahamas. It worries me that it is almost as if murder has become acceptable in a strange sort of way; I hope no one agrees but let’s look at the facts.

The murder rate has been steadily increasing for many years – if there are plans to deal with this looming and present disaster I do not know what they are and they clearly have not worked as yet.

The police seem to believe that they do know who the perpetrators are – but where are the convictions? The present finger-pointing, it’s the police, it’s the Attorney General’s office, it’s the judges, it’s the bail act, it’s corruption or maybe it’s influence peddling ... I do not know if it is one or all of these factors. My problem is that I actually believed that we, as a society, are all meant to be on the same team working together as one to overcome these tragedies. It is a small country, everyone knows everyone else; why is it that if, as I suspect, lots of people do know who does what, we are not able to get these crucial convictions?

All societies need some form of order: in the Bahamas the function of law and order is currently failing most of the society. It really appears that it is the very lawlessness that is the order most respected. There is a perception that the legal authorities cannot be trusted; I do not know if this is accurate, but I am convinced that many poor and oppressed residents of this land fervently believe it to be a fact.

This leads to problems escalating to arguments; conflicts change rapidly to anger and threats of vengeance. In the absence of a police or legal system that is trusted to work for them and not against them, it is a short step to believe that killing is the only way to finish these disputes. Murder serves by not only exacting revenge but showing who actually holds the power and who all others are meant to fear. It has deteriorated so badly over the last few years that I am now told that if you are angry and hateful enough and have some money you just pay some other disturbed individual to do the killing for you.

The Bahamas has reached this precipice of chaos and is leaning over.

How can this perception be changed?

I see countless police officers handing out tickets for traffic offences. There certainly has been a number of community outreach programmes. The murder count continues to rise. It is my fervent belief that we must take all murders seriously; it is not acceptable to quietly blame the victims, “It is bad people killing bad people”, “It is all gang- and turf-related”.

There must be prompt and vigorous investigation of all killings. Catching and convicting killers will be a powerful step in rebuilding the trust we all need in our criminal justice system. We must believe that the vast majority of people living in the Bahamas do not wish to be criminals; the problem comes when the fear of helping the police is greater than the desire to follow the law. What are people likely to do?

I accept that our police are overworked and have limited resources. This is the Bahamas. How can we join together to confront this destructive force?

Surely if we think and act collectively we can figure this out.

I have left the planned structure of the Life of Crime series but will return to it later. I feel compelled to discuss murder for now. Please join the discussion: you can contribute between 3pm and 4pm today by ringing into a KISS FM 96.1 radio talk show with me - call 677-0961 - or via comments on tribune242.com or email to lifeofcrime@tribunemedia.net.

Let us all work together to find a solution.

Comments

banker 4 years, 5 months ago

We have marginalised the young, Bahamian male. We have disenfranchised him and separated him from the realisation of aspirations and dreams. He is functionally illiterate. He is jobless. He is the product of a single mother. He has never had a father figure. He lives in a society that has no moral compass. The corruption of the government is visible to anyone with half a brain. He knows that the rules can be breached with "grease" everywhere in Bahamian society, the civil service and the world that he lives in.

The first victim of such an environment is truth. The second is the human goodness within us. The third is respect for the law.

Putting a gun or a knife in the hands of a person describes above empowers him. It gives him ultimate power -- the power to remove someone from the Earth.

Why do we have this erosion of the veneer of civilisation, enlightenment and altruism? It is because there is dissonance in the messages of value programming and the everyday life experience. The message is "respect the law" and the living example is "people who bend the rules get ahead in life".

The ultimate reason, as iterated before has its roots in the economy. Bahamian people are shackled economically. They have a monolithic economy consisting entirely of low-skilled manual labour. There are virtual no knowledge or information age jobs. They have a dollar that is useless everywhere in the civilised world. You cannot spend it anywhere but the Bahamas and trading for a convertible concurrency costs too much.

There is no upward mobility. Mass media touts the "American Dream" of work hard and you can make something of your life. This is not true in the Bahamas. The education system is inferior. 75% of the households in the Bahamas at last census were of single mothers with children from more than one man. The fabric of the family has been rent asunder.

There is no power dynamic in the Bahamas where one can cause a shift in ones life, by triumphing economically. Or is there? Drugs. Selling drugs. Selling guns. Gangs. Copper thefts. Robberies.

It doesn't take a large study to figure this out. Like the deeply embedded tap root of a wart, the stagnant, backward economy of this archipelago, is the root cause of disenfranchisement and the human ills and misery of the people. And that is true where ever you see the erosion of altruistic human values.

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John 4 years, 5 months ago

Some 30 people have been killed in the first three months of 2015. Based on this and the statistics for the past several years we know that at least NINETY more persons will lose their lives between now and December 31st. We know that most of these will be black males between the ages of 18 and 27 years. We also know that some will be wearing monitoring ankle bracelets when they lose their lives. Others will have been recently released from prison while others will be unemployed, involved in the drug trade or gang activity. Some will be employed and church going and will leave behind young children and other loved ones who may never know or understand what happened. Most will be gunned down under the cover of night or even in the bright of the high noon sun. And while some may have an idea that someone is out for them most will die when they least expect. We have all this information yet we don't know who will be next. So we ask that may God have mercy on our souls and this country.

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Sickened 4 years, 5 months ago

Wow! Sobering article and sobering comments. It is truly sad that even the most intelligent among us, even in both small and large groups, have no answers to this problem. Even scarier yet is that much larger developed countries with millions more highly educated people and special 'Think Tanks' don't have a quick solution to this problem. Do we just sit back and wait for a stronger economy which will only reduce the number of murders? Or do we continue to pray to 'God' for help... so far this has not worked at all, but chances are for ten's of thousands of us this is all we will do? Do we profile the young black male with a single mother, and who is out of work and force him into some sort of community program where we can instill some sort of discipline and expose him to what it means to work with groups of his peers? The answer will most likely be a combination of many, many ideas which will no doubt include and require a change in our current culture of sex, money and murder. I fear that the road to reducing murder to an acceptable level is long and filled with many political potholes, many of which will be wide and deep. Far too many of our people are truly ignorant of the circumstances that foster the creation of disturbed and angry young men. Many of our parents are disinterested in raising disciplined children and are blind to the bad ways of their teenager. How many parents of these young men have gone through the bedrooms and house looking to see if by chance the child has drugs or a knife or a gun hidden somewhere? How many of you reading the last sentence just said to yourself "you can't do this; you have to trust your kids and show them that you believe in them"? How many of you will be mourning a dead young son this year?

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hurricane 4 years, 5 months ago

I honestly wonder if the infiltration of American culture has something to do with the current mindset. Back in in the 70s and 80s very few had access to the filth that now makes up american cable tv. The internet also opened up access...some good, some not so good.

Someone mentioned above that this is the result of corrupt govt...but illegal drugs and corrupion that were mainstay in the Ping era was far worse than today.

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John 4 years, 5 months ago

I don't want to detract from this topic by getting into a debate about African American Culture. But to blame our current situation on African Americans should not go unchallenged. But what you see happening here with hip hop and rap music and the drug culture and turfy wars is not African American just as much as it is not Bahamian. It is a learned behavior. A self destructive and self eliminating behavior designed to destroy Black Americans. Ever since Blacks became freed from slavery in America, rest of America (or most of it)., was faced with the question of "what to do with these niggers." After 500 years of using them as farm animals and torturing them Ian's abusing them in every way imaginable the Lilly White America did not plan to have black folk become their equal. And so they did everything in their power to suppress them. And when the numbers showed that Blacks were the greatest minority in the US, they imported even criminals to add to the numbers and ensure that the Latino/Hispanic population surpassed the Blacks and got the benefits of being the majority minority in the US. So what we commonly refer to African American culture is not really what black Americans are about. Like Bahamians, Black Americans are descendants of slaves. They are a frugal United and caring people who have been used, abused and trampled on for most of their existence in America. even with a black man as president many are still denied civil rights and the target of law enforcers. The hip hop rap "bad ass" gang banging gun toting culture that many call "African. American " and that has permeated throughout the Bahamas and the Caribbean is just another weapon formed to help the black man destroy himself.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 4 years, 5 months ago

They kill because of the hopelessness, despair and lack of moral values and decency instilled by the failed economic and education policies of a corrupt PLP government led by Perry "Vomit" Christie and advised by the likes of Franky Wilson aka Snake and the McWeeney brothers, Sean and Paul. The rest of them, namely Allyson Maynard-Gibson, Obie Wilchcombe, BJ Nottage, the short pudgy one with the stubby grubby dirty sticky fingers (Davis), Julian Francis, the accountants Gomez and Winder, Barry Malcolm, etc. are nothing more than accommodating duplicitous side accomplices to a government that cannot produce decent jobs and is all for padding the pockets of the select few political and business cronies who are nothing but imbeciles willing to sell their souls to the devil for their own selfish and ill-gotten material well being no matter what the consequences for the average honest hard working Bahamian.

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duppyVAT 4 years, 5 months ago

Why didnt Milo, Pindling, AD, Cecil, Sir Cliff or HAI etc. turn out to be losers?????? Young Bahamians need to read their stories and act accordingly ................ stop the excuses

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Reality_Check 4 years, 5 months ago

We have Christie, Maynard-Gibson, Wilchcombe, Nottage, Davis etc. ignoring the will of Bahamian voters in a duly held public referendum and thereafter quickly proceeding to pass legislation in an effort to "legalize" (in their own small minds) the long standing illegal online gaming and other criminal activities of the racketeering numbers' bosses like Flowers and Bastian. One can only imagine what message this one act alone has sent to the young people in our country not to mention all of the other dastardly deeds committed by these corrupt political mongrels. Small wonder we have so many violent criminals and killers wandering among us today for whom the value of life is essentially meaningless. The coziness of our political buffoons and their side kicks (like Smith, Malcolm, Francis and Wilson) with the racketeering numbers bosses for personal financial gain sends only one very clear strong message to our youth: Don't worry about associating with known criminals and causing grief or physical harm to others - the only thing that should matter to you is how many dollars you can put in your pocket at the end of the day!

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