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 email@example.com or on the radio today.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let us all work together to find a solution.