By ADRIAN GIBSON
SOME time ago, I said that The Bahamas is a powder keg. Today, I believe in that statement even more than I did then. Our society is imploding and we have reached the point of absolute crisis. There is no other description for the criminality and mayhem happening around us on a daily basis.
For a country of nearly 400,000 citizens, we have a murder rate consistent with an armed conflict zone. We can pretend that things aren’t that bad because I have found that our government either chooses to suppress the facts, skew the data or we deceive ourselves into thinking that only the known criminals are preying on each other. Surely, when one considers the recent spate of murders and the persons killed, we cannot realistically think or believe that only criminals are killing each other.
We have become a sick, deranged and maladjusted society. The problems stem from a de-socialised population. We murder each other at a prolific rate but, beyond that, we also rape, steal from, abuse, neglect, bully, annoy and disrupt each other at an unacceptable rate. If we are going to have a country that can be salvaged, we have to be real with each other. The artificial, contrived and make-believe snippets set up for the press won’t cut it. We need real soul-searching and immediate action. The Bahamas is no longer the tranquil, serene paradise it once was. We can no longer unflinchingly claim that we are the best little country on earth. Today, we are one of the most violent countries in the world. I have no doubt that at the rate we are going, we will eclipse 150 murders this year, smashing the old record and causing us all to collectively hang our heads in shame. Frankly, the number of unclassified homicides and suspicious deaths leads one to think that the murder rate – in reality – is higher than the official number (134) reflects.
We must accept that we are collectively at fault. You, me and everybody!
We are creating criminals. We are incubating and nurturing murderers, felons and thieves, whilst others of us are accomplices. We do in the way we socialise our children and the way we interact with each other daily. We also do so in the way we treat prisoners, some of whom are arrested and jailed for offences where they should only perform community service as opposed to a custodial sentence. Sadly, the message will be met with contempt because we refuse to accept our own complicity.
We would rather look outward and sacrifice a politician or Commissioner of Police rather than looking within – not that they shouldn’t be sacrificed.
If we don’t get it right there won’t be a country to salvage. We need only to look at other countries, where there is not a single grocery store within certain cities due to theft. Within the city of Detroit, for example, there are only liquor stores, lottery depots and fast food restaurants. There are no major retail stores or food stores. We see the same in cities such as Camden, New Jersey, South Central, Los Angeles, and even Kingston, Jamaica. In some cases, we have seen entire towns destroyed by crime. We are very advanced on the path of failed communities.
In his 2011 contribution to the Senate, Dr Duane Sands said: “In 2000, there were 323.6 assaults recorded for every 100,000 inhabitants in the USA. By extrapolation, we might expect 900 to 1,000 assaults/year in the Bahamas. In 2000 we recorded 3,022 assaults at PMH alone. There were 2,529 in 2008, 2,532 in 2009 and 2,196 in 2010. A review of the homicide rates in many countries reveals a rate of two homicides per 100,000. France, England, Canada, Israel, etc, have rates which are about 25 per cent of that of the USA (9/100,000). We recorded 30/100,000 murders last year ... Venezuela (31) Jamaica (32) South Africa (49) Columbia (61) are more dangerous.”
No doubt, the ratio today is much higher than 30/100,000 today. That is nothing short of disgraceful. We have lost all respect for human dignity and we have no regard for human life.
During the 2012 general election campaign, the governing Progressive Liberal Party released their Project Safe Bahamas initiative. According to them, it represented “a tough, innovative plan to fight crime and reduce violence”. They divided Project Safe Bahamas into four parts, known as Operation Cease Fire, Urban Renewal 2.0, Swift Justice and the Safe Bahamas Initiative.
Under Operation Cease Fire, among other promises, they stated that they would: “(a) Intensify law enforcement FOCUS ON REPEAT OFFENDERS (at any point where there is emphasis, it is because the emphasis was set out in their pamphlet) and most violent criminals; (b) INCREASED SURVEILLANCE for accused out on bail; (c) MURDER TRIALS WITHIN 12 MONTHS, preventing release on bail for those accused of murder; (d) INTERVENE DIRECTLY to STOP RETALIATORY VIOLENCE with OUTREACH WORKERS: street-smart individuals who can connect with those at highest risk for shooting or being shot. These “VIOLENCE BREAKERS” will provide mentoring, conflict mediation, and links to social services; (e) 24/7 HOTLINE: outreach workers always available; (f) SHOCK TREATMENT: bring at-risk youth to clinics, hospitals and morgues to show them consequences of gun violence; (g) Clergy and police work together to provide SAFE HAVENS from violence.”
I could not make this stuff up. So, under the first prong of their Project Safe Bahamas, let’s see what was achieved. What evidence is there to show that the governing party has intensified their focus on repeat offenders and the most violent criminals or increased surveillance for persons out on bail? And what about the promised trials for murder within 12 months? Of late, only one convicted murderer has had her case tried as promised. Where are these so-called street smart outreach workers, these violence breakers? Could someone please bring me a picture of at least one such person?
And what about the 24/7 hotline with outreach workers who are always available? If it actually exists, which I doubt, what is the number for their so-called hotline?
Regarding shock treatment, surely they could not have merely been talking about the TV show I sometimes see on ZNS? Surely it is more comprehensive and more expansive than a TV show, right?
Where are these safe havens from violence? Could the Bahamas Christian Council or clergy in the Anglican or Catholic church or any other denomination clarify for the public if they have been working with police and if these so-called safe havens have actually been established? I haven’t heard of any, but hey, maybe I’m living under a rock!
Then, of course, there is the second prong - Urban Renewal 2.0. There are several sub-headings spoken to, but the following jump out to me, namely
“(a) CUT through RED TAPE and address street-level problems troubling our communities; (b) FIFTY BAHAMIANS, a new mentoring programme: fifty of the most successful Bahamians from low-income backgrounds serve as MENTORS for youth in tough neighbourhoods; (c) Increased support for FAITH-BASED INITIATIVES; (d) CITIZEN SOLUTIONS: Crime Watch Associations and neighbourhood patrols; (e) COMMUNITY COURTS empower local citizens to deal with minor issues like graffiti and vagrancy, freeing trial courts to deal with more serious offences; (f) Strengthen AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMMES, and support for: marching bands, computer classes, summer camps, basketball programmes; (g) Substantial increase in resources for JOB TRAINING and JOB PLACEMENT.”
Hmmmmm. What red tape has the now governing party cut through to address street-level problems in certain communities? And, what are the street-level problems that they were referring to?
Who are these 50 Bahamians that they said would be a part of this mentoring programme? I just want to know the identity of five of the ... okay, give me two names! I’m willing to bet that no such programme exists.
So what about the community courts that were supposed to deal with minor issues like graffiti and vagrancy? Where are they?
And what about the increased support for faith-based initiatives? I guess this was a throw-in to trick church leaders and their followers to support their electoral platform. It certainly worked. And what about citizen solutions – could someone point at any crime watch association or patrols that the governing party either encouraged, fostered or helped form? And then there are the after-school programmes. Yes, I have seen a few marching bands but what has been done to “strengthen” after-school programmes?
Lastly, whilst I am aware of the government’s job training apparatus, I - like many others - would like to know about their job placement efforts? Where have persons been placed? Or does job placement mean hiring cronies in different government agencies?
Moving to Swift Justice, among other things, the PLP pledged the following:
“(a) Substantial increase in RESOURCES for the criminal justice system; (b) COORDINATE police, prosecutors and others involved in the administration of justice and judges to ensure criminals are “swiftly caught, swiftly tried and swiftly punished”; (c) SPECIAL UNIT for DEATH PENALTY, so death penalty appeals are fast-tracked; (d) WITNESS PROTECTION reinstated and strengthened; TRIALS WITHIN 6 MONTHS for anyone who threatens or tampers with a Judge, Juror, Prosecutor, Witness, Policeman, Social Worker involved in giving a Social Inquiry Report and anyone else involved in the administration of the criminal justice system.”
I cannot even find this laughable! Firstly, what resources have been substantially increased for the criminal justice system? Really? The building to which the Supreme Court has been relocated to - Ansbacher House - has rickety elevators with broken mirrors and that move slower than snails, the air conditioning constantly malfunctions, judges and their staff work under third world conditions that no other Supreme Court Justice in civilised societies must endure, offices are small and folks are all crammed together and rats and roaches roam freely. Is that how resources are substantially increased?
And where is this co-ordination between the police, prosecutors and others? Cases continue to creep through the system and though the police and the prosecution are supposed to be on the same side, one side still doesn’t know what the other side is doing.
Where is this imaginary special unit for death penalty appeals? Could someone please tell me who sits as a member of this unit? And how has witness protection been strengthened when we constantly hear of so many witnesses being bumped off?
The claim that there will be trials within six months of anyone accused of threatening or tampering with a judge ... laughable at best. Prove it!
Lastly, the ‘Safe Bahamas Initiative’. Here, the now governing PLP promised:
“(a) INCREASE DEFENCE FORCE PATROLS to reduce the import of illegal firearms, drugs and other contraband; (b) Improved GUN INTERDICTION at ports; (c) Expand the INTELLIGENCE UNIT of the Royal Bahamas Police Force; (d) A new, state-of-the-art FORENSIC UNIT to allow for local forensic analysis; (e) the MARCO ARCHER ACT: Tougher penalties for child molestation, a new Sex Offenders Registry, coordinated rapid response to missing children; (f) An intervention campaign to REDUCE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE; (g) Increase funding for DRUG REHABILITATION; (h) New support for programmes to PREVENT TEEN PREGNANCY; (i) REHABILITATE: New efforts to help ex-prisoners re-enter society.”
So, have Defence Force patrols been increased and if so, where is the evidence of this relative to the fight against crime and the import of illegal drugs, firearms, etc? Due to the high rate of gun-related crimes, I am doubtful that there has been any improvement relative to gun interdiction at our ports. Further, why are yachts still being allowed to cruise into this jurisdiction and berth without proper searches or Customs entering such vessels? I have no doubt that guns are being smuggled in on some of these yachts.
When the governing party promised to expand the intelligence unit of the police force, were they referring to the National Intelligence Agency? There is still no legislative framework related to this agency. What does it do?
And what about the new state-of-the-art forensic unit for the police force? Are the police still sending forensic swabs and other material for analysis in Florida? Last I checked, they still did so.
‘Marco’s Law’ has been passed but it has not been enacted. That Act remains in limbo and there is still no Sex Offenders Registry as the government has yet to work out logistics associated therewith.
What intervention campaign has been undertaken to reduce domestic violence? And could someone please point me in the direction of the new support programmes to prevent teen pregnancy? Besides renaming the prison, what sincere and tangible effort has been undertaken to help ex-prisoners re-enter society? What are the rehabilitation programmes that have been launched?
Frankly, the Project Safe Bahamas pamphlet is filled with pie-in-the-sky promises that have not been fulfilled.
In fighting crime and reversing the apparent lack of reverence for authority, law enforcement officials must adopt former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “broken window” approach and seriously enforce the laws across the board - without ignoring any infraction.
Furthermore, it is high time closed circuit television (CCTV) is installed, more strategic Defence Force patrols are directed at minimising the smuggling of illegal weapons/ammunition, that police officers are heavily deployed to those boroughs with the highest instances of crime and that they strengthen their relationship with certain communities and thereby better their intelligence-gathering abilities.
The crime hotspot – New Providence – has been beset by house break-ins, vehicle and boat thefts, arms trafficking, migrant smuggling, hijackings, money laundering, identity theft, fraud, cybercrime, robberies, rapes, drug peddling and heinous murders and drive-by shootings.
Some time ago, I called for a “212 day”, pursuant to the Penal Code, chapter 84, section 212 of the Bahamas’ statute laws. On such an occasion, throngs of police officers should be deployed on to the streets to conduct this dragnet operation. Indeed, such an operation would net thousands in fines, lead to the apprehension of wanted criminals and target those individuals who are selling food out of the back trunks of vehicles without health certificates and other documentation; apprehend those who illegally light fires and destroy government/private property; arrest persons who unlawfully affix signs on buildings or public property (eg utility poles); fine persons who do not have a permit from the Commissioner of Police that allows them to ply their wares or hold demonstrations; fine hawkers and those loiterers who harass persons outside banks, at ATM depots, pharmacies or while waiting at a fast-food drive-thru; penalise those peddlers of fruits, clothes and phone cards who do not have the proper documentation; throw the book at persons who play loud music or make noises to the annoyance of others, and so on.
Talk is certainly cheap - and we’re paying a high price for all this talk.