By ADRIAN GIBSON
The gruesome killing of Michael Deangelo Bethel on Sunday, as he and his family purportedly waited at a traffic light on East Bay Street, is yet another murder that is indicative of our country going to hell in a handbasket.
What’s worse, if and when young men could shoot at a family in a Dodge Caravan of all vehicles - probably unsure of the number of passengers - it should tell us all that we have reared a callous, degenerative, beast-like herd of youngsters who have no value for life and who wouldn’t think twice about killing a family and/or destroying a family by potentially killing its breadwinners and leaving children as orphans.
As strange as this may sound, fortunately, the wife of the murdered businessman was not killed and is able to, one day - I hope - pick up the pieces and raise their children. We are seeing a sad cycle of violence permeating the length and breadth of this archipelago and being particularly centralised on New Providence.
Today, we are breeding a nation of inbred killers. We are living in the era of coldblooded killing. When we have young men - and now, young women - willing to spray a vehicle with bullets and carry out execution-style killings, all while likely being able to go home at night and sleep like a baby, something is wrong with our society.
The killers that our society is now producing seemingly give no thought to how one’s death could impact their family and affect so many others. When we have several young men being charged on different occasions with alleged sexual assaults on female tourists whilst supposedly running jet ski operations, we ought to be fearful. We do not have a diversified economy and so we need every penny that a tourist brings.
It is shameful and downright unacceptable when the Embassy of the United States of America issues a travel advisory warning its citizens against patronising commercial jetski watersports in The Bahamas. Whilst our government may object to that, one wonders about the process one must go through to obtain an operational licence and if that process is followed or if its sullied by the usual political cronyism, nepotism and favouritism that has now hamstrung the police force.
Though the Ministry of Transport and Aviation claims that operators are vetted, one would like to know what that vetting entails? And, further, how is it that so many jet skis are on the beaches and being utilised by tourists but have no insurance? How is it that hawkers, without operators’ licences, are able to go to beaches and run jet ski operations? Where are the much-needed beach wardens?
I grew up in Long Island where we could sleep with our doors unlocked, park our cars and leave the keys in them, mingle and mistakenly step on someone’s foot without having our brain blown out and, when we fight, throw punches and kicks and the occasion stone but nothing to kill someone. We never carried knives and guns to school.
When I was growing up, I was afraid to get a C. When I taught in public school a few years ago, I heard some of the students praying that they got a C. I was shocked. I prayed for As and Bs and not to get a C and they prayed for Cs and not to get Ds and Fs. For some of them, that was their standard. I strived to change that mindset and I am always pleased when I meet a former student who is doing well for themselves or when I run into them and, in appreciation, they offer to pay for my dinner or items.
New Providence has become a gun town. Nearly every day we hear of gun violence. Maniacal criminals are increasingly using guns as their weapon of choice as they disrupt the serenity of our once tranquil island, going on murderous rampages, robbing families of loved ones and cruelly committing heinous crimes with no regard for the law.
It is high time that the government imposes and heavily promotes an amnesty (28-30 days) period for the turnover of illegal guns whilst instituting a no-questions-asked, gun buy-back programme. I call upon the newly licenced gaming house operators such as Sebas Bastian and Craig Flowers to put their money where their mouths are and put up anywhere from $500,000 to $1m to fund such a programme.
I observed recently that Mr Bastian’s Island Luck number house gave away $1m in what was a gross display of profligacy. Let’s now take some that money and use it to take guns off of the streets. Frankly, if the number men all come together and put up $500,000 and the government puts up another $500,000, such a plan could likely lead to many of the guns coming off our streets.
Why not offer anyone turning in a gun anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000? In times where unemployment is increasing, many of these young men will run to turn in their weapons.
Although there will likely be challenges and valid concerns such as the uneasiness about persons possibly using monies given for trade-ins to purchase weapons, genuine interest for public safety dictates that something must be done and that those fears, whilst likely, will not be predominant.
Frankly, the easy accessibility of handguns is a cause for consternation and a national issue that should be effectively addressed. Illegal firearm sales and smuggling operations within the archipelago has led to a number of killings of youngsters - most likely with drugs, money or women as the central issue of a dispute - and has created a breeding ground for the criminal element (drug traffickers, gangs, migrant workers, terrorists, organised crime etc) to access these dangerous weapons and cause mayhem.
We must do a better job at protecting our borders. It is time that the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is decentralised and that RBDF officers are posted on bases set up at every corner of our archipelago.
I am troubled by the fact that even today, restrictive government policies may be trampling on people’s right to protect themselves. As a licenced shotgun owner myself, it sends shivers down my spine to know that a shotgun has almost become obsolete as a protective measure for businessmen and homeowners, particularly when one considers that the criminal element has handguns capable of firing numerous rounds, AK-47s and other powerful weapons that have no limitations and does not need to be reloaded as a shotgun must be after five to eight shots (depending on the type).
Indeed, responsible citizens could be assessed on a case-by-case basis and should be trained and equipped to protect themselves as necessary or appropriate. I do not mind paying $1,000 per year in licencing fees for a handgun and many others won’t either (I know that licensed handgun carriers now pay $750 per annum). Our crime statistics clearly show that we’re walking down the same road as has already been travelled by so many of our Caribbean counterparts, where crime is out of control.
We should learn from the experiences of our Caribbean sister countries and try to pre-empt hijackings and kidnappings for ransom, which could potentially be the next step for the criminal element.
We are already witnessing gunmen - much like in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana - shooting up vehicles whilst the occupants wait on a traffic light.
It is clear that there is a preponderance of high-powered weapons on the streets of our archipelago and these weapons turn lightweight punks into ruthless, callous killers. No barricades, alarms and camera systems can even the score.
We need to reconsider the reality of life in The Bahamas. The Inter-American Development Bank has patently told us that the world no longer sees us as the peaceful God-fearing communities that we pretend to be but as one of the most violent countries in the world. We no longer need to pretend our police officers shouldn’t be adequately armed or that responsible citizens shouldn’t have the option of protecting themselves.
Accountable, law abiding community leaders, businessmen and persons of that ilk should, if they apply for them, be allowed to carry a handgun. Heck, if they could have a shot gun or rifle, why not a handgun? The criminals have armed themselves to the teeth and rather than using BB guns and slingshots, they are using military grade, high-powered weapons.
Perhaps, the government may want to read up on (and perhaps steal, since we like to copy the legislation/strategies of other jurisdictions) US President Barack Obama’s new strategy to curb gun violence in America.
Relative to policing, we must do a few things and do it now. I fully agree with former Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) Quinn McCartney when he called for a change of “leadership of the team”. As Mr McCartney suggested, we should take our cues from sports teams and “when a team continues to lose, sooner or later there is a leadership change”.
It is time for Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade to be shown the door. The government must make him a wonderful offer, give him a glamorous post and encourage him to demit office. Indeed, as Mr McCartney notes, with “six successive years of unprecedented records”, Greenslade has also failed in developing a consistent, long term crime plan that actually works.
The police force appears to be a place of disorder and some officers are disrespecting the uniform on a daily basis with their breaches of people’s constitutional rights, with their disorderly conduct, by falsely charging persons, by using their uniforms and warrant cards to abuse citizens in the way that they address them, by engaging in violence among themselves, by committing criminal acts and so on. Mr Greenslade’s time is up. I like him. He seems to be a decent individual. But, he has tried and failed.
I think Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dean would be the next best choice for Commissioner of Police.
Dr Bernard Nottage, the Minister of National Security, has also been an abysmal failure. Fire him, Mr Christie! In fact, fire yourself Mr Christie! Clearly, the selection of Dr Nottage to serve as Minister of National Security was a payoff in terms of him being a senior PLP. But Dr Nottage can only be likened to a square peg in a round hole. Perhaps, the Prime Minister is too embarrassed to remove him and Dr Nottage is perhaps too embarrassed to resign.
We need to invite the Israelis, the Americans, the Canadians and the British to send teams of officers to the Bahamas who will work with our officers for six months at a time and rotate in and out for at least two years. We need outside assistance … let’s not fool ourselves!
The RBPF should have its own budget which would be handled by the Commissioner and a team of accountants or persons with a background in finance. The budget should be fixed, increasing after yearly assessments and based on inflation. The police force has been, for far too long, hamstrung by the Executive who could then control and manipulate a Commissioner because they are responsible for how much money the force gets in the budget, the force’s ability to hire new recruits and purchase new vehicles and so on. Frankly, I think the police force should be allowed to retain a percentage of all confiscated monies.
It is clear that a tsunami of death and mayhem has surged over Bahamian society. Men are literally turning into beasts here. There is no sense of community. We are in desperate need of programmes to build-up our social and community life. Passing legislation to put people in jail for longer periods of time is reactive and an after-the-fact approach.
We need to be more proactive. The seeds of this violence we see today were planted many years ago, when we saw the free passage of drugs and became absorbed by the greed and materialism that replaced our common sense and common decency. Our youngsters no longer have a conscience. I’ve heard stories about how they laugh at how one died and recount stories of how this one and that one was gasping for air after they “dusted them off”.
We need better policing and better police officers. The police needs the adequate tools and technology at their fingertips. There is a need to recruit the best, more educated and better trained officers. We have seen that the RBPF’s recruitment process has been dumbed down and we have, among decent officers, a cadre of gangsters in uniform.
In 2004, whilst I was in college for my first degree, then Police Commissioner Paul Farquharson - who spoke at my high school graduation some years before - asked me to join the force. I then asked him if, with my degree, there were any incentives to joining, such as advancement through the ranks much like former Deputy Commissioners Marvin Dames and Quinn McCartney who joined as Inspectors. He told me that they had stopped that programme. Needless to say, I didn’t join.
That said, I have a friend in Jamaica who, just as I represented The Bahamas, represented his country at the Olympic Youth in Sydney in 2000, is today a superintendent of police there. He has been a member of the Jamaican Constabulary for five years and, last month, he turned 32. He is highly qualified. Why can’t we follow suit? I will discuss this in more detail in another column.
We cannot create the police force that we need when we hire persons who cannot spell or who must ask you or your client how to spell words for a report that they are preparing. Words like ‘the’, ‘statement’, ‘knife’, ‘assault’, ‘penal’ etc. We cannot continue to hire a person because they are the son of a superintendent or a constituent of a certain MP or an MP’s cousin and so on. They must be properly trained and have an understanding for the constitution and the rule of law.
Urban Renewal could actually be a great plan. But, it is hampered by partisanship, corruption and people with no new ideas. There is a need for innovative programmes to motivate young people. How do you get someone to leave a gang without a viable alternative?
We must begin the process of regularising all those born in The Bahamas to foreign parentage. These people only know The Bahamas and we are setting ourselves up for civil war if they are allowed to live in a state of legal purgatory and referred to as stateless. There is a large underclass of Bahamians who are frustrated in their efforts to seek honest employment, education and social mobility because they do not have a passport and/or are left to languish in a state of helplessness because of policies that are senseless and asinine.
The only way to move forward is to give this underclass of Bahamians - some of whom are committing crimes - the status they already qualify for by virtue of the Constitution and the Bahamas Nationality Act.
Bahamians, stricken by fear, have voluntarily chosen to live in virtual imprisonment, locked behind iron bars (windows), bolted doors and screens, and sheltered behind iron gates. In their state of paralysis, law-abiding Bahamians have become more distrustful and are swiftly arming themselves with cutlasses, shotguns, bats and other safety measures to ensure their security.
Our community is losing faith. We have lost faith in this government and we are now living in fear. This cannot be what qualifies as a normal existence in our once tranquil archipelago.