‘We are an armed and dangerous country and we should be mightily afraid of what we have become…’
WHEN the fear of crime is so great that it keeps people locked behind doors afraid to go out after dark, imprisoned by their own burglar bars, the time for talking is over.
When crime is so great that headlines of yet another murder fail to arouse shock, indignation and fury, but elicit another ho-hum response as if a murder every day or two were to be expected, the time for talking is long past.
When gangs rule gathering places where young Bahamians hang out and where you can hire a hit for as little as $50, the time for talk is over.
When crime is what it has become in The Bahamas – all-invasive threatening every person and every household in the country at one level or another – the time for talk is long over. Like a product past its expiry date, current attempts at tackling crime have lost their effectiveness. What may have been palatable a decade ago is a joke by comparison to the severity of needs today. Why? Because a decade ago, The Bahamas was hardly an armed society. Two decades ago, many police officers did not even carry guns on a regular basis. Raising funds to equip officers with bulletproof vests was lauded as forward thinking and potentially preventative rather than an absolute must before any undercover officer or detective went out on routine duty.
We are a changed nation. We no longer have the requisite respect for the rule of law that any long-term successful society must embrace.
We have become an armed and dangerous country and we should be mightily afraid of what that portends. From the smallest infraction – a motorcycle that barely hesitates at a red light before running through and popping a wheelie – to the most heinous crime, a gang bang of a young girl or the taking of a child’s life caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting – the time for talk is over.
It is time to act and to do so with conviction, courage and determination to succeed.
Other cities and countries with far worse problems have done it. New York, once a city so crime-ridden that residents lived in fear, half a dozen dead bolts on their apartment doors, is now one of the safest places in the United States. In 1990’s Chicago, where gangs were creating mayhem on the streets, the governor appointed a 35-member commission on gangs comprised of police, health officials, clergy, legislators, federal and state prosecutors. Their conclusions – get tough. Gang violence and crime had to be handled differently and separately from other crime. Prosecution had to be faster, penalties greater. In Nevada, gang members run the risk of forfeiting personal property. In Los Angeles, where at one time as many as 150,000 members belonged to gangs, no one tried to cover up the reality. The crackdown on gangs is challenging and it’s tough, but it is ongoing. In Jamaica, the prime minister started this year with a pronouncement that gangs would not be tolerated and there would be drastic action, including creation of crime zones where curfews could be enforced.
No one is blaming crime in The Bahamas on the police. The root causes are many, running the gamut from too little attention to children on a daily basis to a breakdown in traditional families, overly stressed single mothers trying to do it all, teen pregnancies, classes in government schools that are too large and teachers who have to spend too much time as disciplinarians instead of educators resulting in too many students graduating without the skills even to complete a job application form.
It is easy to see how such a confluence of factors gives rise to the appeal of gang membership. The gang becomes a new family. It provides an identity. A teen who cannot get a good job suddenly thinks he is a big shot if he’s packing. His walk changes from a slump to a swagger because he’s got metal in his pocket and a round of ammunition at his fingertips.
He’s a hot shot without a conscience. How do you deal with that?
You stop talking and start acting. You get tough. You bring in law enforcement, prosecutors and judges from abroad unrelated to people here who can manipulate the system or make a statement disappear for a cousin or brother. Look at the example of former assistant commissioner of police Paul Thompson who now runs a private security company. Thompson is described as ‘the quintessential police officer’, an expert who has attained all but hero status. Was he born in The Bahamas? No, Paul Thompson, the quintessential police officer, was Trinidadian. He worked with a Bahamian commissioner of police, the late Capt. Edward Sears, just as new people would do now, adding expertise and impartial objectivity to local leadership. What about the late Stanley Moir, brought in from Scotland Yard?
Here we are in the age of globalization and The Bahamas is quick to accept the need for foreign direct investment, yet we turn our back on the greatest foreign investment of all – counsel and officers to help combat crime.
Until we accept the fact that we cannot do this alone and there is much we can learn from others who faced it before us, we will continue to be mired in a system where favours are granted for family and friends and where crime and the fear of crime will drive more of us to retreat behind burglar bars and prayer that we will survive another day.