By MALCOLM J STRACHAN
THE agonizing cries from Kendera Woodside, mother of Eugene Woodside, may have been enough to raise all the hairs on your body. Tortuous screams rang out from the backyard of their home, as family gathered during a visit from the Prime Minister and an entourage including his wife and some prominent pastors from the community. As a nation, we sincerely sympathize with Mrs. Woodside, who said that she had just told her mother that she would not have to bury her children and that they would outlive her mere moments before her son was slain by a bullet unintended for him.
To be able to watch your child grow up and create a life for themselves is what most parents pray for; perhaps, none more than a mother. From the initial bond that takes place during pregnancy, to the first moments when the baby is born and each milestone that follows throughout their precious lives, the nightmarish end of your child being taken from you so violently is nothing short of tragic.
For this family, whose hearts are undoubtedly shattered from pain, the fact that Eugene is no longer with them must be the hardest thing they’ve ever had to deal with. Unfortunately, as they try to make sense of Eugene’s tragic passing, Tonio and Kendera, must be left with a plethora of questions that are rarely answered when a loved one is killed.
There are no justifications when a child is that young and innocent. It cannot be blamed on the company he kept or any mischief he would get into. There are no explanations for the death of someone so young.
He was harmlessly in his room doing homework, which is completely the opposite of what one expects of a murder victim in recent times. As gunfire echoes through our capital’s streets, many are of the belief the retaliatory nature of murders provides a layer of security to regular civilians. However, on an island that is 21 miles long and seven miles wide, any of us can become an innocent victim.
When we played as kids, our parents told us, ‘rock don’t have no eye’. The same can be said for a bullet that travels on average 2,500ft. per second. Unless you have the reaction time of an Olympic sprinter, there is not much that can save you if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But how does the safety of one’s home become the wrong place? How does a young boy doing his homework, whose life, hopes and dreams are much further ahead of him, constitute as the wrong time? He wasn’t a bad boy. He seemed to have the security of his parents, who were also at home with him when he was killed. Why him?
We are sure these questions, among many others, are circling in the minds of his parents.
It was not more than a few weeks ago that another Bahamian couple lost their eight-month-old baby boy to gunfire. How are these families expected to go on – realistically go on? What’s unfortunate is we are so ‘Christian’ in our support we only offer scripture as comfort. This is not to say anything is wrong with that. At the end of the day, God is our sole comforter, but perhaps, we should be minded to note families who have lost their children would much prefer to have their children than God’s comfort in their losses.
These families need the security of feeling that once they are doing all of the right things – providing structure for their kids, being active in their school and home lives, ensuring they have a foundation in spirituality, and they themselves are not participatory in any criminal activity that would endanger their family – that should feel secure. After all, the murders are only of a retaliatory nature. Are they not?
What the Minister of National Security and Acting Commissioner of Police do not understand is that Bahamians aren’t conceptualizing crime based on statistical data. Their concern isn’t the fact ‘murder attempts are down’. Besides, wouldn’t that mean since murders are up the shooters are becoming more accurate in hitting their target? No. People want to feel safe. Period.
Perhaps what we should be considering is the fact these bloodthirsty villains lack fear for the police and care for their fellow man when they wildly shoot in densely populated areas. This endangers average Bahamians and increases the risk of innocent people being hit by stray bullets - in this case, a defenceless little boy.
We’re not sure if the powers that be understand what we really want in the wake of all this violence gripping the capital city.
We want to see that lawmen in this country are, in fact, winning the fight on crime. The numbers suggest something much more calamitous. Based on analysis done by the Nassau Guardian we are losing this fight. The analysis reveals that in the first seven months of the year, the country recorded an alarming one murder every 2.5 days. Based on the study, which was published at the end of July, there were 82 murders – only six behind the total in 2015, the year recorded as our bloodiest in history. Now, homicides are up by at least 41%, with Eugene Woodside and the intended target in the double shooting, Dennis Moss, becoming the nation’s 104th and 105th murder victims.
If you take those chilling numbers and couple that with the fact that there is no obvious plan, nor leadership on the Royal Bahamas Police Force, one can become quite unnerved and doubtful that we can become victorious in our uphill battle against crime.
The prime minister, whose leadership is now more important than ever before, has garnered some mixed feelings towards his contingent’s visit with the bereaved family last week. On one hand, it is very prime ministerial to visit with a family in the time of the crisis – especially coming on the heels of revealing his human-ness in the House of Assembly earlier last week while discussing the government’s plans to assist Dominica. On the other hand, it seemed very staged and exploitative as the prime minister’s entourage bombarded the grief-stricken family with flashing cameras and strangers preaching sermons, as if they had all the answers.
If any of you have gone through a moment of paralyzing grief, you would know the last thing you need is for someone who doesn’t feel what you’re going through to pretend as if they do. The truth is, they don’t. Who feels it, is the only one who knows it.
What would be most encouraging to all of the families who have lost loved ones is if they were confident the government that promised – just like the previous government did – to stem the nation’s crime epidemic, actually showed the capability of doing so.
Looking through one lens at what seemed to be the prime minister’s exploitation of the Woodside family’s loss could have been viewed as being in poor taste. It loses its effect when we’re not seeing the desired results on our streets. It also is diminished when the government is deploying large contingents to assist the people of Dominica.
It is a noble gesture and the “Godly thing” to do to help our neighbors. However, while we seek to assist those in need beyond our borders, we must also remember that our systemic issues existed before hurricane season, and will most certainly continue if the government does not learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Just as Prime Minister Minnis took to the wheel and steered the ship during the evacuations of the southern islands, he similarly needs to lead the charge in the country’s fight against crime. The Prime Minister and National Security Minister, Marvin Dames, have both voiced their support of the death penalty being restored in The Bahamas. Beyond being proponents of capital punishment, the necessary steps need to be made by the government to ensure this measure can be included in a crime prevention strategy going forward.
The police force itself is not precluded from some much-needed scrutiny. The slaps on the wrists given to officers caught procuring and partaking in alcohol while on the job speaks to greater issues that need to be addressed in the force.
Also, our laws need to be addressed. Bail, while being a constitutional right, has to become less lax for certain offences. Any offender for violent crime should be remanded to the Department of Corrections until trial. The risk of that individual being released and being murdered is increasingly high, even being noted by Court of Appeal President, Dame Anita Allen, as a “death sentence”.
Finally, the communities must also understand their level of accountability in the fight against crime. For those people who have sympathized with the families all over our country who have experienced tragic losses due to murder, as well as those harboring family members known to be involved – you all have a responsibility to prevent our children from dying on our streets, and in the most unfortunate cases, in their homes.
This fight against crime will not be won over night. But a persistent and deliberate effort, devoid of poli-tricks and pandering will go a long way in putting a dent in what thus far has been a lose-lose battle. We must take back our streets from the violent thugs and murderers who would make us prisoners in our own homes. It is time to put our shoulders to the wheel and get on with the job of making our communities safe again.