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FRONT PORCH: Failure by political leaders to understand social dysfunction

Police at the scene of the shooting on Robinson Road after a bus driver was killed and a 16-year-old was injured. Photo: Moise Amisial

Police at the scene of the shooting on Robinson Road after a bus driver was killed and a 16-year-old was injured. Photo: Moise Amisial

THE violent crime ravaging New Providence continues unabated. Political leaders and law enforcement are seemingly incapable of offering workable strategies to combat the rate of murder and other crimes.

As noted by others and in this column, the failure to try, convict and punish offenders in a timely manner, contributes significantly to the murder rate as does the failure to deal with the issue of bail.

Still, the brazenness and openness of killings and other violent crime are alarming and frightening. A few weeks ago, mere teenagers were caught on CCTV robbing a popular liquor store. A jitney driver out on bail is killed on a bus and his 16-year-old assistant is shot. Why is a youth that age not in school?

A young woman is gunned down at Arawak Cay, a venue highly trafficked by Bahamians and visitors. An off duty police officer is shot.

A friend recalls a recent robbery at an upscale restaurant in western New Providence. How many more murders will there be before the end of the year?

We are in a cycle of systemic gun violence and retribution. We are also beset by entrenched social dysfunction and a culture of violence.

While successive political directorates have made many efforts over the years to address gun violence and revenge killings, they appear out to sea in understanding and addressing broader social dysfunction and cultural problems.

VIOLENCE

The roots of our myriad social problems which contribute to violence are complex and longstanding. After his party was defeated following 25 years in office, the late Sir Lynden Pindling bemoaned the incivility and violent mindsets of younger Bahamians, especially young men.

He was upset by coarse language in public, states of public undress and other signs of social decay. He did not grasp the causes and roots of increasingly dysfunctional behaviour.

Of course, the permissive and pervasive drug culture of the 1980s and 90s played a significant role.

The widespread corruption of the era, including by the political elite, poisoned minds, bodies and the social culture.

Sir Lynden regretted his failure to institute a model of national service that may have helped to arrest some of the decline.

The instinct for this type of social intervention was correct, though it was never tried.

Fifty years after independence is a time to reflect on what we have done successfully and poorly as a country. Crime, violence and social dysfunction can be found in many countries, including the Caribbean and the Americas.

While governments have rightly prioritized economic growth and certain areas of social development, including health care, education and housing, there has been a lack of imagination, will and resources dedicated to various kinds of social intervention, including youth development.

The social ills in our country are writ large.

The filth, slackness and incivility in the country, especially in more urbanized areas, are so egregious we cannot even get Bahamians to keep public spaces clean.

A recent social media meme listing “guidelines - for a better Bahamas and future generations,” ended with this plea: “Don’t urinate in public spaces.”

A friend forwarded the meme with this retort: “You mean it’s that bad that we have to ask people not to urinate out in the open.”

Politicians understand economic growth and jobs are vital to their survival and that of the countries they lead. Every Bahamian Prime Minister has promoted growth and sought to address crime through the police and the courts.

Some of the heads of government, some more successfully than others, have also addressed various areas of social development. Yet none of them really seemed to have grasped the sociological and cultural roots of our social dysfunction.

This lack of understanding was not a matter of ill will. Many of our political leaders simply lack a sociological imagination or thinking.

By example, some leaders at home and abroad, with a more conservative mindset on dealing with crime, opt for the “pull themselves up by the bootstrap mentality”. While this may be effective for some individuals, it is not a social strategy. Good social interventions borrow from progressive and conservative thinking.

Incarceration and law enforcement are not enough in addressing crime and violence. Governments cannot change the family structure. But in a small country like ours, strategic social interventions can positively affect the lives of hundreds or thousands quicker and more effectively than in a county with tens of millions.

By example, a well-funded and organized after school baseball or performing arts programme in an inner city area of New Providence may touch the lives of hundreds of young people, redirecting quite a number from gang involvement.

There are scores of such models from around the world, programmes and interventions we have not utilized. This column has previously offered a number of examples.

One new example which Bahamian officials might explore is: “Chicago CRED – a violence prevention initiative spearheaded by former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan. [The programme] take[s] a multifaceted approach to reducing gun violence, one proven to work in other cities.”

The programme’s literature notes:

“To create lasting change we work directly with the individuals who are most likely to carry a gun or get shot, and with the communities where gun violence is most concentrated.

“Through Street Outreach, Coaching & Counselling, Workforce Development, and Advocacy & Prevention we lift young men and women, and rally neighbourhoods to dramatically rewrite the story of gun violence in Chicago.”

We are in a longstanding cultural crisis. Some analogies may be helpful. When Sir Lynden came to office, his party had to build certain national institutions. When Hubert Ingraham became Prime Minister his administration invested heavily in economic development and infrastructure to reform and modernize a moribund country.

During COVID-19, Dr Hubert Minnis kept the country afloat through vast social spending in health care, economic assistance and social and food assistance.

The state of our social dysfunction, inclusive of crime and violence, is so entrenched we need the level and sort of imagination, political will and resources that were required to address the aforementioned times.

CRISIS

This will require a PM and government that grasp the degree of the crisis, the need for prolonged social intervention, and a willingness to speak to the country articulately and consistently about the depth of our social dysfunction.

Bureaucratically, this may mean transforming the Ministry of Social Services into a genuine Ministry of Social Development, of which Social Services would be one department. Such a ministry should have a change leader who understands the nature of the problems with which we are confronted. It may include a policy and planning staff inclusive of those with expertise in sociology, criminology and social intervention, including Bahamian and international practitioners and experts.

The current administration announced its intention to build a medium-security facility at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services that could cost up to $40 million.

We will have to wait and see if the facility is built.

But imagine what $40 million can do if invested in various social intervention and youth development measures that may address social violence in the medium and long-term.

Many in our middle and upper middle class elite, who live in gated communities and mindsets, may believe crime is happening among those people and that they can ring-fence themselves off from such violence. This is a deadly delusion.

Writing recently in The Atlantic on America’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff writer Ed Yong offered: “Substantial social progress always seems unfeasible until it is actually achieved. Normal led to this. It is not too late to fashion a better normal.”

We should not become normalized to the levels of crime, violence and social decay and dysfunction we are experiencing. Things can get worse, much worse, if we accept our current state as normal.

Comments

BONEFISH 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The Bahamas has a number of deeply rooted socio-economic problems. These problems are also some of the factors driving the violent crime crisis in this country. There is some research in these problems. I heard a group of intellectuals discuss some of them on a radio show recently.

Bahamians by in large too self-righteous to honestly discuss these problems. They would do what they always do. Blame others for their failures.

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