FRONT PORCH – A culture of violence is metastasizing: Why are we surprised?

WE have gone to bed most evenings and/or have awakened most mornings in the New Year with fresh social media posts and news about the latest murder(s). The killing frenzy – it is not a “spurt” – has surprised many of us. Why are we surprised?

Though we have not experienced such sustained bloodshed and violence for some time, the roots and cancerous cells of this violence have been nurtured, ignored and metastasizing for decades.

Over these decades, some of us have sought to rationalise, play games with, normalise, put our heads in the sand over, or colluded in the violence and criminality killing, maiming and brutalising fellow citizens and human beings.

How could any politician in good conscience believe that it was legitimate to erect billboards on murder statistics before a general election in order to score political points? Was there no consideration as to how this might affect tourism?

A 2014 Tribune story reported: “Bahamian leaders in every sector of society failed to address crime warnings nearly ten years ago, according to Rev Dr CB Moss, who said the country was ‘reaping the bitter fruits of our neglect’.

“Rev Moss, President of the Bain and Grants Town Advancement Association (BGTAA), said anti-crime initiatives were summarily dismissed with an overriding sentiment that crime was bound to specific areas and only affected criminals.”

The culture of violence and brutality some of us have created, aided and abetted, will continue to worsen. It is possible for us to have many more than a hundred murders and many more attempted murders and shootings a year.

Did we believe in the 1970s that we could have over a hundred murders a year? What makes us believe that by the end of this decade, or sooner, that we will not be nearing or over 200 murders a year? And, what about the decades to come?

Did we think we could indulge the mass corruption of the drug era with little consequence to our social fabric and culture? The nefarious influence of that period continues to poison us.

Over the years, some have asked whether The Bahamas, may become like Jamaica in terms of crime and violence. There are differences between the two countries. We do not have the kind and level of political violence between the two major parties in Jamaica.

Still, what are the similarities? It would be smug to believe that there are no lessons to learn from our Caribbean neighbour. A major lesson: Once a culture of crime and violence becomes embedded and implanted, it is difficult to confront.

A friend recently referenced, A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel by Jamaican author, Marlon James, published in 2014. The book covers several decades, including the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, two days a concert to quell violence “through [to] the crack wars in New York City in the 1980s and a changed Jamaica in the 1990s.”

But the culture of violence and crime in Jamaica began to grow stronger in the mid- to late 1960s. A friend who attended the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies in Kingston admits to being naïve about crime in Jamaica.

She thought that Jamaica was generally like The Bahamas when it came to crime. She was warned by Jamaican classmates not to go to certain neighbourhoods and to be careful in the evenings.

From the 1960s to the 2020s, many thousands of Jamaicans have been murdered and injured. A gangland and ingrained culture of violence is embedded in Jamaica. More recently, the country has made significant economic progress and experienced a reduction in crime.

As Caribbean National Weekly (CNW) reported yesterday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness “said serious crime was down by 11% last year, murders down by 8%, rapes down 15%. Across the board, he said, crime was at a 22-year low”. What can we learn from our neighbour in reducing crime?

The US State Department recently issued travel advisories for Jamaica and The Bahamas, with the former at Level 3, and the latter, at Level 2. The advisories are having an adverse effect on tourism in both countries.

There are questions and concerns about the nature of these advisories. CNW further reported that according to “Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks, there has been a record number of cancellations since the advisory was published.

“Ambassador Marks said that the advisory ‘distorts the reality’ of what Jamaica is really like and has urged the United States government to reconsider.

“She pointed out that serious crimes against tourists are extremely rare in Jamaica. In fact, the data, she said, shows that American tourists are safer in Jamaica than in many cities in the United States.”

These are important arguments. Still, for The Bahamas, this does not negate the murder wave we are experiencing, even if one feels that some of the U.S. media is sensationalizing what is going on. And, yes, there is panic and irrationality by American tourists, a number of whom have cancelled Family Island vacations.

Still, what is disturbing is that some of our leaders only now appear more concerned because the high level of crime is affecting tourism, and presumably their political fortunes.

Some of our elites comforted themselves that crime was confined to the “ghetto”. Now, after it has exploded in New Providence and ricocheting on American television, including in our major tourism markets of Florida and New York, it is being taken more seriously.

It is imperative that we do all we can to keep visitors safe. But is it not equally imperative that we do much more to address the frequency and depth of violence in the country?

We have failed miserably to put in place the comprehensive intervention structures and initiatives needed as genuine violence interrupters in terms of programmes and personnel. Some have allowed our prison to become a “graduate school” for violence while sending their children to colleges overseas.

Others are so bereft of workable ideas to address crime that their fevered response is more violence, brutality and revenge in the form of hangings.

Dr James Gilligan and others have written extensively on the correlation between inequality and crime. Those countries with the least inequality experience the least violence. By example, there is more crime and violence in the United States than other developed nations because of the greater inequality in America.

Personal choices and familial failure contribute to our culture of crime. But so do inequality and the gap between the elites and those at lower socio-economic levels.

In recent impassioned statements, Rev TG Morrison, Pastor of Zion Baptist Church, asked who is benefitting from crime. He said some of our leaders are “numb” to the realities around them. He referred to those who will, “do anything for money!”

Worse than numb, some of our leaders are wholly indifferent. They do not use our local hospitals, they do not have to worry about health care costs, their children are in elite schools, they do not have to worry about the costs of food, utilities, transportation, and the other grinding realities of daily life.

When one is feted and fattened at the table of greed and creature comforts, it is easy to forget those who are literally and figuratively hungry in The Bahamas. It is easy to live in a bubble, even on a small island such as New Providence.

Bubbles tend to burst in ways unsuspected. If the violence continues to grow, do not be surprised if some international homeowners and visitors in certain luxury gated communities on Western New Providence decide to relocate or not visit.

Do not be surprised if foreign investors or others considering buying second homes determine that New Providence is not safe. Do not be surprised if group bookings, one of the most profitable components of tourism, decline.

Sadly, it appears that it is not the plight and plea of those dying from and involved in crime that has moved some of our leaders. Instead, it appears that it is the urgent prompting and reports by embassies, foreign media and investors, and business elites who are prying open the closed ears and blind eyes of some of our leaders.

When the number of murders decrease, there are those who will be tempted to return to business as usual and wait for the next coming frenzy? This is near frightening as the current wave of violence.


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