A spate of violent crime, linked to the prevalence of illegal guns, was a major source of concern and hot topic of discussion among Barbadians during 2015.
Up to the time of writing, there were 30 murders recorded for the year, three more than in 2014. The majority resulted from gunplay, including the March 15 shooting death of Selwyn Knight, which occurred at the hands of Police Constable Everton Gittens.
Though not gun related, the killing of 75-year-old Marcelle Smith who was initially reported missing and later confirmed dead, was equally emotive.
The Royal Barbados Police Force was kept busy and was successful in bringing charges in the majority of cases.
One of the toughest investigations acting Assistant Commissioner responsible for crime, Livingstone Eversley has had to spearhead, involved the murder of his sister, Melanise Eversley, 60. Her body was found in a bushy area, on a lonely road, at Jordans, St George on September 3.
Addressing the congregation at her funeral service at the St Jude’s Anglican Church on September 18, Eversley urged Barbadians to speak out when they witness wrongdoing. He also urged Barbadians to look around and see that the people creating havoc in the society are sons and daughters who should be encouraged positively, and not supported in negative behaviour.
“Do not blame the system when your son or daughter has run afoul of the law. Let them know they are wrong when they do wrong. Let them know for every action there is a consequence. Be your brother’s keeper,” the acting crime chief urged.
“Are we contented to sit and wait to see who will be the next victim? Will we continue to ignore the evil around us and not do anything? It is not about Melanese, it is about us. We have been left behind,” Eversley said in a fiery speech that elicited rousing applause.
The flare-up of gunplay across the island, causing many innocent bystanders to run for their lives and resulting in the loss of mostly young men in the prime of life, was also a major concern for acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith.
At an August 21 press conference to address the crime issue, the top cop raised the possibility that persons charged with protecting the island’s borders may be assisting, either wittingly or unwittingly, with the smuggling of illegal guns into the country.
Griffith said the guns were entering Barbados through legitimate ports of entry and were creating an untenable situation. “From an investigative viewpoint, it is clear that there is an abundance of high calibre weapons and large quantities of available ammunition on the streets,” he said.
The top cop added: “What is also clear is that [those] weapons are not lawfully manufactured in Barbados and the wider region, so they are being smuggled into the island. Our intelligence suggests they are coming through legitimate ports of entry, either assisted by officials, or not detected by them at our borders.”
Griffith also said the issue of guns being “rented out” was still a cause of worry, as two police officers had been shot by “rented guns” to date.
Giving statistics on the crime situation, Griffith reported an overall increase of 13 per cent increase up to the end of July but pointed out it was not due to serious crimes which he defined as murder, manslaughter, rape, burglary, aggravated burglary, crimes against visitors and theft from persons.
He revealed that up to the end of July 2015, there was a total of 4 782 cases of crime, compared to 4 312 for the corresponding six month period last year. He said while this total represented an increase of 470 cases, or ten per cent, serious crimes had contributed very little to that number. The police chief blamed the increase on drug cases which, he revealed, were 212 more than for the corresponding period last year.
Griffith said police had also seen an increase of 41 fraud cases, and 51 public order breaches over last year. However, he disclosed that cases of serious crime — murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated burglaries and burglaries — were all down when compared to 2014.
“When we total these crimes, we recognize that there is very little movement over the last year,” the top cop explained. “That is, for these serious crimes, there were 1,340 in 2014 and 1,348 in 2015, a mere increase of eight cases.”
He went on: “What also must be taken into account is that in 2015, in response to an increase in the use of firearms, a decision was taken to prefer, in addition to the parent charge, for example, of wounding with intent or endangering life, the charge of unlawful use of a firearm. This was not the case in 2014 and so, to date, this accounts for an increase in some 22 cases over last year.”
Up to the time when he hosted the news conference, Griffith said there had been 17 murders, compared to 19 at the same point in 2014; there were no manslaughter cases compared to one in 2014; 32 rape cases as opposed to 26 for the corresponding period in 2014; 46 aggravated burglaries compared to 47 in 2014 and 953 burglaries compared to 960 for the same time last year.
However, there was an 18 per cent increase in rape cases which stood at 196 compared to 178 in 2014. There were also increases in firearms cases, with 134 reported compared to 128 in 2014, and 104 cases of theft, up from 99 in 2014.
While there was a slight increase in crimes against visitors –– 188 as opposed to 182 in 2014, Griffith said considering that there had been a 14 per cent increase in tourist arrivals up to the time, compared to last year, this figure might actually represent a “significant reduction.”
One of the shootings which sparked public outrage resulted in the death of Half Moon Fort Primary School teacher, Dwight Holder, 29, who was gunned down at Bedford Lane, Bush Hall, St Michael. The former Combermere student, who reportedly was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was killed fleeing to escape gunfire, weeks before his first child was born.
Commenting on the wave of shootings, Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite, was open to the idea of welcoming persons with illegal firearms who want to turn them in to the authorities. However, on the possibility of a gun amnesty, he said that would not work.
Brathwaite admitted, however, that the Freundel Stuart administration did not know the true extent of the burgeoning gun problem, noting that Barbados was among Caribbean countries grappling with a worrying influx of firearms.
He noted that border security and other law enforcement authorities were further challenged because people who brought in illegal guns did not register them and the presence of these weapons only become known at crime scenes or when they are confiscated.
Brathwaite conceded that although large quantities of illegal drugs continued to be seized from various “hot spots” around the island, some still slipped through in the same way that illegal guns did. He said authorities must continue to track the movement of firearms to see which countries they were being shipped from into Barbados.
In response to flare-up of criminal activity, the United States Embassy last month issued an advisory warning Americans to be on their guard. It cited robberies against local businesses with multiple employees that pay salaries in cash, including construction sites, bars and convenience stores.
The US advisory highlighted several other incidents, including a mugging in Hastings, reports of men posing as maintenance workers to gain access to homes, mostly in Pine Gardens, St Michael, and groups of men attempting to lure vehicles into stopping by pretending to have car troubles and then beating and robbing the vehicles’ occupants.
Following two gun-related deaths in St Philip on Independence Day, coinciding with the St Philip carnival, Member of Parliament for St Philip North, Michael Lashley, suggested that Barbados should follow the Trinidad and Tobago example and detain persons charged for gun-related offences for 100 days before they are even considered for bail.
However, speaking on December 3 at a panel discussion on combatting crime and violence in communities, Government Senator, Pastor David Durant, submitted that the authorities needed to be even tougher on criminals.
“No bail should be given to those individuals accused of murder; none whatsoever. And I trust that the legislation will be changed to accommodate that,” Durant said. As a trade-off, he called for speedier trials.
Who is to blame for the senseless killings? Where are the guns coming from and what can be done to stop them from coming in? Why are so many young men getting involved in crime? What can be done to return Barbados to a previous state where more than five murders were unheard of?
As Barbadians reflect on a worrying crime situation in 2015, these questions were being asked by persons from all walks of life. Everyone, naturally, is hoping that 2016 will bring about a change.