The late Prime Minister David Thompson came to be associated, at a national level, with a well-known exhortation which he apparently used with great effectiveness to calm the anxieties of persons around him whenever they were confronted with unfamiliar and nerve-wracking situations.
“Don’t panic!” was the trademark Thompson exhortation.
Given the heightened level of anxiety in the country following a few particularly violent murders in the last few weeks and what was clearly an open challenge to the police via social media from suspected criminal elements, we would do well to heed Thompson’s advice.
It is understandable in the present circumstances that Barbadians would be anxious, especially with regard to their personal safety and that of their families and loved ones. What the island is facing, especially in relation to what appears to be the increasing use of firearms in the commission of crime, is a generally new experience previously associated with big cities “over and away”, particularly in the United States.
This, however, is not the time for Barbadians to panic but for cool heads to prevail.
To allow ourselves to be paralyzed by panic would be tantamount to surrendering to the evil designs of the criminal element. We need cool heads to prevail if we are to go about, in a rational way, in an attempt to get to the root of the problem in order to come up with an effective solution or set of solutions.
More than anything else, what the country needs at this time is a demonstration of effective and decisive leadership that is able to mobilize and unite Barbadians to confront this common threat.
Importantly, there must be an anti-crime narrative which makes clear to every right-thinking Barbadian that fighting crime is not only an issue for the police, as so many seem to believe, but really everyone’s business.
If crime is allowed to get out of hand and there is an undermining of the island’s development prospects to which is tied our quality of life, every Barbadian stands to lose in some way.
Perhaps the idea of a “peace summit” is really where the process ought to begin. As we see it, such an event, which does not necessarily have to be a Government-led initiative, would bring together key national stakeholders, representing every important interest group in the country, including the “boys on the block”, to engage in frank brainstorming on what is already known about the nature of crime and identify practical solutions that could inform a comprehensive strategy.
Such a strategy should address the critical issues of prevention, appropriate punishment for offenders and their rehabilitation. Anyone who is a regular reader of the court pages readily recognizes that the faces of Barbadian crime are primarily young men, ranging in age from their teens to mid-late 20s. The drug trade, with which trafficking in guns is associated, is obviously a big factor with its tempting promise of quick wealth in an increasingly materialistic world.
Bad parenting has also been identified as a major contributor — Minister of Education Ronald Jones spoke about it just this weekend — along with poor education which means many offenders lack basic skills to function in the mainstream of economic life. Interventions are clearly needed in these critical areas to attack the seed of crime before it is allowed to germinate. We can no longer afford to ignore these issues.
The task can no longer be left to Government alone, given the serious challenges facing public financing. Civil society, drawing on whatever resources at their disposal or which they can mobilize, must step up to the plate. The Church, in a practical expression of the love of Christ, is ideally suited to play a leading role in this effort that will rescue and give hope to at risk persons.
While it is true that crime here has not reached the level of some of our Caribbean neighbours, the fact that we are so alarmed, especially by the increase in gun-related violence, should be enough to spur us into action to at least ensure that Barbados is spared the agony of our neighbours. Their experiences undoubtedly provide invaluable lessons which we can learn from.
What is a big positive for Barbados, compared with some of our neighbours, is that there is still generally high regard among citizens for the Royal Barbados Police Force. This favourable perception can be used as a platform for improving cooperation between the police and citizens that is so critical in the fight against crime.
We owe it, not only to ourselves but also future generations, to take a decisive stand against crime.