All Barbadians should be horrified, enraged and ready to take a stand against yesterday’s ugly display of senseless violence that marred an otherwise bumper Crop Over Festival.
That the packed Spring Garden Highway with happy revellers winding down their festivities could be transformed into a bloody scene, with thousands screaming and scampering for safety, is not only absurd but abhorrent.
According to the Royal Barbados Police Force, 20-year-old Taried Rock was killed and more than 20 others injured in this unprecedented display of violence. Most would normally expect to hear about such in the usual depressing barrage of international news or perhaps next door in neighbouring Caribbean countries.
But certainly not sweet Barbados!
Condolences are in order for the families and friends of the deceased and the injured who we hope will all speedily recover.
That aside, Barbadians should mourn this incident. What happened was a strong message that we cannot afford to play with this scourge on our society.
Our current anti-crime fighting strategies are outdated and inadequate and a fresh assault is needed at all levels to arrest the problem before it is too late.
What the public does not need is another mere assurance that Barbados remains a safe place and we continue with business as usual until the next tragedy.
While it can be argued that there is no need for panic, Barbadians are tired of the pretense and procrastination particularly when armed criminals have no fear of shooting into large crowds.
Today, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite took to the airwaves to address the incident, which he attributed to gang rivalry, saying this issue was a significant challenge for Barbados.
“Two alleged assailants possibly from one gang on Westbury Road began shooting…in order to escape them he [the deceased] ran on to Spring Garden and rather than cease shooting they [the gang] continued to shoot at him. As you know he died along the Highway,” he revealed.
Even more startling was a revelation from Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith that on the Kadooment route alone, there were too many gangs. He singled out Black Rock saying there were at least 16 gangs there.
We need an urgent strategy to crack down on gangs, but also to keep our youth from joining them in the first place.
This is going to require an almost titantic effort from homes, schools, the Church, communities and other stakeholders to steer those off track to worthwhile pursuits.
However, after the latest gunplay, our authorities first have to take off the gloves and send a clear message to criminal elements that they will not be allowed to destroy our security.
A most vexing problem is this spiralling illegal drug and gun trade controlled by said troublesome gangs.
For far too long the Commissioner of Police has been complaining about the entry of illegal guns at all our ports. What, if any action has been taken to address this problem?
Not much, one could reasonably argue, when recently we had gunmen blazing their weapons in celebration of the release of convicted killers. A 58-year-old woman was gunned down while conducting a routine ATM transaction and just yesterday the sweet summer festival ended in fear and panic for hundreds on Spring Garden.
Security has to be tightened at our ports and borders, regardless of who fears an invasion of their privacy.
Then there are the almost seemingly insurmountable challenges facing our police force.
Our Force, no doubt, performs above and beyond the call of duty, creditably, but it is under-resourced, and underpaid.
Further, the issue of leadership in the Royal Barbados Police Force has to be addressed. For years we have had an Acting Commissioner and officers have not hidden their disgust about the lack of appointments and slow pace of recruitment.
Our Force deserves better.
Equally our judicial system is coming up short. The public needs to know that criminals are not getting a slap-on-the-wrist punishment for the terror they reign on this society. A strong message has to be sent that our system is not soft on guilty offenders, particularly those in possession of illegal firearms.
More importantly though, while our authorities might put more boots on the ground and invest in modern technology, including more weapons, drones and the works, all will come to naught if ordinary Barbadians continue to harbour, facilitate and encourage criminals.
Too many of us know about that illegal gun under the mattress, under the cellar or in the gully. We are aware of sons and daughters, cousins, nephews, friends and colleagues who receive ill-gotten gains by peddling drugs and guns.
The time has come for Barbadians to stop lying to themselves and take a stand against crime before the next tragedy lands on their doorsteps.