Today Barbadians are feeling a bit more comfortable as they move about this their island home. Shipments of guns and drugs have been stopped at our ports of entry; others have been removed from the streets.
Over the past three weeks, several shipments of marijuana, cocaine, and firearms have been seized in our ports, and intelligence-led operations have resulted in caches being discovered in homes and businesses across the island.
We owe a debt of gratitude to all those hard-working officers in the Royal Barbados Police Force’s Anti-Gun Unit, Customs enforcement, and other agencies which contributed to the discovery of the contraband: you have made us proud, and you have made this country just a bit safer.
Keeping people safe from threats within a country’s borders is a critical function of modern government. Indeed, the need to guarantee safety has always been a motivating force for cohesion in human societies. Without such protection, as 17th Century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it so succinctly, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Your stellar work in this operation has gone a long way towards restoring the feeling of security in our communities.
The United Progressive Party has called for enhanced security and surveillance of our borders before, so naturally we support the decision to finally install and commission cameras in all our ports of entry. However, we would like to take this opportunity to remind the Government of Barbados that we need to discard classist assumptions and develop a comprehensive resolution aimed at the source of the criminal activities. Instead of merely treating the symptoms, and looking at the young men in our working-class neighbourhoods, we should address the problem at the root.
Several factors have contributed to the ostensible breakdown of law and order in Barbados. In many ways, the police, the courts and the prison service are unfortunately fighting a rear-guard action against failures in other sections of society. As a society, we are in danger of being overwhelmed by values which erode people’s respect for themselves, each other, their homes and their neighbourhood.
Unfortunately, simply drafting tougher laws is not the solution to this multifaceted problem. This is exactly why we are particularly distressed to hear the Attorney General, Hon. Adriel Brathwaite, propose a new stricter Fire Arms Act and anti-gang legislation. He spoke, for example, of making it easier for the constabulary to stop and search a person without having to satisfy the grounds of reasonable suspicion that the person is in possession of a firearm.
This is alarming enough without coupling it with ‘anti-gang’ legislation. Granted he did not specify any proposed measures that would be addressed in this legislation, but generally anti-gang legislation has features like the power to ban certain organisations without due process, making associating with ‘listed’ persons a criminal offence, the criminalizing of certain buildings or spaces, thus bringing a person under suspicion for merely being in that place, and giving the police power to secretly search private homes.
We must be careful how we proceed with encroaching on civil liberties in the name of maintaining order. As the operations carried out in the past few weeks have amply demonstrated, we need to concentrate on securing our borders rather than waiting for contraband to be distributed across the island.
The importers of guns and drugs are unlikely to be stopped at random road checkpoints, they are unlikely to be found in buildings or places ‘utilised by gang members for criminal activities’. Murder is already unlawful, so is conspiring with others to break the law. With electronic surveillance, intercepting telecommunications, and various methods of collecting intelligence to hand, the police force already has adequate tools to solve crimes.
Warehouses, containers, homes, and vehicles can already be examined by enforcement officers under the existing Customs Act, Fire Arms Act and other laws and regulations. The United Progressive Party therefore recommends that instead of piling further restrictions on our working-class youth, and criminalising the forming of associations in our already fragile urban communities, that we seek to nurture positive associations to build capacity in these communities.
We need to rise to the challenge of providing a greater measure of social equality and economic opportunities. Additionally, we recommend that the Attorney General consider new legislation to protect border security officials and to encourage them to refrain from and to report corruption in our ports.
Perhaps we should examine making telephone calls. When we make a telephone call to a bank or other financial institution, the call is recorded. Telephone calls to customs should be similarly recorded. There is no question of personal privacy when the security and safety of an entire nation are at stake. Recording conversations would ensure that customs officers are not given orders that are contrary to their official instructions while on the job.
Furthermore, we recommend that the Government implement legislation to provide for a comprehensive whistle-blowing policy to ensure that employees’ right to free speech is not violated and that they are treated fairly when they resist inducements to corruption, or if they observe corrupt practices in the workplace.