We get the impression that despite the dismay, shock, horror, anxiety, or other range of emotions that visit themselves on Barbadians from time to time, that we are not taking the violent crime situation in the island as seriously as we should.
Everyone acknowledges that gun-related crimes in Barbados are undermining the very fabric of our civil society. Yet, the national cooperation which is necessary to wrestle the situation to the ground is not at the extreme level at which it should be. It seems not ti be filtering through to all and sundry that the next potential victim of a gun crime – innocent or otherwise – is staring each one of us in the mirror.
Since we all go to schools, work, church, supermarkets, beach, restaurants, bars, residences of family, friends and paramours, we are all potential targets. We have had persons shot and/or killed while travelling to purchase bread, we have had similar situations with persons transacting business at ATMs, we have had victims fall prey to gun-toting robbers while dining or socializing at upscale leisure spots to the average village shop. The outcry to such incidents is initially vociferous but then we return to a relative comfort zone until the next incident.
We talk tough about being tough on crime. We throw phrases into the air such as “zero tolerance” and then families across the island toss the “zero” through the window. We suggest that it cannot be business as usual but yet we conduct the usual business. With the frequent seizures of multiple firearms across the island, it appears that there are as many weapons as there are CXCs in some troubled Barbadian homes. And with the ages of some of the perpetrators of these gun-related crimes mostly ranging between 17 and 23, and living under the roofs of their elders, it can be assumed that the criminality of some young men and women is not a secret known only to themselves.
We ask the questions: Is the intelligence gathering of our law enforcement officers reaching maximum efficiency as a result of civic assistance from all quarters? Have law enforcement officers made any headway in identifying the person or persons working at our ports of call who are colluding with criminal elements for personal gain and allowing illegal weapons into Barbados? Has any attention been paid to the money trail that links Government salaries unevenly to ostentatious lifestyles? Has law enforcement learn from history and made any attempt to identify and prosecute drug-dealing sponsors of gun violence via the route of their would-be legitimate businesses and their often lapsed inland revenue obligations?
From time to time there have been instances of firearms being found in containers destined for ‘legitimate’ businesses in The City. Have these business owners been subjected to intense investigation and scrutiny? If they have, their palpable absence from Coleridge Street during court hours would suggest it has been an exercise in futility. Some decades ago the simultaneous discovery of a slain Asian woman and more than a BDS$1 million in cocaine at the residence of a subsequently convicted businessman suggested that this form of criminality was to be found nestled in seemingly legitimate enterprise.
Of more recent vintage, the discovery of a container of cocaine and the subsequent arrest and charge of a city entrepreneur indicated that the ploy of mixing legitimate and illegitimate was alive and well. Needless to say, that matter has never been adjudicated as our law enforcement agency had difficulty preventing the relevant file absconding from the precincts of a police station.
The recent granting of additional powers to the police under specific crime-fighting circumstances has raised some eyebrows. It is the right of citizens to question the origin and circumstances of new laws and their enactment. If they feel that their personal liberties might be infringed upon, then they have the right to ask questions and to demand answers. Such is the nature of a dynamic democracy. However, we believe that law-abiding citizens have little to fear from archaic laws or new laws, soft laws or tough laws. Some might suggest that one cannot have it both ways. Drastic situations often require drastic measures, without necessarily being draconian. We cry out in anguish over the spate of violent crime and simultaneously cry out at the tough measures ostensibly introduced to combat the situation. But prevailing circumstances often dictate the corrective responses.
Of course, educating our young people and providing training and employment opportunities are interventions which help to keep some of them out of the employ of seasoned criminals who prey on their vulnerable social circumstances and use their youth as a ready weapon. The time cannot be too far off when Government should consider compulsory national service for our youth.
The point is that we often have kneejerk reactions to crises when they are fresh. And we retreat into our usual sedate existence when there is a protracted lull. The Barbadian public must have realized by now that there has been no lull in this violence in the island and none seems to be on the horizon anytime soon.