It is perhaps one of the existing ironies in Barbados that while we complain daily about increasing violent criminality on the island, our systems are seemingly bent on making life easier for criminal elements.
Of course, there are many across professions and social strata doing their best to wrestle the scourge of violent gun crimes to the ground. But, the lack of cohesion and commitment among many players in government, the Royal Barbados Police Force, the judiciary and the average Joe, is rendering the efforts of those active in the trenches veritable exercises in futility.
There are no shortages of platitudes, quips, expressions of disgust, pleas, academic explanations, religious exhortations and knee-jerk political reactions after every gun blast. Then there is a lull in the empty verbose until the next round of gunfire and appearance of a bloodied body on the streets. And the violence is not confined to the eyes and ears of locals, it is also on the doorsteps of the industry that drives the Barbadian economy. Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association Stephen Austin previously related a shooting incident in St Lawrence Gap that led visitors to scurry for their lives.
Last month an elderly man was shot to death in Marhill Street in the City while playing dominoes. Anyone within the precincts of our Parliament could have fallen victim to an errant bullet. Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson ‘read’ from the familiar proverbial script urging Barbadians to put down their guns and pledged Government’s commitment to eradicating guns. This was not Barbados Labour Party rhetoric, this was the same rhetoric previously employed by the Democratic Labour Party Government. A nice soundbite to fit the occasion.
Mr Hinkson, though, did hit on a sore point in November that resides at the doorstep of John Public. He had this to say to Barbadians: “You have to assist in cooperating with the police, in giving information because it is only in this way that resolution can be found to some of our problems; and you do yourself and your community and family a disservice if you have information on criminal activity and refuse to give it to the relevant authorities, because you yourself are scared for your skin and for possible reprisals.”
And Prime Minister Mia Mottley, like her predecessor Mr Freundel Stuart, added voice to the ongoing problem. “In order for us to do that [stop gun violence], we have to put in the time and go and engage. This is not a case of being able to use the heavy arm of the law on people. This is a case of sitting down and talking with people and putting structures in place…” Words, words, words, wafting through the air, going nowhere. Miss Mottley, though, was partially correct. There must be dialogue with young people. But mere dialogue will not and will never suffice. There is a place for the heavy arm of the law on those impervious to dialogue.
Unfortunately, our politicians have all the solutions to crime while they are in Opposition but remain silent and equally clueless when assigned the reins of Government. The Democratic Labour Party had all the solutions between 1994 and 2008 just as the Barbados Labour Party knew how to turn water into wine between 2008 and 2018. Mr Dale Marshall adroitly shadowed the Attorney General’s portfolio between 2008 and 2018, now it seems from his silence that he is simply a shadow. The reason for this is that our crime situation ought not to be politicized. Political indignation often blows up in the face of politicians. But crime has always been politicized not only by government but also by the people to their country’s detriment.
Truth be told, Barbados is presently an enabling environment for criminality. We have most of the structures in place for crime to flourish and to be a problem for decades to come. While crime remains rampant the liberalists among us – with varying agendas – sponsor ideas, or hold on to laws and strategies that provide succour for criminals. In such an environment legislators have not seen it fit to go to Parliament and amend a Bail Act that provides an avenue for accused murderers to return to the streets where, according to some reported cases, they commit murder again before trial on their original charge. In such an environment misguided trade unionists consider it an affront to have security cameras in areas at our ports of entry that could boost security.
In such an environment many with social clout view the death penalty as barbaric even for perpetrators of some of the most heinous crimes. In such an environment politicians feel comfortable providing known, reputed and convicted drug dealers with official passes to attend the opening of Parliament. In such an environment police officers neglect to prepare crime files and dangerous or potentially dangerous criminals are allowed to walk free to continue with their criminality. In such an environment residents turn a blind eye to drug dealers or gun-runners in their communities because they get assistance with their bills from these fiends.
Barbados is so small a country that every drug dealer and gunrunner is known by someone in his or her community, whether of Asian, African or European extraction. And this obtains whether that scoundrel is to be found in King Street in the City, Deacons Farm or Checker Hall, St Lucy. But too many of us are asleep or simply turning the other cheek.