If Barbadians are not yet aware that gun-related crime in this country is now at a crisis stage, then we are inhabited by a legion of Rip Van Winkles. And though the hierarchy of the Royal Barbados Police Force is always quick to state that the situation is under control – which it is basically duty-bound to say – behind closed doors during strategy meetings senior officers must be deeply concerned. If they are not, they are living in the Twilight Zone.
The time for platitudes and meaningless political speeches whether from the Office of the Attorney General or that of Home Affairs has long expired. Though it might be accurate to state that the gun-toting, drug-peddling miscreant section of our society is in the minority, it is a cancer and it is not benign. It is spreading among our youth and at this juncture, kid gloves are the least effective option.
Recently, former Commissioner of Police Orville Durant rather unkindly suggested that the current police administration had dropped the ball on policing especially as it related to community intervention. We disagree with this rather simplistic assessment of the present situation. Notwithstanding that community policing is still practised to some degree, there are a number of factors that contributed to fewer gun-related crimes being committed 25 or 40 years ago as compared to the present era.
We are told that there was greater cohesion and efficiency within all sectors of the judiciary. We are told that policing was more robust on the streets in terms of prevention, intervention and investigation, as well as the production of files to the law courts to have serious matters adjudicated. We are told the present phenomenon of serial offenders – inclusive of murder accused – being constantly granted bail was unheard of. But most importantly, we are told that the number and level of firepower in the hands of criminals was an extremely far cry from what obtains today. And it is with the latter that authorities now need to act and stop talking.
The reason there were fewer gun-related crimes in the Durant era compared to the present appears simply to be a case that there were fewer guns in the hands of criminals. There are some hooligans today brandishing high-powered weaponry who cannot buy a snack box of chicken and a roll of toilet paper. Yet, they are creating mayhem with Mac-10s, Glocks, M16s and a range of expensive, imported firearms. They cannot finance the purchase of these weapons, nor their importation. If these weapons are tied to the drug trade, then where is the source? Who are the financiers? Who has the capital to purchase and import these weapons?
In such a dot of a country, what is the difficulty in collecting intelligence at source and robustly pursuing these felons who are bent on criminality for their selfish, pecuniary benefit? The Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, acting on intelligence gathered, has already fingered our ports of entry as contributing to the influx of weapons. What evidence is there that authorities both within Customs and the Royal Barbados Police Force are attempting to identify, apprehend and prosecute anyone donning a government uniform and facilitating this nefarious behaviour? Barbados does not need new laws, it needs renewed will from all law-abiding citizens, especially members of the constabulary. There is also a need for politicians to desist from attempting to influence the management and decision-making of the Royal Barbados Police Force.
There might be a public outcry from sections of society yet untouched by crime in Barbados but Government needs to look at the implementation of compulsory national/youth service as a means of targeting our young people before they reach the path of no return. All will not be saved but an expanded role for the Barbados Youth Service, inclusive of compulsory national service, is worth national debate [more long-talk] and serious consideration. A 1949 law in Israel makes conscription to military service mandatory on reaching age 18. A similar law exists in China although hardly enforced because of the sheer numbers of volunteers. Our sociologists and researchers occasionally carry out studies highlighting obvious sterile stats about this, that and the other. Perhaps, they can now research the impact compulsory national service had on specific countries and look at possibilities for its implementation here.
But we get a sense that not everyone is on the same page as it relates to wrestling the scourge of gun-crimes and the related drug trade to the ground. If toes have to be mashed – metaphorically – to rout out the few murderous thugs in our midst, then they should be crushed and done so collectively. Raising a white flag is not an option. Inertia is even worse.