I worked the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for 22 years and I was rough in CID. I realize CID was the end result because whenever you get to that stage you are almost finished. It is in line with the broken window theory, if you can save those youngsters before they start committing those big offences, then they wouldn’t reach CID – Drexel Deal, “The Fight of My Life is Wrapped Up in My Father”
Criminal Defence Attorney Andrew Pilgrim QC made a TEDx presentation in 2013 and predicted that unless we in Barbados find a way to embrace our young men, we will continue to raise violent criminals. This is an oversimplification of his presentation, but it’s a summary of an underlying theme that now seems prescient. We, as a country, have taken no action to change the trajectory or scope of young men and consequently, we are raising disconnected, under achievers who seek solace and comfort in the arms of the ‘block’ cohort that exploits them for criminal gain. We are all complicit in each crime that is committed.
For the period January to October 31, 2018, the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) charged 2,042 offenders with 3,823 offences. Out of that total, 1,782 males were charged with 3,438 offences and 260 females with 385 offences. Analysis shows that the group aged 20-29 accounted for 903 of those offences and those between ages 30-39, accounted for 526; those over 40 years old accounted for 615 offences.
Let us put this information in context: Barbados with a population of 287,010 (2018 Census) charged 1,782 males in 2018. Now, 47.83 per cent of our population is male (137,276). Thus, in a single year 1.3 per cent of our young men were charged with a criminal offence. I repeat, 1.3 per cent were charged, and in the words of the commissioner – in a year that we saw a decrease in what is called major crime. If this were the United States that would be 2.2 million young men; if it were the United Kingdom it would be 322,000 young men. We have a problem, and a serious one.
I am always in awe when the leadership of the local constabulary gives a review of crime as was done in November 2018 where it was reported that the crime mix of offences remains predominately as offences against the person and offences against property.
Commissioner Erwin Boyce reported that from the aforementioned mix there were “decreases in what we call major crime – murder, rape, robbery, aggravated burglary, theft from the person and commercial burglaries.” He noted that murders, to date, have decreased by four, when compared with the 2017 figure of 28 murders. Additionally, robberies were reduced by two and aggravated burglaries by seven. It was also reported that other crimes are showing a three per cent decrease when compared to the same period in 2017. “That is, if you look at drug-related crimes and assault with intent; assault occasioning actual body harm, we are seeing figures from 5, 349 in 2018 to 5, 551 in 2017.” In the context of our population, this is a crime being committed against 2 per cent of the population. Not staggering, but still significant.
In relation to firearm-enabled crime, the Commissioner reported 166 firearm-enabled crimes in 2018 as compared with 245 for the same period in 2017 with 66 illegal firearms recovered during the year. Firearm-enabled crime includes murder, robbery, assault with intent to rob, aggravated burglary, endangering life and shootings with intent. We keep talking about how the guns get into the country. Explain to me how the drugs get into the country – my assumption is that the guns come with them.
One takeaway that I had from Andrew Pilgrim QC’s lecture was the frequency with which repeat offenders would get bail on one matter and basically become serial offenders while on bail. The Commissioner reported that of the individuals charged, first offenders accounted for 647 offences, repeat offenders for 751 and that 632 were previously charged but for different offences, validating the attorney’s point.
Political scientists like the late Carl Stone of Jamaica sought to explain the rise of crime in Jamaica and the Caribbean as a mix of the following factors:
– The shrinkage in the agriculture sectors which gave rise to urbanization; we have all seen this and consequently young men who are not academically inclined are left with fewer revenue earning options.
– A decline in the living standards since the 1990s, which some argue followed an economic depression.
– Agricultural contraction and high dependence on foreign produce and the difficulty adjusting to these changes.
– The creation of an “expectation gap” which followed post independent growth. People sought to bridge this gap through migration or crime if they could not achieve material advancement by legal means – hence growth of the underground economy.
– Male absence, creating matrifocal societies. Many families are female-headed households without the presence of a male figure. Children from these households manifest a number of internalizing and externalizing behavioural problems, including sadness, depression, delinquency, aggression, sex role difficulties, early initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy, as well as poor social and adaptive functioning and low self-esteem. This is further perpetuated in our schools where 98 per cent of the faculty is female.
Crime and violence have become firmly embedded in the social fabric of our society and have the following characteristics: pervasive criminality and disregard for law across the largest demographic of social classes, particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid; the overlap between business elites of the formal sector, the political elite and the criminal elite; a developed, well-integrated underground economy; majority approval or at least tolerance of the types of crimes driving the underground economy; criminality becoming increasingly anchored in institutionalized relations and occupational roles; increasing acceptance and prevalence of elements of the criminal normative system and moral neutralization process; criminally acquired resources easily translatable into social power; pervasive criminality within the justice system and general authority structures.
The entire concept of justice in this country, if justice is meant to be a punishment for the breaking of the laws, is rotted. In his lecture, Mr Pilgrim advises that it takes a minimum of seven years to bring a murder trial to court and to compound the matter, there are only two courts, and we assume two judges that hear murder or serious criminal cases. When we add to that an appeals process that goes all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice, we are talking about ten years or more. The net point is that the same group that is meant to uphold and deliver justice is undermining it.
From where I sit, we have all been enablers in creating the Frankenstein that we now seek to restrain. We have sat back and watched young men go astray and say it’s not our affair how these boys are nurtured. When we come face to face with a pubescent gun-carrying criminal, we might for an instant, think of what a single embrace or a kind word or invitation to sport might have done to avoid this.
Our tolerance for deviant and disruptive behaviour has to be much lower. We need psychologists in our elementary schools to identify behaviour that needs to be modified before it becomes toxic. We have to get young men engaged in sport, the arts and other meaningful creative pursuits. We need more male teachers.
We have to find a way to bridge the gap of fear that exists with engaging these angry, disconnected young men who truly feel, no matter how misguided, that this society does not include them, has nothing to offer them, and the only way they can operate is outside of it and the only way they can get anything meaningful is by taking it by force or through the underground economy. We need as Mr Pilgrim said; ‘to hug them’.
George Connolly is a Finance and Technology professional.