The prediction is grim. This year’s murder toll could more than double the previous record of 35 set in 2006. We haven’t even cleared April. No fooling.
And still, it would appear our police and crime experts are no closer to explaining this sudden, dramatic and deadly turn of events. What is happening now that didn’t happen before? What are the causes of these effects?
Is it that the authorities know but do not wish to tell us? This is highly plausible indeed, for it is the natural inclination of senior public officers in Barbados to be reticent about sharing information, even the most innocuous facts, with the public.
It is entirely likely that a confluence of personalities and phenomena have created a perfect storm of executions and apparent reprisals with impunity.
Whatever the variables are, through sustained sociological studies, intelligence-gathering and the patient enterprise of police shoe leather on tarmac, we may yet know enough about what is fuelling this unprecedented wave of bloodletting.
This fever of violence astonishes even seasoned police officers, past and present, who know not only people but patterns. So, the admission last week by retired deputy police commissioner Bertie Hinds leaves us to ask aloud whether the current top brass of the police force share his cluelessness.
Said Hinds: “Never in the history of Barbados has this happened, so something has gone amiss . . . . If we continue on this trajectory, we are on course for something like 80 to 90 murders in Barbados. God forbid that these things happen because already there is fear and panic among the population in Barbados.
“Entire lifestyles have been changing. You have to change your lifestyle now because chances are, places that you used to frequent may be subjected to violence. [Sheraton Centre] shopping mall up there in Christ Church, who would have thought about that.”
While arrests have been made in the brazen and clearly premeditated murder of Damian Trotman at Sheraton Centre, other cases are growing cold. Despite the assertions by the police high command that most of the killings so far this year have been ‘solved’, we should point out that all the accused in these killings must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and thus, no case is truly solved without a conviction. We have already reported on the prolonged agony and grief of loved ones for whom there is not yet, and may never be closure.
And even if each murderer in Barbados is brought to justice, we still are left with vitally troubling, yet unanswered questions about the origins of this mayhem. It is in that lack of knowledge that we are powerless to set course towards policies that could reduce the number of killings and prevent future outbreaks of violence.
But with an old policeman’s nod to patterns and personalities, Bertie Hinds made a point worth repeating here: “This is a clear manifestation of what was happening in the US in the 70s and 80s, so we are mimicking behaviours of continental US and Central America to some extent and Europe also.”
For the retired senior police officer, there remains a well-established link between drugs and the rise in violence.
Is this the closest we will ever come to an explanation of a murder rate in Barbados 2019 – population 287,000 – that is roughly on par with the murder rate of London 2019 – population 8.8 million?
Hinds appeared on the same panel as the Government’s chief criminologist Cheryl Willoughby, who brought equally important but still baffling data to last week’s discussion on youth, crime and violence at the 3W’s Oval.
Willoughby, the director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit, said the figures from 2012 to 2016 showed that the 16-to-25 age group was the most violent cohort of our population.
Even more disconcerting is the finding of a 35 per cent increase in violent crime among those between the ages of 11 and 15 during that four-year period. She also noted an increase in the number of 16 and 17-year-old males being charged with murder and gun-related offences.
“What we are now seeing are juveniles increasingly committing violent offences,” said Willoughby.
But even here, the Government’s point person on crime research could not, or would not, touch firmly and unequivocally on the nub of the problem that is robbing families of loved ones and slowly snuffing out this nation’s hard-earned reputation as a peaceful and peace-loving nation.
In a non-committal statement, Willoughby said: “I do not want to cast blame on our education system but I think the time is right for reform within our education system in order for us to address some of the issues we are seeing early and not waiting until these persons are within the constraints of the [police].”
Is this, then, the root cause of the 2019 murder spree: a failed education system? What precisely has failed? Did it stop operating altogether or does it operate under the law of diminishing returns? How?
Is the blood flowing on our streets and public spaces because of specific failed policies, or is it just the strange fruit of an active public policy? Why?
Are the solutions staring us so starkly in the face that they become invisible to myopic policymakers and voters? Or are we willing to try new and bold changes? Should we not consider removing the criminal impetus behind these murders by removing the criminal sanctions on cannabis, for example? Or do we cease to subject ourselves to continued analysis paralysis? When?
We believe that the time has come for answers that go even beyond only discovering who has killed whom. Something is driving our young people to so disregard human life as to encourage them to snuff it out with impunity. We need knowledge so we can commit to action.