Over the past decade or so, there have not been many more farcical situations in Barbados than Opposition politicians blaming Government for any hike in crime and the reverse occurring when that same Opposition becomes the Government.
During the Owen Arthur 14-year administration, whenever rampant criminality raised its ugly head the Democratic Labour Party had all the answers, which obviously they assumed the likes of then Attorneys-General Dale Marshall and Mia Mottley did not. During the brief David Thompson reign and some might suggest the prolonged Freundel Stuart tenure in office, Mr Marshall had all the answers, which he consistently suggested the then Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite did not. Both parties played the political blame-game and many of us, like sheep following an itinerant shepherd, repeated the political baloney. Political policies can and do have a bearing on a society’s crime situation but at the end of the day many of us across the island have contributed to our present descent.
Many of the structures, policies, cultural practices, disciplinary codes in homes and schools, work ethics, and other elements that served Barbados well in the distant past have been shunted aside or sacrificed on the altar of progress or on our embracement of new global norms. We have compromised on issues ranging from gender and sexuality to parenting, national pride, industry and good manners. And the list goes on.
The problem of gun violence in Barbados did not just start with the illicit importation of firearms. This facilitates the madness, but how do we explain misguided morons making videos of relishing the idea of bombarding homes and killing families, or boasting of their access to high-powered weaponry or relishing self-proclaimed titles that link them to being “killers” or “evil”. Many of our problems relate to a society where the systems that assisted in promoting and maintaining equilibrium have gone soft or disappeared. Today, while we give teenage children greater latitude and freedom, we have simultaneously deprived teachers of their latitude in dealing with their charges to the extent that some have lost control of classrooms across the island. Lettered experts brought up in a system that worked for their parents, now profess new-age techniques to deal with children and families without realizing that much of the theory they posit from books read or decipher from conferences in North America and elsewhere, are simply not working.
Criminal elements no longer fear our dysfunctional judicial system. We are perhaps a year or two away from seeing a murder case being dismissed for want of prosecution. The line of demarcation between taking a human life and stealing a candy bar has become increasingly blurred among drug-dazed, money-grabbing, fractured men and women. The fear of legally forfeiting one’s life for taking that of another human being has been long lost in arguments over whether the death penalty is a deterrent or not. Ironically, that Barbados has a number of double murderers and in a few instances triple murderers walking the streets, has not convinced the bleeding hearts among us that the death penalty can stop multiple murders by the same perpetrator. Committing ourselves to international legal agreements has made impotent our efforts to return that fear element to those who wantonly take human life.
Barbados is a small country with law- abiding citizens in every nook and cranny where criminals are to be found. The miniscule size of our country also creates a situation where there is some military, paramilitary or protective services official – whether police, soldier, customs officer, fireman or prison officer – residing in or close to every community where criminal elements are to be found. As a consequence, the Royal Barbados Police Force should daily be inundated with information related to their efforts to wrestle criminality to the ground. But do they get the desired cooperation?
A recent study indicated that the majority of inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison, Dodds, were graduates of our newer secondary schools. There has always been the suspicion that Barbadian society generally treats children from the older secondary schools in different manner to those from the newer secondary schools in terms of academic and employment opportunities. There has also been the suspicion that the ‘best’ teachers also find majority placements at the older secondary schools, when the reverse should apply to facilitate children at the newer secondary schools who might need those with better than average skills.
Whether it be efforts to enhance security at our ports of entry or to collect a fingerprint database at those same points that could assist later in criminal investigations, efforts at such proactive and robust policing have often been frustrated by trade unions, politicians, and others. Frequently, the protection of individual rights is given as the rationale for such action when indeed it is the protection of those same individual rights that is guiding the prospective measures.
While we turn to meaningless candlelight marches and well-meaning but ineffective prayer vigils, we ignore some of the basics that made our society what it was in the past, and depend on studies, commissions, political consultants, white papers and green papers to tell us what we already know. These endeavours frequently result in nothing more than sizeable pay cheques for many who are already at the top of the food chain. And disenfranchised, disillusioned young men and women take note.
Oh yes, we did this. We let it get out of hand.