Tourism stakeholders are warning that the current surge in gun crime poses a threat to the island’s number one foreign exchange-earning industry, while political leaders have urged Government to seek and attack the root cause of the spike.
The caution and advice came on the same day police responded to two more shootings that resulted in one death and five injuries, and a day before Attorney General Dale Marshall was scheduled to address the crime situation.
Speaking against the backdrop of frequent incidents of gunplay in recent weeks, chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Renee Coppin expressed concern about the damage the spate of violence could inflict on this country’s global reputation as a safe destination.
“We are a destination which has safety as one of its brand planks, so any increase in crime is a threat to our industry which is already struggling to recover from the crippling effects of the [COVID-19] pandemic,” she told Barbados TODAY on Thursday evening.
“The BHTA, like all other members of society, is concerned about the implications of any increase in violent crime on, first and foremost, the citizens of Barbados and [also] the stability of our country.”
The tourism and hospitality industry leader said her association would back the efforts of law enforcement in ensuring that Barbados continues to be a safe and civil place for everyone to enjoy.
“The integrated nature of Barbados’ tourism product means that we want to ensure that our country is free from the scourge of gun violence, and we are committed to doing whatever is possible to support our communities and our police service in combating this recent upsurge,” Coppin assured.
The leaders of two of the island’s political parties also weighed in on the current situation, suggesting a collaborative approach to beating back crime.
President of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Dr Ronnie Yearwood said his organisation was willing to work with the current administration to find a meaningful solution to the crime problem.
“We have called before on the Government, as a matter of urgency, to get together with us as a political party in a bi-partisan approach to get interested parties together and let us devise a clear action plan, because this requires not just talk but it requires action,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“The reality is, a lot of this crime is connected to a lack of opportunities . . . . When people feel there are no chances for them, the reality is crime becomes an outlet and it becomes their opportunity.”
Yearwood also suggested that crime also stems from unfulfilled dreams and a crisis that exists especially among young men that they cannot achieve the things they have been promised.
“There is a sense of hopelessness which has manifested itself across the country, especially in our young people. You can see the outlets and you can see that happening, especially with our young men, and there has to be some form of urgent intervention,” he argued.
“Yes, we can be tough on crime and you want to have policing – that’s a big part of the response – but you also have to recognise that you have to address the causes of crime.”
Leader of the Alliance Party for Progress (APP) Bishop Joseph Atherley also made a case for the authorities to get to the root of the ongoing crime and violence.
The former Opposition Leader is seeking to organise a summit of religious leaders to try to come up with answers.
“I have begun to make some overtures to some church leaders to see if I can pull together a church leaders’ forum to dialogue on this business of violence and crime in Barbados, especially gun-related crime,” he said.
“I am going to lead the effort as a church person, instead as a politician, because we can’t politicise this business of crime. But we cannot refrain from saying the Government has to be more forceful, more robust, clearer, in terms of strategy, to defeat crime in Barbados.”
Bishop Atherley further charged that while the perpetrators of these shootings are mainly black, working-class young men, they were not the ones bringing in the illegal weapons used in their crimes.
“They don’t have the connection, they don’t have the wherewithal to do these things successfully. . . . The police in Barbados must have the capacity to know, to some extent, what is going on. But the question is, if they know, why isn’t anything being done about that?” the APP leader questioned.
Between May 31 and Thursday, Barbados recorded no fewer than 13 shooting incidents resulting in about five deaths.