A few months later, the Federal Government organized a major “Conference on Crime” in order to gather more solutions for arresting the situation. All the local and regional big shots were there – Prime Minister Douglas, the Hon. Patrick Manning (the then CARICOM Head of Government responsible for Security), the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, the Hon. Mark Brantley, the Director of the RSS and numerous others. The murder rate for 2008 was 23.
Fast forward to 2011, 3 years later and we have already racked up 27 murders! Bear in mind that we only recently past the halfway mark for the year! So much for that big “Conference on Crime” and our highly renowned “FBI Consultant and Crime Prevention Expert”!
Now that we are face with such a sordid situation, my question simply is, how many more? How many more must die before our parents get the message? How many more must die before our people on a whole get the message? How many more must die before our Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil L. Douglas and his government get the message?
27 murders for a country with a population as small as St. Kitts and Nevis simply does not sound good; no matter how anyone tries to spin it. Our Federation depends significantly on tourism and foreign direct investment. We are just emerging from the throes of a severe economic recession. Small business owners have been complaining of how hard things are financially.
Indeed, I am often reminded of their pain and pressure whenever my dear Aunt Rodney Elliot tells me how difficult she sometimes finds it to make a dollar. This is why as we seek to reposition our tourism industry to engineer greater economic growth, national security should be part and parcel of our development strategy. Yet, the 27 murders to date says otherwise.
Over the past week, I have listened to several talk shows and read numerous articles positing solutions to the challenge of crime. Some have called for greater involvement from the church; others have pleaded for a return to the days when it took an entire community to raise a child and several have lobbied for the strengthening of social programs which target negative attitudes from an early age. You can also bet that there are those individuals who are calling for yet another “Conference” (Good Lord!).
While these suggestions are all well and good, they are, at this stage, medium-long term solutions. We have to accept that the people who are committing these cold-blooded murders are hardened, gang-bangers who are simply past the stage of reproach or rehabilitation! No amount of “Sunday School”, “proper parental control” or “social program” will rescue them from the abyss in which they have now found themselves. Certainly, these strategies will not work without the harsh law enforcement and political leadership that has been missing from this matter.
I have listened to the Hon. Mark Brantley, time and again, proclaim that he does not blame the Prime Minister and his government for crime, but they must take the lead in eradicating it. Yet, some get offended whenever he makes this statement.
I for one am extremely sympathetic to Mr. Brantley’s point of view. In fact, I endorse it and to those who maintain that “the Prime Minister can’t do nothing” or “lef d PM, wa else ayu want um do”, then you need to do some serious introspection.
Political support does not necessarily mean that you must be loyal to a politician and defend him stoutly; for better or for worse and till death do you part! There is a lot more that the Prime Minister and his government can do to arrest this situation.
For starters, our detection mechanisms are poor and it’s hardly any wonder why criminals are committing these gruesome crimes with impunity. Why don’t we have a fingerprint database to better aid us in detecting these culprits? Wouldn’t such a system help us to better solve these murders, especially when the possibility exists that some of these criminals are repeat offenders?
What about CCTV cameras? For so long I have heard about these gadgets, only to be informed that they have merely been mounted but are not yet fully functional. Are we serious? Where are we going? Operational CCTV cameras should be all throughout St. Kitts and Nevis, particularly in the towns and hot spots. If it is that the government is lacking in funds, then I encourage the Prime Minister to once again approach Taiwan or another friendly government; and solicit their financial assistance to make these devices fully functional, just as he did with the laptop program.
Another glaring deficiency in our security system is evident in our numerous ports of entry. Proper security procedures need to be put in place to scan passengers and baggage at the ferry terminals in Basseterre and Charlestown. As it relates to the Sea Bridge, I certainly welcome the concept of this vessel that has undoubtedly helped to facilitate more convenient travel between our islands; and boost trade and commerce.
However, it would be foolhardy for us to continue along the present path of having vehicles go to and fro without constant security checks. I swear I could transport a bomb in the back of my vehicle from Majors Bay, St. Kitts to Cades Bay, Nevis and no one would ever know. While I am an avid supporter of the Sea Bridge, the security measures are just too lax and too inviting for potential criminals.
The Government should also consider establishing a forensic lab and through its training program, offer two full scholarships to two of our young, bright minds to study Forensic Science and Criminology. That way, we can have local persons who are qualified to engage in DNA testing and gunshot residue analysis, thereby helping us to process evidence at a quicker rate.
I am also beseeching the Prime Minister to please send the security forces into the troubled areas and conduct random search and seizure operations. We do not need to wait until the murder rate reaches 40 or a tourist is shot to do this.
The sad thing about our mentality is that it seems like only when a visitor to our shores becomes the victim of what our citizens are more prone to on a daily basis that we finally begin to act.
I remember one year ago, shortly after Brazil won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, I turned on my television to BBC which aired coverage of a massive operation being taken to rid the Brazilian slums of fire arms and gangs. Federal troops, helicopters and all sorts of heavy artillery were imported to assist with the mission. I was pleased at the sight of this; not merely because I intend to visit Brazil in 2016 but because I had heard for quite some time that Rio de Janeiro (the actual site for the 2016 Olympic games) was for several years home to some of the most fierce drug gangs in the world.
However, the immense bliss and pleasure that hit me when I heard this news quickly subsided after a bit of contemplation. Why? Because for years it was manifestly clear to everyone, that Ri De Janiero had a serious problem with violent gang crime but it took the government news that there would be an influx of tourists for the 2016 Olympics for them to decisively address the problem.
I then began to question, if it was ever a case that the Brazilian Government was not capable of confronting the crime situation or if they simply never cared.
Irrespective of what the rightful conclusion is, I am appealing to our Prime Minister not to wait until we have a major international tournament to take decisive action. By then, it may be too late.
I am suggesting to our Prime Minister, that we do not need any more “conferences” or “consultants”. We know what needs to be done. What is now needed is the will power to do it.
I am speaking directly to our Honourable Prime Minister when I say, “I generally like you. You are a very charismatic politician but now you must stand up and be an even more courageous and compassionate leader!” Until you do, I shall continue to wake every morning in anticipation of receiving news of another young life that has been taken by violent gun-crime – the only response to which I can reasonably give, being. . . “How Many More?”