Letters & Opinion

A Nation Now Desensitized To Crime

By Louis Murray
By Louis Murray

LAST week Thursday Timothy Poleon’s News Spin programme was for me one of the better ones. It was devoid of the cheap partisan political to and fro which too often characterizes and muddles talk shows, unfortunately, at times like these when serious reflection and constructive inputs are needed on the many critical issues and challenges facing this country.

Setting the stage was the news clip on attorney Alfred Alcide’s voiced concern on the vigilante justice recently meted out to a ‘caught in the act’ house breaker. Alcide stood on the side of the law and the orderly handing over of the perpetrator to the police, even saying the actions of the justice seekers was unlawful. There were callers for and against the actions of the arresting party and a number of interesting points and issues emerged which I will not detail.

Conversely just weeks before that and despite highlighting two homicides on separate days on his Hot Button issue, Poleon was unable to generate a single comment on either of them. Since then St. Lucia has recorded two more murders. Apart from small pockets of vocal concern and often the same persons, it is evident the prevailing frustration surrounding matters relating to crime and an increasing desensitization and indifference which has drawn citizens into an inexcusable malaise on such matters. But for those of us who think it is okay and safe to exist within the walls of our homes or jobs, we cannot live in a bubble and neither will our children. The dangers are now everywhere. So is frustration then the cause of vigilante justice for what we know it to be or is such ‘justice’ a mask for another facet of the very upsurge in lawlessness and criminal activity?

Crime continues to be a major domestic problem with the distinct potential to cripple our economy and ‘normal’ way of life as we know it. It is the genesis of the controversial IMPACS report, possibly the most important document now before government for action and therefore is past being a national crisis. The tentacles of both that report and its subject matter and implications are so far reaching and crippling, one would shudder to contemplate if the consequences are slowly turning Helen of the West into Helen the Wild West.

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To believe we can lie low and play out criminals one against the other will be folly since the cross fire and consequences will fall, directly or indirectly, right back on the country and any one of us, irrespective. Indifference or playing for time are not options if we are to attract large foreign investment particularly in the tourism sector, protect our economic gains and successfully mature as a nation. Some years ago we had the ‘stop the violence’ TV campaign with no less a person than pathologist Dr. Stephen King pleading for an end to senseless killings. Similarly we had the now dismantled National Crime Commission headed by Linwall James. Who rated the level of success of those abandoned initiatives and what went wrong with them?

Pathologist Dr. Stephen King
Pathologist Dr. Stephen King

Indiscipline is an escalating problem particularly among secondary school students. Alcohol, illegal drugs and guns in the minds and hands of our youth, tipped with high doses of unemployment and lack of direction fuels their entrance into the ‘gang’ culture and we see the results of that increasingly being played out on our streets. If we add police inefficiency in their response to reports of crime as claimed by some persons, unsolved serious crime, police deficiencies, unreported crimes by frustrated victims, an inefficient or stuck court system, a comatose and failed justice system, then we have the ingredients for grave societal worry.

By comments made some years ago I detected a fear in Poleon of the country slipping into exactly this national indifference. I am not surprised. My Trinidad experience over the past many years has been whether it is four murders in a week or over a weekend apart from national headlines hardly was there a mutter from persons I would come into contact with. In Jamaica it is likely the same or worse. As a small country with considerably less in every aspect we must all be concerned that we do not traverse that path.

Phillips
Phillips

However it is the depth of contributions from callers to Poleon’s show that gives hope. But that is not enough. Whilst our crime situation must keep getting constant attention, the answers will not lie only in the hierarchy of the police force and or in a cabinet of ministers or select few. That’s a failed thinking tried by other crime riddled islands in the region and falls in line with what calypsonianChalkdust decries in his song ‘Half the Country’. Surely we have a range of relevant and experienced human resource capable of helping to formulate sound anticrime strategies but if requested to. Former Police Commissioner Cuthbert Phillips has lamented on the general non-use of an important part of our already limited pool of specialist and experienced expertise, being passed off as retirees.

I have commented on the need for a massive national symposium on crime to involve all the different sectors, organizations and groups in the country, all persons of good will with something to offer in particular those with relevant experience and also representatives of youth groups to include secondary schoolers. Rehabilitated ex convicts too have a role for we know not from where suggestions can come. In 19th century France, swept with a crime wave the French authorities in desperation appointed a retired notorious criminal Eugene Vidocq to their La SureteNationale and with much success. So I call it a meeting of the minds but someone must lead so as to harness all our available human resource. However such an exercise must be born in sincerity and there must be the will to follow through on suggestions and solutions worthy of consideration. Much is at stake and so we do otherwise at an even greater price.

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