Letters & Opinion

Violence in Saint Lucia: What is the “something” we can do about it?

By Peter Marshall

The recent spate of violence in Saint Lucia is disturbing to say the least.

In the past week, we have heard reports of the seizure of twenty guns and over one-hundred rounds of ammunition, including an Uzi Submachine Gun and Six AR15 rifles. Since this seizure, I have not read of any arrests or charges arising therefrom, so it is a bit confusing as to whom, if anybody, these weapons were seized from. To add insult to injury, almost every Saint Lucian has seen the videos of gunmen cavorting around Vieux Fort in broad daylight exchanging gunfire just a few days later. At the time of writing, I have not heard of any arrests arising from these activities either.

In response to this worrying uptick in violence the Honourable Prime Minister Mr Philip J. Pierre has indicated that “something will have to be done…we have to do something about it”.

I agree with him.

Almost everyone agrees that this increase in violence is as a result of gang activity. The word “gang” litters every comment section of every article that I’ve read concerning the situation. The Honourable Member of Parliament for Vieux Fort South and former Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony in a statement released is quoted as saying:

“It is clear that there can be no solution until the gangs are disarmed and for that, we need the support of the entire community… As I have done in the past, I urge those responsible for the gang warfare that is crippling our community to stop the senseless killings.”

I also agree with him.

I was therefore shocked to find out that Anti-Gang legislation exists in Saint Lucia. In fact, Anti-Gang legislation has existed in Saint Lucia from 2014. Even more shocking perhaps is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no prosecutions under the Anti-Gang Act since this time. If there have been any, my queries have not revealed them. If there have been any convictions I am similarly in the dark.

Assuming therefore that there have been no prosecutions and no convictions, it would seem to me that perhaps the use of the Anti-Gang Act can be part of the “something” that the Honourable Prime Minister was referring to.

I propose a brief examination of the provisions of the Act.

The Anti-Gang Act

The Act defines what a gang is and what is gang related activity:

“gang” means a group, however organised, that—

(a) is composed of three or more persons in or outside of Saint Lucia; and (b) has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation of a criminal offence or the commission of a criminal offence

“Gang related activity” means any activity, whether criminal or not, that would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt, by the gang or by a gang member, of any advantage, including—

(i) increase in the gang’s prestige, reputation, influence, dominance, control or the number of persons who constitute the gang;

(ii) retribution or revenge for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with, the gang or a gang member;

(iii) obstruction of justice for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with, the gang or gang member;

(iv) a financial benefit; or

(v) enhancing the ability of a gang to facilitate or commit an offence;

“participate in gang-related activity” includes joining a gang, being a gang member or a gang leader, recruiting persons to participate in gang activity, preventing another person from ending his or her gang membership, or affiliation and contributing to gang activity.

Anyone who is convicted on indictment of participation in gang related activity is liable to a fine of $300,000.00 and to imprisonment for 20 years.

Assuming that the guns mentioned earlier were seized from actual persons, those individuals, if it could be proved that their possession of the weapons was for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a gang, would be liable to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $100,000.00.

The Anti-Gang Act has the ability to remove large swaths of violence producing components of society in a single go. The penalties stipulated by the Act are not insignificant. They would serve the dual purpose of allowing the violence producers a significant amount of time to rehabilitate and, once convictions and sentences start rolling out, it would also act as a deterrent for those who are contemplating that way of life.

It is clear that an increased police presence is not enough. It is clear that visiting the area after the fact solves nothing. I cannot recall or identify a single instance when appealing to gang members to “put down the guns” has been an effective crime fighting solution.

The Anti-Gang Act was enacted for a reason. If it is not utilized or if it is under-utilized the only plausible reason must be that those who can use it are unable or, worse, unwilling. If it is that offences under the Act are difficult to successfully investigate, lay charges and prosecute, it can be amended.

A proliferation of gangs, with the tacit and actual empowering of the said gangs, combined with only lip service in response, lead to Jamaica becoming the murder capital of the Caribbean.

Surely this is not the future we wish for the Helen of the West.

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