The time has come for St. Lucians to show slate on the violence that has now become an integral part of our daily lives. Time to express our collective outrage and to demand a forceful response from the government.
Last weekend’s crime log reached new heights with at least 17 people shot in the space of 24 hours. This is an incredible statistic for our country. The escalation has a lot to do with the veil of silence that has hung over the island in recent months when people in position of power and influence refused to take a stand, thus encouraging criminals to take their activities several notches higher.
The new reality is that this crisis is beginning to seriously impact the economic sectors of our country, and as such becomes an issue of concern not just for the government and the police but equally so for those individuals and organizations whose activities pump the economy and provide jobs for our people.
Before I go any further let me acknowledge Monday’s public statement by the Acting Commissioner of Police. It was the kind of statement I had hoped would have been made by the Prime Minister, our “commander in chief” a week before.
We keep hearing that fighting crime is everybody’s business and how true. But how come so many people in our country are behaving as though they care little about the reign of terror that we have been under for so many months? The Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture was once a powerful voice in this country that was always prepared to step out of its comfort zone in times of crisis, when our country was under threat from within. In fact, the Chamber was an important influencer in the discussions that led to the resignation of a government in early 1982 following nearly three years of political turmoil within the St Lucia Labour Party.
On that occasion too, a spirited St Lucia media not only reported fearlessly on the months of political wrangling that was going on, but also campaigned for decisive action to bring the crisis to a satisfactory conclusion with forceful commentaries. The sad reality is that the St Lucia media has all but died. There are now very few journalists of note working in “the fourth estate”. What we have had in recent months are simply “people working in the media” and most of them have been bought off with positions by the government.
Both organizations just referenced fall under another important state umbrella called “civil society” that includes trade unions, the church, law and order groups like the Bar Association, youth (the National Youth Council), other civic and social bodies but they have all gone silent in the face of the carnage taking place in our streets and across our communities. The only voices being heard are those of the opposition and the unidentified callers to talk shows on radio and television.
Against this background of national lethargy, should it surprise anyone that criminals have continued to operate with such boldness and defiance? Do they sense that there is any massive lobby in our country opposed to what they are doing? Of course not, and it has only given them the energy to carry on as usual.
Some people talk about politicizing crime but how can we not do so when some things stare us in the face. Over the years, we have seen that there are very fundamental differences between the present government and the opposition in the approach to tackling crime and lawlessness in our country. It expunged the criminal records of persons who were charged with breaking Covid laws, and then Prime Minister Anthony once pleaded with criminals terrorizing the public for mercy at Christmas. In addition, crime has festered in many SLP strongholds over the years without response from Labour governments.
Compare this with the UWP’s record. When protesting banana farmers blocked roads to stop traffic between the north and Vieux Fort in 1993, John Compton ordered the police to do what was necessary to restore access. They did. Incidentally, the Chamber of Commerce played a mediatory role in resolving that dispute. When crime became an issue in 2010 Stephenson King ordered Operation Restore Confidence and criminals disappeared. When people refused to heed instructions to fight Covid, Allen Chastanet instituted a state of emergency and curfew. which achieved the desired results. Of course, we remember Prime Minister Pierre discontinuing the SOE causing Covid numbers to spike higher than before.
There should have been greater consistency in how we as a country treat crime and other acts of lawlessness if those so-called responsible organizations that comprise civil society would take a stand when our country is in crisis, instead of sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. It would have sent a message loud and clear to these outlaws that their terror would not be tolerated.