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Violent crime – A worrying factor

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Time and again, we have had to make editorial comment on the level of crime in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean in general. We do so, not on account of any fondness for repetition, but because it is a recurring phenomenon in our societies for which we seem to have no answer.{{more}}

The crime situation in the Caribbean has been turned into a political football by our politicians. Opposition parties seize on every upsurge to blame governments for incompetence, while governments in turn juggle with statistics to try to convince their citizens that they are making serious inroads in combatting crime. Yet, all the while, the incidents continue unabated, often, in the case of violent crime, increasing in intensity and ferocity. Most worrying is the involvement of young people, men and women alike, in committing such crimes.

There have been some high-profile crimes against tourists, in islands like Antigua, Tobago and St. Lucia, which have been harmful to the tourism industry and helped to tarnish the image of the Caribbean as a safe destination for tourists. Also extremely worrying are the wanton acts of violence against our own citizens. Whether domestic violence, or blatant acts of gang or drug related violence, or increasingly, armed robbery, Caribbean people are being terrorised by those within their midst. It is not a comforting thought.

It is easy to be emotional in response, as we have tended to be. This includes the loud call for harsh punishments for offenders, including the application of the death penalty. The latter has been virtually ruled out by our continued adherence to the British Privy Council and its opposition to capital punishment. In fact, one of the countries most plagued by violent crime, Trinidad and Tobago, has just amended its Constitution to permit the reintroduction of the death penalty. There are dangers inherent in knee-jerk responses to crime, in terms of the dangers of infringing on fundamental human rights, against which one must safeguard.

While there is undoubtedly a connection between crime and poverty, we must also be careful about making simplistic links. While poverty is undoubtedly a contributing factor, the situation in the Caribbean is far more complicated than that. There are serious sociological and cultural factors involved. Exposure to the wider world via telecommunications has brought with it heightened expectations. Many persons want to have what they consider to be the luxuries of life, without having to work their way towards attaining them. The prevailing ideology and practices are such that it matters not how, but how much. The rewards, not the methods, are all that seem to matter.

This has profound implications for the society as a whole and for law enforcement in particular. It makes the fight against crime that much more difficult and endangers the lives and property of citizens even further. But it is a fight that we can ill afford to lose.