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Time to bring out the iron fist

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Today St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is experiencing a surge in fatal shootings that has the potential to destabilize the society. Of course, the scourge of violence is not unknown to any society. And the ways to combat violence also reflect the historical and cultural understandings that every society brings to the challenge of guaranteeing collective security, while protecting individual liberties.{{more}} These two goals sometimes conflict. When individual liberties are not tethered to any sense of moral responsibility, this poses a genuine danger to the collective security of the entire society.

It is absolutely clear that SVG is at this point today. There are young men who abuse the individual liberties granted them under our constitutional framework and threaten the freedoms of everyone else. They loot, they shoot, and they kill without compunction. And in their own minds they do so with impunity.

This sense of invulnerability, however, is false. For a society that faces an existential threat is utterly justified in using any means necessary to guarantee its own survival. And that invariably means putting in place measures which, while they would decrease individual liberties, they increase collective security. SVG is also at the point where we must and have begun to put in place such measures. The five-year prison sentence handed down on Monday, to a Rose Place resident within seven days of his arrest for being in illegal possession of a firearm, is testament to the steel with which we must deal with these burgeoning challenges. But we can and must do more.

Of particular urgency is the need to put a powerful, permanent, and visible police presence in the areas of highest crime. Rose Place, Ottley Hall and Monkey Hill (Upper New Montrose) are three such places which warrant a projection of police power. As Minister of National Security, the Prime Minister ought to demand from the Commissioner of Police an explanation for the absence of a heavy patrolling police presence in these high crime areas. These areas have at times become the Vincentian version of the ‘Wild West,’ as young men engage in lethal combat and sometimes in broad daylight. For the sake of the law-abiding citizens, the police must implement a security plan that restores tranquility, not only to the areas immediately affected by crime, but also to the broader body politic, which is now beginning to be convulsed by a paroxysm of fear emanating from the high incidence of mortal combat taking place in these areas.

Tougher measures may be needed. The police can, in fact, construct a profile of the typical Vincentian gunman and design a stop and frisk programme consistent with the elements of the profile. Those persons in illegal possession of firearms need to know we are hunting them. Of course, there are some innocent persons who would be caught in such a sweep. But the security needs of the many outweigh the inconvenience of the few. Moreover, there may come a time when the contraption of illegally constructed shacks in Rose Place, which have now become a haven of criminals, would need to be bulldozed and permanently removed from the bayside. Their very presence represents a scar on the landscape and the crimes originating in these areas compound the injury.

We are aware that such a display of the coercive powers of the state stands outside of the usual policing practices in SVG. But even here, we still would not have exhausted the full powers of the state. For, in the most extreme of circumstances, we can impose a state of emergency and implement a curfew that can severely restrict the movement of criminals in areas of high crime. For there can be no doubt, if we need to use the iron fist to curb crime, then let it be.

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