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Time for reshuffle at the Ministry of National Security?

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Fri May 10, 2013

Editor: For us in St Vincent and the Grenadines, we seemingly address crime and violence quite casually, lazily muttering a breath of condemnation as a public chorus according to the heinous nature of a particular act. At other times, we raise a high octave to objurgate in response to the shock and horror when the victim is a child, a woman or an opulent peer. For others, like the recently fallen at Rose Place and Paul’s Avenue, then the public choir retreats to the side-lines of “gossip and nine days talk” or at such time, we are interrupted by something more newsworthy.{{more}}

If Jesse was still gambling, he would bet all that the National Commission on Crime Prevention (NCCP) will continue to selectively issue media releases, taking cue from the pulsating emotion that surrounds certain crimes and violence. We love to peddle the mantra to be “tough on crime and causes of crime”, erect billboards, push radio jingles and dig our heels in the pavement with peace marches and rallies that entertain more than anything else. As it is held that “crime can be seen to be multi-dimensional…” according to the NCCP, we have taken it to mean that we should be sporadic and haphazard in our programming.

The student beats a pan against crime, but he returns home to a broken home and abject poverty. The 15-year-old is drilled at the police youth club, then read the headlines of the country’s DPP threatening to lay charges against the Commissioner of Police for persistent, if not concerted failure to bring charges against colleagues when instructed to do so. On March 19th, I- Witness news reported “that police lethargy resulted in one of their colleagues, who was being investigated for sexual abuse of his 8-year-old daughter, leaving the country”. Then, the continued call for legislative action to end the “myriad of secrecy” and back room deals between parents and abusers, including acts that result in teenage pregnancy, have fallen on deaf ears. Maybe policy makers are more worried about placing a noose around their own necks, so it’s more talking, marching, speech making and pandering.

For some, like Naphtali Diaz, a perpetrator and victim, it is a double-edged sword of irony: “If you live by the gun, you die by the gun”. But this tale does not give justice to the hours of conversation I had with the young man after assisting one of his victims to seek police protection from him. Even in our opposing exchanges, Diaz still revealed how the world of crime is like a tangled web that forever snares those that taste its poisonous water. Our society pushes convicted criminals to the margins, ostracised to fend for themselves and taunted as birds who will never be able to fly again; a jailed bird. Naphtali said “every effort I made to get a passport was a problem.” He lamented to me after he appeared in court on another charge “If I don’t act out my badness, then people will walk over me and do me as they wish; it’s all about living up to expectations and putting on a show”. The poems he wrote were never heard, nor his wish to write the story of his life in the local newspaper fulfilled. His chapter has ended, but there are so many others who are convicted and condemned.

Contrast this with the young man I also know that spent five years on remand, charged with murder, only to be released after a long winding preliminary inquiry that shows that the police had not mustered a single shred of conclusive evidence to support their charge. How does society repay the “innocent” that have been themselves victims of our institutional incompetence? They are released into that same abyss of hopelessness, stigmatization and lost ideals in justice. One Facebook thread following the recent deaths reads “why does everyone care when it is too late”. However, there are some other stories, those that shine a ray of light through the darkness. On February 9, the Global Highlights radio programme featured two youths, Devon Clark and Iran James, who shared their experiences of a difficult childhood of poverty and domestic violence that pushed them into a life of crime. They said after dropping out of school, it was surviving “by any means necessary”. With the help of Youth Business SVG, they were looking forward to using the skills learnt at the tailor shop, while at prison, to live a more productive life.

Reshuffle?

On this backdrop, I ask the vexing question of what can we really do? Who has the answers on crime? What steps should we take? No government has the answers on crime and our political posturing and gyrating have not helped. We also know that over-policing is not the answer. The police mobile units that rove around areas like Laventille and Diego Martin in Trinidad show how criminals unleash their terror without fear. For, if men are laws unto themselves, if we disregard a higher authority of law emanating from natural law, universal spiritual laws or collectively man-made, then what hope remains for us? Yet, we must believe that the majority in our society are law-abiding, hard-working, productive and desire to live in communal peace and prosperity. So, we have to renew our efforts, strengthen our resolve to extinguish the culture of crime and violence that is becoming status quo.

Today, the Ministry of National Security causally sits in the plethora of portfolio burden carried by the Prime Minister, as if to say that it does not justify the attention of a dedicated functionary, unburdened by finance, economic development, legal affairs, Grenadines affairs etc. Even as a mother called in on Hot 97.1 AM Mayhem program on Tuesday, May 7, to share her concern of CID officers placing her 12-year-old son in a transport without first informing her, the Ministry that has oversight for the police and other forces carry on with a Line Minister who travels frequently, pursuing other national development matters. In other jurisdictions, a Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs is a permanent fixture in Cabinet, but not here, since the departure of Sir Vincent Beache. If it is that the present Cabinet lacks the requisite skills or ministers lack the seniority to deal with this important ministry, then, a special appointment is needed, similar to that of Dr Jerrol Thompson’s service on ICT development. Another option is for a shake-up in the government senators that will allow for a qualified and experienced member of society to take up a senatorial position to lead the government’s “fight against crime and the causes of crime”.

But maybe crime and violence are not too serious in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Maybe the Ministry of National Security is not important enough to stand alone. Maybe our communities lack the personnel with the necessary and requisite skills to contribute meaningfully at the highest level. Maybe we are too self-conscious about our failures to allow change. Whatever it is, we cannot continue with this abuse against seriousness.

Until then, we retreat in poet Celine Berghmans’ words:

“Silence is no silence,

fear engulfs loved ones,

voices in head pray,

for safety of a lost one”.

Adaiah J Providence-Culzac

cemsvg@gmail.com

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