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Church leaders speak out on crime, we must act

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I am full of praise for the recent public comments of leaders of the Pentecostal Assembly (bar one) in their weekly television programme last Monday night in commenting on the crime situation in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

What I found most heartening is their recognition that we cannot just attempt to dress the wounds in the society afflicted by this upsurge in violent crime, but must be willing to go beyond and beneath these symptoms of our malaise to address the roots of the problem. In other words, ask ourselves, “Wey causing dat”?

Crime, as a raging topic just won’t go away precisely because we wake up each day to be confronted with new atrocities. It presents golden opportunities for those who wish to play on the fears of our people and peddle all kinds of propaganda for their own selfish reasons, ignoring the damage that it is doing to our society, and economy. The more hysterical and irresponsible we become in painting doomsday pictures of our society, the more harm we do to our own chances of economic development.

This is not to say that we must ignore or downplay the grave threat posed to our peace and security, for it is indeed very serious, but we must never lose hope or perspective. The church leaders must therefore be complimented for their rebuke to all those who are attempting to play politics with the current situation, reminding them to keep the national interests in focus and not go down the road of attempting to make political mileage out of the situation. That is an exercise in futility, even though I am sure that our political leaders will not be able to resist it with the next general elections in mind.

Both Government and Opposition must take some responsibility in this regard. In answering charges that the Government is not fully acknowledging the gravity of the situation, the Government seems more bent on stating what it has done about crime, but cannot resist making digs at the Opposition, even harking back to pre-2001 to back its claim.
There are two angles to this. First, while it is true that this Government has embarked on a number of commendable measures, those alone will not and cannot deal with our current predicament. It goes far beyond Government and police initiatives. Secondly, bearing in mind the age range of those most involved in criminal activities today, talk of pre-2001 is of little relevance, to that age group at least.

On the other hand, it is to be expected in our partisan political climate, that the Opposition would try to pin as much blame as possible on the Government for the current situation. Yet it has to be careful not to create a situation where it is felt that a change of government at the next elections by itself will solve our challenges in crime-fighting. The experiences of the ULP should itself be a warning, but if need be, one can look to Trinidad and Tobago where successive changes of government have not brought an end to the criminal mayhem. It was heartening to hear Opposition leader Godwin Friday express willingness to talk with Government to try and find common ground in a national search for a way out.

That is our only hope in the circumstances. It is pointless for either of the political parties to continue to feed their supporters on political “red meat”, for it leads to misleading conclusions. Thus ULP supporters do not see the NDP march, (advertised first as against crime but like others in the past switched to a focus on jobs, no doubt to win youth support), as an initiative aimed at raising awareness for the fight against crime but as anti-Government.

Similarly, the NDP leadership must shoot down the talk among some supporters that Police only acted in arresting persons accused of robbing a Minister’s wife, “because is Saboto wife”. This does disservice to the efforts of the Police service. It was not so long ago that we were bawling about “police state” here in SVG, now we are calling on the same police to take firm action.

The Church leaders are right in calling for an end to politicking on this grave matter. Only last week this columnist wrote:

“Shouldn’t the political leadership on both sides be meeting together with the Police top-brass, religious and social leaders to find a common solution”?

I can now repeat this as an urgent call. Government, Opposition, Chamber of Commerce, Hotel and Tourism Association, religious and social leaders must treat it with urgency. Our country is getting a bad rap abroad, our people are worried about safety, and we need to act. We cannot leave it to the Police and Government alone. We must act collectively.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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