Violent crime: A national concern not a political football
“ And the beat goes on……..”
Those haunting words from a very popular song of the seventies are today driving us into a state of restlessness bordering on paranoia. Week after week, there are the dreaded reports of murder, wanton shootings, armed robbery and the like. We have reached the stage where the daily conversation, whether person-to-person, by electronic or social media, begins with some sordid account of the violence of the previous night.
Simply put we are almost on the verge of a national tragedy. It helps little when we try to comfort ourselves that the rest of the region is in similar straits. However the biggest tragedy is our handling of the situation – sensationalized, localized, and, we dare say it, politicised. It is as though all of us, to one degree or another, are taking a warped sense of acceptance of our national predicament.
Our newspapers, call-in programmes on local radio, and the ever-present social media, seem to be drowning in a sea of competition over who has the ‘real’ story, even the gory details. How does this help? Are we any closer to coming to grips with the root of the problem? Or, are the symptoms enough for us?
Disturbingly, citizens are very worried about the failure to locate many culprits, persons who commit murder brazenly, or if caught and charged, to secure convictions. This leads to fear of many witnesses to testify for fear of deadly reprisal and a sense that not even the law can protect us from such violent lawlessness.
Worse, and the Leader of the Opposition has made the point, it is as though we are being assured that innocent, law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear; criminal recrimination will take its toll.
That is a frightening thought. Where are the reassurances from the government and the Police that steps are being taken, positively, to tackle the situation? Not even a show of confidence in terms of a press briefing by the Commissioner of Police, the heads of the crime division, Minister of National Security etc.
At the same time the responsibility does not rest with the Police and Security officials alone. Again and again there is talk of the role of the public but often, we as citizens are ambivalent. When we feel threatened we call for strong measures but let those measures only affect us and our families, we are the same ones quick on Facebook, on call-in programmes and in the newspapers to complain of “heavy-handed” police actions, including stop and search.
Criminals are getting away partly because our actions aid and abet them, knowingly or unknowingly. Even the Police sometimes announce in advance about special operations, thereby giving warning.
We are in dire straits and no amount of finger-pointing, crime statistics to tell us not to worry, or straight political claims which tend to make a political football out of a critical situation will help us. We must all acknowledge the gravity of our situation and work together to handle it.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.