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Let’s talk about it

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Well, my column was missing in action last week because I had to give priority to some pressing matters. But here I am today, Wednesday, June 1. As I sit down to type my column, the first thing that greets me is news of another murder, the 16th homicide for the year, I believe. The information at this stage is unofficial and sketchy, but appears to involve someone who was shot at Twenty Hill on his way home on Tuesday evening.{{more}} This follows the discovery of a mutilated body at Brownstown in Georgetown on Monday morning. This is no laughing matter and requires serious analysis, led by research, to try to understand what is sparking these crimes. Don’t tell me that crimes are happening everywhere, for ours, on a per capita basis, is extraordinarily high.

The call for analysis and research is to guide not only the authorities, but also the public at large, so that we can try to make sense of what is happening. The Prime Minister has made some comments on this matter. He is assuring us “that SVG will remain a very safe and secure place, but of course, we have people who are seeking to disturb that tranquillity.” The latter part of this statement worries me. Who are the ones seeking to disturb the tranquillity? Am I, by writing about crime, disturbing the nation’s tranquillity? Or is it aimed at finding scapegoats?

I was not impressed with the Prime Minister’s comments on the issue. He, first of all, discounts unemployment as a factor in the upsurge in crime because he states, “You have a lot of people who are unemployed and who trying to hustle and make a dollar doing something legally.” Of course, there are many such people and will always be, but this does not erase the question of unemployment. In fact, to extend this matter further I know many persons who have been trying to make a living and to cater for their families, but are hamstrung by the low level of economic activity and the fact that sometimes their potential customers are unable to buy their services, whether it is selling at the street corners or offering some other service.

Crime, in all its manifestations, and the slate of burglaries are certainly not fed by any one factor. To discount unemployment as a major factor or a factor is like burying one’s head in the sand. Unemployment is something that affects people in a multiplicity of ways, including psychological. There are persons who left school three or four years ago, who have been unable to find jobs. Let us think of the impact this has on young minds. It is as if they have no stake in the society. These youngsters need a lot of help to deal with the psychological impact. It dehumanizes an individual. And all of this in a society where we are being given a picture of what constitutes the good life. In our society, for example, not to have access to a cell phone is a statement in itself. There are some persons, even though in a minority, who prostitute themselves to ensure that they have access to cell phones.

What does an individual who is unemployed do? There are persons, elderly women in particular, who you see with trays at the street corners and it becomes obvious if you observe them for a while that sales are virtually non-existent. I was told by one of them that it was better to get out there and hope that you will make enough money to pay your passage back or to provide a meal for your family than to sit at home. But this applies to a minority, since the majority of unemployed are unlikely to take that route. Unemployment leaves you vulnerable to many things. There is certainly no denying that there are those who are able to withstand the temptations.

The PM’s focus was on greed, on persons seeking to find ‘the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’. I wondered for a while if we in SVG are greedier than persons elsewhere! Greed, of course, is always present and cannot be discounted as a factor in any effort to understand crime; but is it a major factor? Then, of course, there is the drug trade factor, which obviously has to be taken into account. But how do we tackle that? Is it always a case of greed? The unemployed person with little else to do and not many opportunities could be enticed to move to the hills or to facilitate those who work in the hills

On the matter of dealing with crime, the Prime Minister highlights the issues of intelligence and information. He sees these as critical to fighting crime. This is where I become very despondent, for we have at all levels little regard for intelligence. In many cases, force is seen as an alternative. As for information, it is absolutely necessary for the police to continue to develop a better relationship with people in the communities. At one time there was much talk about community policing. I am not sure about its status now, but there is so much more to be done. Crime and the fight against it must become part of our national conversation.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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