Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The social climate in The Bahamas is one that lends itself to violence... Poverty, frustration due to the lack of opportunity and creative outlets, alcohol and marijuana abuse, verbal and physical abuse as a means of rearing children, noise and dirt, poor educational achievement, weak state regulation of an array of activities, unemployment, poor housing, and widespread corruption create an enabling environment for criminality

Gangster’s Paradise Part 4

By Ian G. Strachan

Thirty-eight years after independence, we are (in the net) not much better off as a people.  Despite all of our blessings, we have squandered many of the gifts and have not achieved our national potential.  We are living in an era, a time; we are experiencing a moment in this civilization’s history when we are obliged to stop, to reflect, to take note and to question all that we have thought to be right and true.  We must look critically and honestly at our current course, define our preferred destination and reset our course. - Senator Dr. Duane Sands, October 26, 2011


Senator Dr. Duane Sands’ words strike the right chord but they, in the end, are just words.  We face a situation that is far more troubling than those who want our votes will ever admit to.   When I speak to people who know, people who have seen the underbelly of this country up close, they tell me the system, from top to bottom, is plagued by corrupt players.  Where then is the hope?

Certainly we must root out corruption; certainly we must do our best to police neighborhoods, as well as stop and punish criminals, but we must also understand that our greatest hope is in prevention.   I noted last week that I would focus on seven areas.  First we looked at social justice and inequality, at education and at parenting.  We continue now with four more areas of concern.

Discipline and order

The social climate in The Bahamas is one that lends itself to violence.  Poverty, frustration due to the lack of opportunity and creative outlets, alcohol and marijuana abuse, verbal and physical abuse as a means of rearing children, noise and dirt, poor educational achievement, weak state regulation of an array of activities, unemployment, poor housing, and widespread corruption create an enabling environment for criminality.  Bahamians need discipline.  We are an unruly people, accustomed to ad hoc approaches and shortcuts, bribery and curry favoring.  We want punishment doled out for gross offenses like murder, but by and large we want to be left alone to duck taxes, steal by way of employment, buy stolen goods, hire illegal immigrants, break traffic laws, keep a filthy yard, etc.… How do we “reset our course”?

Here are some suggestions.  I’m sure you can think of others.  These will have a cumulative effect on the psyche of Bahamians:

· Legalize and regulate Numbers.   Government should even consider a complete takeover of the industry.  If not, it should heavily tax it and control the number of outlets, hours of operation, and the zones in which they are allowed to operate locations.  Begin seriously educating the public (starting with kids) on the follies of gambling.  Establish services for gambling addicts.

· Bring bars and nightclubs under tighter regulation.   Reduce the number of liquor outlets and control where they can be located.  Strictly enforce the legal drinking age.  Raise the age.  Prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sunday.  Close all bars and clubs at 1 a.m. and heavily police them at closing time.  Include breathalyzer tests in road block inspections.   Increase taxes on alcohol.

· Introduce a unified bus system, including dedicated school buses.  Bring all public buses on strict regulation and management and have them run on a schedule.  Remove loud music from buses.

· Increase the number of public/environmental health inspectors to ensure sanitary conditions of homes and yards with a system of warnings and fines for homeowners and landlords who do not ensure proper sewage disposal or proper garbage containment and collection, and who do not remove derelict vehicles and debris, or who have overgrown yards.

· Crack down on noise makers: whether they are private cars, public buses, corner prayer meetings or bars trying to attract customers.

· Introduce cameras that can catch people driving without seat belts, running lights, riding without helmets or skirting through gas stations to avoid stopping.

Community development

· Follow the recommendation of the 1994 Task Force on Youth Development and establish a network of community centers in every constituency.  Use church spaces or schools after hours.  Provide tutoring, sports leagues for all ages, adult literacy, life-long learning, and Big Brother/Big Sister programs.  Fund these centers through the Ministries of Youth and Education, churches and area businesses.  Take funds for constituencies out of MPs hands and put it in the hands of local boards that can govern and run these community centers.

· Increase funding for all existing outreach and youth organizations, such as Boys Brigade, Scouts, Brownies, Island Stewards, Focus etc.  These groups shouldn’t have to beg for money each year.  Demand data collection and longitudinal studies to track the careers of children in such programs, to ensure that support is justifiable through evidence which proves they prevent delinquency and violent behavior.  (Revisiting the work of Safe Bahamas might be a good start).

· Government should make it a point, through the Ministry of Youth and Culture, or National Security or Social Development, to assist with technical support and funding, in the creation of a Neighborhood Improvement Association in every New Providence neighborhood.  Neighborhood churches can also be enlisted.  These organizations can help police, and help maintain clean neighborhoods and build community cohesion.    They can also lend support to the vulnerable in their midst.  Sadly, most communities will not do this work on their own.  Leadership and support are needed.


At some point this country must acknowledge that the problem of violent crime and crime against the person and property is a male problem.  Males are almost always the perpetrators.  To address crime then, address the socialization and education of males; and we must focus intently on identity formation among boys.  Media images and social mores support a version of manhood that is in many ways destructive and anti-social.  This is at the heart of male violence, male academic underachievement, male disengagement from civil society, male absence from the lives of children, male violence toward women and children, and the pressures on males to rob, steal and deal to acquire and maintain female affections.

Criminal justice

Some cry out for hanging.   Hanging does not deter crime.  As Irwin Waller, author of “Less Law, More Order”, notes, “The rates of homicide are unaffected by whether capital punishment is used or not.  For instance, the rate of decline in rates of homicide in the United States has been similar to that in Canada since 1976 when the United States reinstated the use of the death penalty and Canada took it out of its criminal code.”

I understand the call for the death penalty in a society where 95 percent of the murders between 2005 and 2009 went unpunished by the time of Chaswell Hanna’s 2011 study.  People want to see murderers punished, even more than they want future murderers deterred.  The bitter truth is most crimes (of whatever sort) in this country will forever remain unpunished.  I repeat therefore that our greatest hope is prevention.

Nonetheless, I believe that there is value in making an example of those you do capture and convict.  I believe in reform, but I also believe in appropriate punishment and restorative justice.   Victims, in my view, are best served when their victimizers are made to repay and must face those they made suffer.

I support life sentences for murder (30 years minimum).  Give the murderer no choice but to live with the consequences of his actions; the death penalty in my view is an easy out.  While in prison, make the lifer work for the state and for the victims.  Give him every opportunity to contribute to the society he attempted to destroy.

I also believe we need a national conversation about sentencing.  It should not be left solely to political parties and their MPs to decide.  A recent sentence handed down on a notorious trafficker left me stunned.  The Americans must think we are ridiculous.

We must decriminalize drug use (marijuana and cocaine), and approach these phenomenon as public health issues.  However, since the U.S. may never end the prohibition on these substances, we must get serious about sentencing traffickers.  The danger of course is that cracking down on traffickers doesn’t do away with the traffic; it in fact promotes more violent crime as new players and rivalries over turf emerge.  Which brings us right back to education, social justice, parenting, the economy, etc.

As we crack down on drug traffickers we must ask ourselves this: if possession of a firearm is four years (the public thinks this is too mild by the way), how much do you give the gun trafficker?

If we want to be tougher on crime, we must also be tougher on those who are supposed to uphold the law but instead pervert it.  All judges and magistrates should be appointed through public hearings and their finances should be scrutinized annually.  The same for high ranking policemen and defense force officers; customs, immigration and prison officials; and those who work for the AG’s Office.  They should also all be subject to random drug tests.

In the end, so many of these suggestions come down to one thing: money, money, money, and that is in seriously short supply in this country.  But more than money, it speaks to will, courage, and character.  Are we prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that in 10 to15 years we have a more peaceful, more orderly country than we do today?  If so, we must all make sacrifices, and we must all share the burden.  Otherwise, we’ll continue on our current “course” – anything buckup go.

Nov 14, 2011

Gangster’s Paradise Part 3