Gangster’s Paradise Part 2
By Ian G. Strachan
This week we continue our series on crime in The Bahamas. It seems fitting to take stock of the research and consultative work that Bahamians have already undertaken. We will work backwards about 20 years, with reports we have easy access to.
We begin with Police Sergeant Chaswell Hanna’s 2011 study, “Reducing Murders in The Bahamas: A Strategic Plan Based on Empirical Research” (available at 62foundation.org/resources). These are among the more interesting facts and observations made by Hanna.
First, the murder rate for the past 12 years (I have added the last two years): 2000-74; 2001-43; 2002-52; 2003-50; 2004-44; 2005-52; 2006-61; 2007-78; 2008-72; 2009-79; 2010-94; 2011-109 so far.
Between 2005 and 2009, the period Hanna studies most closely, 13 percent of murders involved domestic violence, 18 percent took place during robberies, eight percent happened outside or in bars and night clubs and 61 percent involved a firearm.
Hanna notes that of the 349 classified murders between 2005 and 2009, police were only able to build 243 cases – 231 charges were filed but only 130 murder cases were sent to the Supreme Court. Only 34 cases were completed in the time frame and there were 10 murder convictions, eight manslaughter convictions and zero executions.
So for cases that actually were completed, there was a 53 percent conviction rate. But of the 349 classified murders between 2005 and 2009, only 37 percent resulted in a trial. And, so far, only five percent of murders resulted in someone being convicted of either murder or manslaughter. To put this another way, 95 percent of the murders during this period remain unpunished. This is despite the fact that police believe they have identified the murder suspect 73 percent of the time between 2005 and 2009. Hanna claims that 54 percent of murder suspects offered a full or partial confession.
Hanna noted that “most local murder incidents in New Providence occurred in communities where annual household incomes fell below the island’s average. This indicates that preventive strategies aimed at particular offenses ought to be complemented by, and complementary to, broader long-term initiatives to address poverty and social exclusion.”
There’s more. He adds: “Findings in this study revealed that 46 percent of persons charged with murder [2005-2009] had prior criminal records involving violence. In fact, 15 percent of these suspects had been previously charged with another murder. Further analysis disclosed that 34 percent of persons charged with murder during the study period were on bail.”
Previous crime reports
From Hanna’s report we move to the 2008 National Advisory Council on Crime Report (available at 62foundation.org/resources). The council was headed by Bishop Simeon Hall. This report makes an array of recommendations from the standpoint of policing, the judicial system, incarceration and rehabilitation and prevention. In addition to calling on government to encourage and assist citizens to establish voluntary crime watch programs, such as the citizens on patrol program and to expand the educational, vocational and entrepreneurial projects and programs currently being taught at the prison, inclusive of the training of personnel, the report pays particular attention to youth development. It calls on government to:
• Strengthen and/or develop community centers and national afterschool programs.
• Strengthen rehabilitative services for all special populations – youth, disabled, substance abusers and persons diagnosed with mental illnesses by the use of multidisciplinary support teams.
• Promote positive lifestyles and culture for young people.
• Ensure the wider dissemination of information on youth organizations, programs and services.
• Strengthen the national educational curriculum to instill a greater sense of national pride and self-esteem in young people.
• Significantly raise the standards and performance of our education system and our nation’s students.
• Support and/or expand existing parental training.
• Strengthen and make mandatory the family life studies program in all schools.
Thirteen years earlier, in 1998, Burton Hall, David Allen, Simeon Hall, Jessica Minnis and others submitted the National Commission on Crime Report. I have a particular interest in the following points made by the team, although these are only a fraction of the ones made:
• The incidence of “domestic violence” throughout The Bahamas is of such a level as to be a cause for grave concern among all residents, and innovative measures are required to cure this plague which replicates its consequences among succeeding generations.
• Commissioners are of the view that the reversal of our present problems begins with the elementary need to teach people how to parent.
• Commissioners add their voices to the lament of the small number of men who have remained as teachers in the system. This problem tends to perpetuate itself in that young men, seeing teaching as “womens’ work,” would not be inclined to themselves become teachers. The reasons for this are complex, and obviously tied up in the question of remuneration.
• New Providence is filthy. That is the stark reality ... squalid surroundings strongly suggest a mentality conducive to other forms of anti-social activities, extending even to criminal behavior.
• We have no evidence that Haitians are, as a people, any more prone to violent or criminal behavior than are other peoples, including Bahamians.
• While a number of churches have developed community centers and host, for example, afterschool homework quarters, it appears to us that the physical facilities controlled by various churches remain largely underutilized.
The 1998 report revealed that really, nothing much had changed since the Consultative Committee on National Youth Development, led by Drexel Gomez, shared its findings in 1994. Among many other things, it called on government to:
• Discontinue social promotion and, at the same time, produce alternative programs for under-achievers.
• Establish a training/research center for teachers to provide ongoing monitoring of the educational system with appropriate emphasis on the social, emotional and cognitive needs of Bahamian youth.
• Provide ... special incentives to males to enter the teaching profession. Our committee considers that the virtual absence of male members of staff in the primary system is adversely impacting on the performance of male members of the student body. Our committee is also of the view that this matter should be addressed as a national emergency requiring special measures to alter the present imbalance.
• Commission the Department of Statistics to conduct a youth labor survey
• [Initiate] A “Media Summit” at which the government and all social partners, particularly the media, advertisers and sponsors, will be invited to consider a national policy on the media and to identify ways and means to establish stronger indigenous media.
• [Cause] The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas [to] place special emphasis on the production of appropriate youth programs for television and radio.
• Encourage sponsorship of local educational programs by the creation of fiscal incentives.
• [Encourage] The private sector to promote and sponsor productions that convey a sense of Bahamian identity.
• [Develop] Community centers at the neighborhood level or constituency level.
The committee wishes to recommend that community centers be established as part of the fabric of each community to assist young people and adults with lifelong skills and personal enrichment programs. Such facilities can rekindle the sense of community participation and cooperation among the people who must take charge of their communities. The strategy employed by the government to ensure that at least a park is in each constituency throughout The Bahamas is an important step in the right direction. Equally important is the need for a policy decision to ensure that a community center is part of each community.
What have we done with this research?
More on this final note. The committee envisioned that these centers would develop programs to “satisfy the educational, social, economic, spiritual, cultural, sporting, civic and community service needs. Additionally, areas of day care, children’s programs, afterschool programs, teen programs, school drop-outs and adult education and senior citizens activities can be provided at the community center. The goal should be to establish a community center in each neighborhood or settlement.”
Of course, former MP Edmund Moxey tried to model this in Coconut Grove as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s, with his Coconut Grove Community Centre on Crooked Island Street and the now demolished, but not forgotten, Jumbey Village.
These initiatives involved a high level of community effort. Sir Lynden Pindling is credited with calling for national service in the 1980s, but this idea was being advanced in his cabinet by men like Moxey from the nation’s first years. Sir Lynden bulldozed and starved Moxey’s dream to death. And in the 44 years since majority rule, I know of no other effort like the Coconut Grove initiatives by any church, state or civic group.
Why haven’t we acted on these recommendations as common sense as so many of them are? What are we waiting for? The people’s anguished call for the blood of the murderer will continue to go unanswered. There will be no shortcut to peace and prosperity. The hangman’s noose won’t save us. The policeman cannot be everywhere at all times. The prison cells cannot hold all the people who need to be confined, disciplined and punished. There will be no shortcut to commonwealth. To address our crime problem comprehensively, we must address our way of life comprehensively. But we haven’t the will.
More next week.
Oct 31, 2011