Monday, June 3, 2013

The Bahamas is facing a crime crisis... but the nation is not in crisis mode

Crime crisis threatens nation
High crime threatens future

Guardian News Editor

The Bahamas today is facing a crisis, but the country is not in crisis mode.

There is no sense of urgency or direction from government, or any key area of society for that matter to address the alarming rate of violence in the country, and a worsening erosion of our moral fabric.

The crime situation today is like a bucket with a million holes.  There is a leak from every direction.

The government has touted the success of its Urban Renewal 2.0 program, but in New Providence the crime problem rages on.

No one is comforted by reports from the national security minister and the police commissioner that there are fewer murders now when compared to last year.

Gunshots are ringing out at a rate that threatens communities on a nightly basis. The bodies are piling up, and there is a sense that the fear of crime is also rising.

Countless young men especially have been carted off our streets in body bags and too many of us appear to be growing numb to reports of more murders.

This past weekend, three more were recorded. There were two on Wednesday and four over the recent Whit Monday holiday weekend.

So between Saturday, May 18 and Saturday, May 25, the country recorded nine murders.

The government says it has increased resources for police and patrols have been beefed up.

But the terror continues.

More than a year after the Progressive Liberal Party erected its famous murder billboards in key areas in New Providence — most notably tourist areas — the government seems paralyzed in presenting solutions.

If ever there were a lesson on why no one should politicize crime, this would be high on the list.

The politicization of crime is not new, however.

In its 1999 report, the Crime Commission headed by Justice Burton Hall observed that politicians, from all sides, have succumbed to the temptation to treat the issue of crime as a target for partisan posturing.

“While we recognize that, in a democracy, any government must be open to criticism over its perceived failure in the area of crime, as with all areas which form the fabric of national life which governments are elected to secure and enhance, we are concerned that in the welter of political rhetoric it tends to be lost that the facet of government responsibility for the social phenomenon of crime is but one of many,” the commission said.

Long after the PLP billboards, many Bahamians are more fearful in their homes, afraid to travel the streets at nights and more cautious about their movements even during the daytime hours.

Parents of young adults find it increasingly difficult to sleep at nights when their children are out of the house.  The peace of our beloved Bahamas is threatened.

While we have much to be proud of as it relates to our young people, there is much to worry about.

With some streets in New Providence being turned into war zones, and growing fears that crime could seriously threaten our economy, there is need for national outcry, but more importantly, national action to arrest the problem.

In the face of mounting criticisms that the church has lost its voice after winning the January 28 gambling referendum, the Christian Council intends to announce today that it is planning a national prayer gathering on June 18.

“If you are tired of what is happening to our beloved country you need to be there,” Christian Council President Rev. Dr. Ranford Patterson wrote on his Facebook page.

“The problem we face is not a government alone problem, no matter what is being reported.

“It is a Bahamian problem, so let us take responsibility to solve it. I believe the answer is in God.”

Patterson added that he believes that at the prayer gathering “the power of God will shake this country once and for all”.

There is no doubt that we as a nation need to be shaken up.  The church’s role in this fight, however, will need to be more than just praying.

Let us pray for God’s guidance, but let us also be serious about acting to change our communities.

The Christian Council must show leadership on issues outside gambling if it is to be taken seriously.

Losing hope

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of our independence, we have a Bahamas that is ‘drifting’, according to retired Anglican Archbishop Drexel Gomez, who 20 years ago chaired the Consultative Commission on National Youth Development.

In 1993, he called for a national youth development policy, saying a successful policy “would be one that addresses the real needs of the nation’s youth”.

“What has happened over the last 20 years is that social pressures have increased from several different directions,” Gomez told The Nassau Guardian when contacted for comment.

“And so, the impact on the society generally has been a negative one in that the whole drug scenario hasn’t left us.  In fact, in many instances it has become worse.  It has certainly become more violent now.

“There is evidence to indicate there is definitely some kind of warfare going on among gangs and retaliation and armed conflicts.

“I firmly believe that if as a society we had stopped 20 years ago and really made some decisions to get serious about what we do about our neighborhoods and what we do about creating community, that we would have made some headway, but I think we’ve gone in a negative direction and the other pressures in society have increased.

“I hope we can come to terms with it, but it certainly must be a community exercise.  One or two groupings cannot do it.”

Gomez said the findings of the youth commission were not sufficiently appreciated by the general public at the time they were presented.

“In fact, some of the findings were highly questioned because there were many people who preferred to remain ignorant than to face up to the truth,” he said.

What has transpired in the two decades since has been a worsening situation, he observed.

Gomez said many young people today are lost.

“So many are unemployed,” he noted.  “So many don’t see much of a future and they aren’t encouraged to even look for things because many have reconciled themselves to the fact that life is going to be difficult.

“Among the people I talk to, I detect a strong sense of hopelessness and the economic situation is only making that worse.

“So I really pray hard that we can get employment for our people because the unemployment is a serious problem that has negative effects from several perspectives.”

Asked what he sees as the general state of the nation at this time, Gomez said, “I think we’re drifting really.

“Right now it seems to me that the present government is trying to address the economic situation and they are trying to work in terms of increasing the social welfare products and trying to find resources at a time when the financial resources are extremely limited.

“And it is lack of financial resources that is crippling the situation.  We have to find ways of increasing the revenue.”

Gomez said the nation’s moral compass is going in the wrong direction.

“There is too much of an emphasis on individualism,” he said.  “There are too many people who take life happy go lucky, with no morals and no interest in standards where whatever happens, happens.”

Moral re-armament

It is this erosion of morality that is fueling social ills, Gomez noted.

What to do about the nation’s crime problem has been aired on many levels over the last two decades.

In 1998, Justice Burton Hall was named chairman of a high-powered National Commission on Crime.

When it reported in 1999, that commission observed that crime is, at bottom, a moral failing, both of individuals and of the society and, consequently, the ultimate solutions lie in programs of what used to be described in a less cynical age as “moral re-armament”.

Commissioners said, “We are convinced that Bahamian society is more threatened by a pervasive culture of dishonesty, greed and a casual disregard for social norms and formal regulation, than it is by crimes in the narrow sense…”

They also wrote that while the fear of crime in the restricted sense has reached such a level in New Providence as to suggest a state of near social collapse, when the reality of reported criminal activity is examined in its national, regional and global context, we should not be alarmed into a state of hysteria.

Nearly 15 years after that report, much of what the commissioners observed is still relevant.

There have been other crime committees and commissions since.

What is clear is that we know what the problem is.  We have had numerous experts suggest solutions.

But we continue to drift.

Our country and its future are suffering as a result.

I have heard at least two of my friends with young children say they are educating and raising them with a view to living outside The Bahamas.

This is a tragic sign that too many people are losing hope in our country.

While the situation is bad, all is not lost, however.

I believe that we are at a critical juncture in our national development.

We are not completely without hope, but we are at a point where strong leadership is needed on all levels to make tough choices before we descend into chaos — before our economy is ruined by crime; before thousands more of our young people get to a place where there is no turning back from despair and destruction.

As former Parliamentarian George Smith opined in a chat with Guardian National Review, societies can be transformed.

“But the political and civil leadership, spiritual leaders of all denominations, they have to recognize that we need to transform this society, but they have to take the lead in doing it,” he said.

“We live in a society where people wake up and say ‘I wonder how many it was last night’.

“The political directorate in this country is not providing the leadership for the society to get this country out of this malaise.

“Civil society is not doing it and the most responsible spiritual leaders, their silence is deafening.  I call on my bishop (Patrick Pinder). I want to hear from him about these things.”

So, while we pray, we indeed must act for the sake of us all.

As Bishop Gomez puts it: “We have to shock this nation into facing up to reality and coming together to work together for the common good.”

May 27, 2013

The Nassau Guardian