Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Bahamas' War Against Crime

Losing The War On Crime

Tribune News Editor

THE Bahamas will never win this war against crime – never.
Forget all the talk about the “downward trend”, of things heading in the right direction. Ignore the claims of those who have something to gain, political or otherwise, by encouraging public confidence.
The fact is that in the face of renewed efforts by the police and increased investment in law enforcement, violent crime – let’s face it, the only kind people really care about – is up again this year.
Up one per cent, over the most violent year in our history.
And that’s without factoring in the category of “causing harm” which police revealed doesn’t count as violent crime, even though it may include dozens if not scores of stabbings, shootings, assaults.
But please have patience, they will say.
New programmes take time to put down roots, new strategies can’t bear fruit overnight.
Don’t believe them.
The truth is that no amount of effort or level of commitment to this war can produce a peaceful society, because it was always the wrong war to begin with.
And all along, we’ve been fighting the wrong enemy – an imaginary opponent, an enemy of our own invention.
This adversary is known in law enforcement language as the “bad apple”, an individual who resides in one of several clearly defined “hot-spots” – a collection of isolated sores on an otherwise healthy body.
Cut out the sores, the argument goes, and the body will thrive.
It’s said these individuals commit crimes because they are confident of escaping severe punishment; that they would respond to stiffer prison sentences, the enthusiastic application of the death penalty, maybe the occasional whipping.
Apparently, they are hardened criminals, irredeemable, rotten to the core, but somehow at the same time easy to transform into stand-up citizens. You just have to scare them a little.
Meanwhile, as we struggle against this improbable enemy, the real menace continues to grow all around us.
None of this is the fault of the police. They are doing their job, investigating crimes and bringing suspects before the judge.
But their success proves the point: the court schedule is already packed, the prison full to bursting.
If it were simply a case of identifying and removing the rotten fruit, violent criminals would be an endangered species by now.
Instead, they thrive. And honest officers admit that in addition to the usual suspects, they find themselves in pursuit of an ever growing roll call of new criminals. Often young, fresh faced criminals.
“Do you understand as a public that there are scores of healthy bodied men that are not fully employed who have taken to a life of crime?” the Commissioner of Police said last week.
“Their crime is to steal cars and return a profit or to sell parts of those cars; their crime is to sell drugs and to return a profit and to commit armed robbery so they could purchase whatever they want for themselves and for their family and friends.
“That is what is happening. Why can’t we open our eyes to it?”
He is right. But it’s more than just hard economic times.
There is a reason why even as the Bahamas grapples with the problem of violent criminals, it is also struggling to explain why more and more young people are harming or killing themselves.
And psychologists will tell you that in many cases – even most cases – we are talking about the same people.
The reality is that a widespread sense of hopelessness and futility exists among Bahamians – particularly among young men – which unemployment merely inflames, causes to boil to the surface.
The pressure must find a release, and it often does so in the form of blind rage, directed either at the self or at someone else.
Or, if an explosion can be avoided for long enough, it leads to a hardening of the heart, to a view of the world in which everyone else is either an obstacle or a target.
And this real enemy is a criminal who no threat of punishment will deter, because he places no value on life, not even his own. Who only became “a criminal” by taking one final step off a cliff where even as you read this, literally thousands more are already standing.
And behind those thousands are yet more, many times their number. Only children today, but already on the same path to senseless destruction.
And on and on, unendingly. Each wave more numerous than the one before.
The real enemy isn’t a group of people, it isn’t a neighbourhood. It’s an outlook, a way of thinking.
An adopted identity that is contagious and spreading.
The origins of this disease are complex, but an important contributor is the deterioration of the Bahamian home, which has for complicated reasons degraded over the years to unthinkable levels of violence, abuse and neglect.
Somehow, the place where children are supposed to be nurtured and fortified has become the scene of their rejection and abandonment. The place where they are battered, exploited, raped.
True, these secret obscenities – hidden away behind walls, doors and in the silence of mutual guilt – are most pronounced in the inner city household, the engine room of our crime problem and ultimately the most important battlefield in this war.
The most important, but not the only one: because the enemy is often your co-worker, your customer, your boss. The guy you pass in the street.
And, ultimately, the enemy is also every one of us who harbours deep within their heart, that oh-so-Bahamian tendency toward dishonesty, entitlement and self-gratification.
Because this attitude is the other side of the crime coin.
Our attachment to unearned privileges is the thing to which emotionally damaged young people turn in search of escape, relief, fulfilment.
The example of this society is: “Get what you can for yourself, to make yourself big, by whatever means necessary.”
Let me be clear, this is not about making excuses for violent behaviour or attacking the idea of individual responsibility.
But we should not be surprised when brushes dipped into the same bucket of paint continue to emerge the same colour.
It’s easy to see why we’ve avoided acknowledging this war in favour of a far simpler, more reassuring version.
For one thing, how do you repair critically dysfunctional households, made so by complicated interactions between the people who live in them – each with complex, hidden, inaccessible problems of their own?
Is there even a household to speak of anymore, considering the staggering numbers of single parents, absent fathers, illegitimate children?
Who, for that matter, is entitled to intervene? Should the relations between father and son, husband and wife, be regulated by the government?
And what role does the public education system – the one entity that touches the lives of virtually all these young people – have to play, and to what extent has the failure of this system to adapt contributed to the problem?
There are no easy answers in this war, no convenient, us-versus-them battle-lines.
But we had better find a way to engage with it – or at the very least acknowledge that simply locking ‘em up is no real solution – before this society is too far gone to save.
What do you think?
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June 03, 2013