A great part of the worsening crime problem across the Caribbean has to do with, among others, two major factors: cultivated public expectations that ‘Government’ can stop crime; and outright politicization of crime-fighting by politicians chasing votes.
Really, no Prime Minister or President, Minister of Home Affairs or National Security, anywhere, has invented a formula to stop killings.
But people everywhere have been nurtured to expect the Governments they elect to always find ways to instantly solve all crime problems, especially when lives are taken, like in Saint Lucia last weekend.
Before Associated Statehood (1960s) and Independence (1970s and 80s), UK-trained West Indian officers attached to Royal Police Forces in every British colony knew their communities well-enough to know who to pursue, depending on the nature of the crime committed – be it shoplifting, break-and-entering businesses, pick-pocketing, house-breaking, jewellery theft, or praedial larceny.
‘White Collar Crime’ was only read or heard about in ‘World News’ — and nobody was jailed in the West Indies for anything called ‘corruption’.
But just as society has evolved, so has crime and the sophistry that drives it.
There’s no more talk today about ‘Blue Collar’ crime either, classification now high-graded to almost every criminal act having an Online aspect (cell phones, computers, email, etc.)
Money Laundering is treated like impossible to stop, drug trafficking is protected, gangsters have political back-up and smart criminals no longer hide to show they have access to more money — and more powerful guns — than the police.
National armies established after Independence haven’t reduced the expanding firepower of the criminals-at-arms; and high- profile cases are treated (especially by the press) like legal competitions between criminal lawyers and state prosecutors — and ‘may the best man (or woman) win…’
Crime in Saint Lucia, like everywhere else in the region, has therefore graduated in sophistry over time, as seen and heard in last week’s alleged reprisal shootings that left seven dead over four days.
The increase in the island’s gun crime – like neighboring islands — has more to do with the ease of access to deadly firearms, including assault rifles, thanks to continuing proliferation of illegal weapons by sea, land and air, including through Customs, with levels of collusion only believed when detected and exposed.
Indeed today, many Caribbean citizens have grown almost immune, even insensitive, to daily ‘news’ about killings.
In Saint Lucia, for example, with over 20 broadcast media houses and countless online news feeds, people who flip channels three times daily are exposed to as many as 60 repeated versions of the same official police report, most media houses focusing on how many people died and the latest ‘official’ homicide rate.
Similarly, where ‘Death Announcements’ in the 1970s used to be for a just few minutes after the day’s news and featured less than a handful of people, today’s last over an hour.
Statistics of Death
Since Independence, successive General Elections campaigns across the region have seen parties trying to outdo each other, promising to ‘reduce’ and ‘eliminate’ crime, comparing annual statistics of death like they don’t represent lives; and new governments tailoring the national crime fight to suit ‘new approaches’ and ‘fresh starts’ — after erasing whatever was inherited.
Between 1997 and 2006, two successive administrations sought to address and relieve the horrible working conditions affecting police officers, built over ten brand-new police and fire stations and a new jail (renamed a ‘correctional facility’).
The day’s Home Affairs Ministers also gave the public an opportunity to peruse who wanted to join the police force by advertising applicants’ names.
The administration also launched a popular guns-for-cash amnesty programme that saw illegal guns surrendered for a financial reward and the surrendered arms displayed at monthly press conferences, by the police.
But all the above was erased by Regime Change and between 2006 and 2011, names of applicants to the force were no longer published – and the gun amnesty was abolished, with allegations that surrendered firearms were being profitably returned to the streets by crooked cops.
In 2010, the government decided to fight an upsurge in violence with more violence, through an operation that was supposed to ‘restore public confidence’ in the police, but instead resulted in Saint Lucia becoming the only CARICOM member-state to be punished by the US sanctions for alleged extrajudicial killings by police officers, leaving the accused officers and families of victims still largely living in limbo over a decade later, as they seek opposite versions of justice.
Revelations by a government of some of the findings of an official regional investigation (by CARICOM’s IMPACS agency) was considered by lawyers representing the accused officers as prejudicing their clients’ pre-trial hearings.
The full findings of the IMPACS investigations have never been publicly revealed, but the issue was so politicized as to feature in a subsequent General Elections campaign.
In 2013, Washington applied the Leahy Act to Saint Lucia and imposed stiff sanctions to press local legal, judicial and political authorities to proceed with litigation against the officers accused of over a dozen killings.
The Leahy Act is a U.S. human rights law named after its primary sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy (a Democrat from Virginia).
First approved by Congress in 1997, it prohibits the United States from providing equipment and training to a foreign military unit or individual suspected of committing “gross human rights violations.”
Such violations include extrajudicial killing, rape, torture, and forced disappearances.
Today, as it confronts the latest surge in gang violence, the island’s police force still remains under US sanctions, even though Washington recently relaxed some penalties to help combat COVID and fight trans-border crime involving guns and drugs, including seemingly water-tight arrangements by multinational and intercontinental smugglers that have so-far largely eluded Customs and Coast Guard units on both sides of the short channels between islands.
NEXT WEEK: Part 2 – Arming Youth for Wealth Creation