By Dr Isaac Newton
In broad daylight, the brutal gun-killing of Susan Powell shocked the nation. Law enforcement had never seen anything like it before. She was shot point blank in downtown Heritage Quay -- a popular tourist destination -- after the government had dispatched a Special Task Force to squelch the problem.
Dr Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specialises in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Dr Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues
This crime was chilling. It happened alongside an unusual spike in gun robberies and murders. People from all walks of life are not just raped, assaulted and robbed; they are sitting targets to brazen criminals at home and in the public square. Police Commissioner Vere Browne had already made plans to double uniformed officers nationwide to crack down on crime.
I suspect these crimes are more impulsive than professionally targeted. They seemed to be emerging from a rare brand of frustration and anger. Still at bay, cold-blooded criminals are clearly intent on inflicting serious bodily harm and murder, not mere house and business robberies.
As the community grieved, PM Baldwin Spencer was afforded the opportunity to get his bearing on escalating gun violence. His speech that the government will apply the death penalty as a crime reducing strategy was disheartening. It portrayed a resolve that is scientifically unsound as the crimes are vicious. I affirm the PM’s expressions of sorrow to hurting families. Although he communicated a tougher stance on crime, his pragmatic strategies are not lowering crime statistics. So far, every innovative intervention that Minister of National Security Dr Errol Cort has placed before the nation is ineffective.
Spencer’s sincere appeal to law-abiding citizens to give the police relevant information to solve crimes was welcoming. Yet, his national address enticed the nation into accepting less than the very best protection that the situation demands. Substitutes are uneventful proclamations, promises and programs; deployed trained security guards with powers similar to the police to reduce the impact of gun related crimes; increased day-and-night patrols and stop and search exercises and surveillance techniques and; waived duty fees on the importation of burglar alarms and other residential surveillance systems.
These crime-reducing interventions are not getting to the root of the problem.
Essential qualities that separate the best leaders from the rest would have begun addressing social ills like a culture of violence, prostitution, political victimization, and record unemployment that spur dreadful crimes.
In contrast, the PM implied that there may be persons and or groups focused on destabilizing the country by creating instability, chaos, and insecurity without providing tangible evidence to support this outrageous claim. Perhaps this was a subtle attempt to be PR savvy to soften mass disaffection.
It is one thing to try and fail to reduce/prevent crimes and quite another to ignore the deep structural inequalities and moral decay that feeds the problem. But the psychic pain, poisonous panic, and dark hopelessness that have besieged residents and citizens cannot be quieted by a soothing message of sympathy. Criminals need to be caught and convicted. Yes, there are no easy answers, but it is quite reasonable for the people to expect the government to defend public safety.
Nowhere is safe. In fact, one journalist has already reported that his vehicle was shot at while on the job. With so many unresolved negatives, the PM‘s tenure would have abruptly come to an end, and the minister of national security should have respectfully tendered his resignation. But in small island states, where the masses do not hold their leaders to high standards of performance, ethics, and solution-finding, procrastination, finger-pointing blame, and conformity are revered. Allegations of corruption by government officials and family breakdown go unattended. Drug addiction, dwindling income, and homelessness tell a bleaker story.
These conditions make for bad role-modeling. They also have the effect of normalizing irresponsibility at the governmental level. Given this mind-set, the breathing grounds for criminal activities continue to worsen. Idle young people easily become forces of disruption, and the baseline for the survival of the vilest remains entrenched.
Antiguan psychotherapist and youth development expert, Dr Oswald Thomas, says that the government will have to address both the symptoms and sources of crimes, and points to a host of social dysfunctions that are fanning the fire. He recommends early intervention: “The development of culturally sensitive, holistic prevention programs that address different aspect of a child’s life.” He wants these programs “to diffuse antisocial behaviors so that children have more and more reasons to avoid criminal activity.”
For Dr Thomas, preventative measures would result in more healthy children who become “more easily receptive to supportive environments and positive influences.” He further recommends that the government tackles youth unemployment through direct job creation or a volunteer work program with a stipend. Dr Thomas believes that an incentivized private-public drive should be established to get guns off the street in exchange for food vouchers and other essential services. He is a strong advocate for mental health counselling. He feels that a focus on psychological interventions to prevent violent crimes is a credible goal worth pursuing.
There are many groups of concerned citizens who have pooled resources trying to do something to stop vicious crimes. They are concerned not just about their own safety but also about the image of the country and the financial havoc this could unravel for the tourism sector.
Although crimes may never go away, perhaps the government needs to take extraordinary measures: quadruple financial resources to increase detection rates and retool the police with investigatory and security training; expand the Police Commissioner Browne’s discretionary freedom to help citizens protect themselves; improve recreational spaces and create a National Volunteer Corp as outlets for youth to be engaged in wholesome public service; Invest more in community policing; target poor and troubled communities with job creation programs and other sources of livelihood; increase border monitoring; restructure immigration practices and citizenship procedures; set up a 24 hour high tech security surveillance system with a massive on the watch police beat; and partner with sub-regional governments to invest in a forensic lab that could serve the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.
Perhaps these strategies will make Antiguans and Barbudans feel safer in the near future than they are today. But if the government continues to fail at arresting these cruel crimes, the people are mad like hell and won’t accept this horror anymore!