“We are walking for jobs, that is, to protest the joblessness, especially for young people in this country. We are walking against crime” (Godwin Friday, leader, New Democratic Party [NDP], St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG], September 8, 2018).
Over the past year or so, the main NDP opposition party in SVG has been trying to rally its base on issues it believes have political traction by propagandizing what its leader has repeatedly said is a direct causal link between the country’s crime and unemployment levels.
I have already disputed this assertion in my last discussion of the crime of murder in the country as part of a study of the growth of murder and other crimes in the Caribbean archipelago. But a single essay on such a complex topic did not permit the discussion of several keys issues: (1) the relation between murder and other criminal acts; (2) a comparison of Vincentian murder and crimes rates to those of other Caribbean countries; (3) how SVG murder and other crime rates stack up on a global scale; (4) the development of crime and murder over time; and (5) the fluctuation, causes, and consequences of murder and other crimes.
The relentless public, media, and official interest in crime in general and murder in particular requires much more description and analysis.
There is a widespread popular belief in SVG, promulgated by the NDP, that the main determinant of our high and allegedly growing crime rate are factors like acute poverty (also called “indigence” — not being able to satisfy minimal needs for food, potable water, sanitation facilities, clothing, shelter, health care, education, and other necessities), relative poverty (having a standard of living below the average of a society or community even if this standard is well above that of indigence), and chronic unemployment (being without a job or other means of livelihood for long periods of time).
All indigent persons are also relatively poor but not vice versa: many relatively poor people have adequate access to the basic necessities of life from a national and regional perspective.
The direct causal link between these three types of economic adversity and participation in criminal activity may be called a popular belief because it is widely shared by ordinary people, rich and poor alike. But this does not make it a scientifically proven assertion, in SVG or elsewhere, as I will show in this series of essays.
First, however, some definitions are required to ensure that we are all talking about the same issues.
Criminal activity is generally divided between property crime (burglary, larceny, embezzlement, looting, vandalism, and fraud) and violent offenses (murder, robbery, physical assault, and rape).
Robbery, in contrast to larceny (often called theft), is stealing property that involves face -to-face interaction using physical force, intimidation (for example, employing a weapon), and/or coercion (threatening to harm or kill the victim). Burglary, in contrast to both larceny and robbery, is the entering of a building or residence with the intention to commit a theft or other felonious crime.
Everyone, including social scientists, always prefer the simplest explanation that explains even the most complex of facts. The simplest folk or popular explanation of crime is that it is disproportionately the activity of desperately poor people. The most obvious criticism of this assertion (others are given below and throughout this series) is that the overwhelming proportion of poor people wherever in the world they live do not engage in criminal behaviour. For this reason it is both factually incorrect and highly offensive to our low income citizens to claim that “… the criminals seem to have taken over the country,” as Dr. Friday did on Monday, July 31, 2018.
Nor was Dr. Friday correct to repeatedly and mono-causally reduce the crime level to economic distress: “I will repeat here what I have said many times elsewhere, there is a causal connection between economic hardship and an increase in crime.”
This is not to deny that there is no relation between some of the crimes listed above and poverty, inequality, and unemployment but only that there are many other variables that are at least as important, if not more so, in determining the nature of various crime rates.
With these considerations in mind, it is unfortunate that there is only a single publicly available data set for SVG taken from a United States government source for the period beginning with 2012 summarizing the distribution of selected crimes in SVG over the past few years. As with so many other areas where public information is scarce or unavailable, secrecy and/or negligence seem to be the order of the day as far as the current regime is concerned when discussing historical crime rates.
Notwithstanding the dearth of comprehensive current crime information, except for the murder rate, a figure the government cannot easily hide, Table 1 summarizes the crime statistics for the nine year 2008-2016 period (with the 2008-2012 data gathered from local statistics).
Table 1. Reported Crimes in SVG, 2008-2016
The contents of this tabulated data will be discussed in the next essay in this series.
This is the second in a series of essays on crime and the economy in the Caribbean with special reference to SVG. The first one is listed below: