KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – This country’s consul general in New York this week asked Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to reassure Vincentians in that North American state that his government has a handle on the crime situation here.
The request by former government minister under Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration, Selmon Walters came two days after dental technician Ewart “Ells” King was killed by an intruder into his Pembroke home and one day after a Bequia resident Givvon Bynoe, 23, received severe chop wound during an altercation with a man there.
“There is a lot of talk out here about the crime situation in St. Vincent and there are some people who are spreading the rumour that the government is not in control of the crime situation,” Walters told Gonsalves in a call to a radio programme.
“There are a lot of listeners on the Internet. PM, can you just say something about what is happening, what the government is doing and how we can address it?” the former cabinet member told Gonsalves, who made an impromptu appearance on the interactive programme.
Gonsalves said that one murder is one too many, adding that while it is no consolation, the murder rate here is not as high as in other Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, mentioning St. Lucia and St. Kitts, in addition to Trinidad.
“Certainly, that is no comfort. When a gentleman like “Ells” — Ewart Kings — who was just murdered, [is killed], it sends a lot of fear in people’s minds,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.
“Because, here is a man who just got murdered in his home. He is a law-abiding man. He is always very supportive of efforts of the police. He engages in neighbourhood watches and so on; one who is making a very important contribution to the country in his own professional capacity and somebody goes into his house and kills him.
I mean it sends fear in everybody. So, it is a matter that people would naturally get riled up about,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves said that he was “satisfied” that legal developments regarding the death penalty over the last 15 years is “one of the real impulses in people committing serious crimes, including murder”.
He noted that the London-based Privy Council and regional courts have ruled that the death penalty, which “theoretically is on the books”, is no longer mandatory for murder.
He said that that was one of the reasons why the 2009 constitution, which was rejected at a referendum, attempted to eliminate with the five-year limitation for execution of death row inmates.
“We were making the death penalty for murder clearly mandatory and lock it off from the courts, save and except for killings, which you may call crimes of passion — killing on sudden impulse — which would attract a lesser penalty,” he said.
Gonsalves said that some murderers don’t even get life sentences and can serve as few as 10 to 15 years in prison.
“People now feel that they can kill and get away and then come out … I think it is a … signal which we have to stop,” he said.
“The issue of crime in any country is very, very complex. … Where you would be able to blame a government is where you don’t have good legal systems or where you don’t have a police force which is of reasonable quality to do detections and so on and then to have a court system robust enough to bring convictions,” added Gonsalves, who also has ministerial responsibility for legal affairs.
He said that European and some countries oppose the death penalty and that is being imposed on other nations.
Gonsalves said that while the police has to be further strengthened, “A lot of this has to do with what kind of parenting … and … the churches and the schools, which has far more influence than the government …”
He said many of the 20 or so homicides this year were lack of restraint, domestic, vendetta, or drug related, adding that gang-related deaths have fallen.
“… in small societies like our, it is not just the numbers. It is when you have a particular kind of killing. If two fellas kill themselves up in the hills – two drugs men – people don’t have the same sense of fear. This is the one; because this is a man who is law abiding, he is inside his home, he is a man who is known to be supportive of the police…” Gonsalves said.
He said the police have been mobilised to capture a person they reasonably suspect of killing King.