Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that while crime and its causes are complex and multifaceted problems, people expect their government to provide security and to create an environment that fosters opportunities for growth and development.
“But I acknowledge that everyone has a role to play in combating crime and violence in our society. Not merely by securing our homes and staying put behind reinforced doors for security but by understanding the root of the problem and addressing the cause of crime,” he told Wednesday’s opening of the event “A National Conversation on Crime and Violence”.
“One thing I can say for certain is that it has long been established that there is not merely a correlation but a causal connection between economic hardship and an increase in crime,” Friday told the event, hosted by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Christian Council in collaboration with churches, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders and said that the expert would say more about this.
“This is as true here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as it is elsewhere. So it seems clear to me that one means of addressing the problem is by promoting economic growth and opportunities in our country.”
Friday said that joblessness and poverty are well known to be contributing factors to the crime rate.
“We must do more to create opportunities for our young people to find decent paying jobs to lift themselves out of poverty, to be given a chance at financial stability and economic independence.”
He said that the nation must also ensure that the youth are provided with alternative paths to foster positive behaviour, adding that these paths may include youth clubs, after-school programmes and sporting activities.
“This requires providing adequate facilities,” he said, adding that his New Democratic Party has spoken on this over the years in urging the implementation of its Spiritual and Social Redemption Charter, which, he said, includes many of the things that are spoken of as helping young people to find a positive path.
The opposition leader said that critical to reducing crime and violence in SVG “is the presence of equity in our justice system.
“Persons must have confidence in the criminal justice system so that they refrain from taking matters into their own hands. Our police and security officers must also be properly equipped and well-trained to handle and respond to reported instances of crime before they escalate.”
Friday, who is also Member of Parliament for the Northern Grenadines, said that community policing must be implemented as this promotes trust between the police and the people and aids in the detection and prevention of crime.
“Indeed, the problem of crime and violence in our country requires a holistic approach and response with all stakeholders ready and willing to play their part. Most importantly, an event hosted by the Christian Council is a great place to remind us all that in seeking answers, we must look to our Creator.
“As a God-fearing people, we must ensure that the message of hope, peace, and love permeates our Vincentian society. We must return to being our brother’s keeper. We must fight hatred with love, choose a better path and look for peaceful solutions to conflict. This is a good place to start in building a culture of peace in our communities and in our nation.
“In the Bible, it is written in Matthew chapter 5, blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. As leaders — political leaders, religious leaders, civil society leaders — we also have a duty to promote peaceful discourse, to be good examples for fellow citizens to follow. We must always have the courage to stand against actions and words that tend to lead to violence and may seek to justify criminal behaviour based on one’s political allegiance. Wrong must always be seen as wrong and called out as such without equivocation that masquerades misguidedly as the balanced approach.”
Friday said he was happy to be at the event, not only to offer his perspective on crime and violence in SVG but also to learn from participants and to work with the Christian Council, civil society and other social partners in finding solutions.
“I engage in criticism not merely to criticise but to shed light on the problem. I pledge my parliamentary colleagues, my party and myself to being part of the solution to this problem.”
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves also addressed the opening of the two-day event, which the Christian Council hopes will help to reduce crime and violence, especially gun-related ones, over a five-year period.
The council further hopes that the event engenders a wider conversation on the issue of violence in our society and explores practical ways in which the churches can aid in its prevention and/or reduction.