By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Dec. 30, 2022)
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” (Sir Walter Scott, 1808).
Offering his take on the escalating problem of violent crime, especially homicides, PM Gonsalves said that his government had had all intentions to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. However, it does not have a magic bullet or wand to wish away the evil and reckless intentions of a section of our youth.
With three days left in 2022 and our 2016 homicide record of 40 scattered (the current number of homicides is 42), it would appear that PM Gonsalves has had a rebirth, an awakening as to the reality of crime and violence.
Who would forget PM Gonsalves incessant pleas while in opposition that the faces of crime, violence and drugs in St Vincent and the Grenadines were of James Mitchell and Randolph Toussaint?
It was cheap politics then to tar James Mitchell with responsibility for crime, violence and drugs. Gonsalves rode those wild charges to power in 2001. As with his views that his party will herald the rebirth of bananas, Gonsalves claimed that he was a man with the plan. The ULP promised a series of policies intended to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. Apart from the frequent recruitment of police officers, Gonsalves’ statements on crime have proven to be cheap talk and empty platitudes.
In the 22 years he has been in power, there has been a steady increase in crime and violence. Homicides, which take the lives of mainly young men, continue to climb. As is the case with global warming, which constantly rises, each year, citizens sit in horror and certainty that more and more of our young people will fall victim to gun violence. Worse, the killers are seldom caught.
The government’s failure has been in the fact that it does not take the issue of crime and violence seriously. Just as its prideful declarations about our bad roads, its anti-crime fighting policies amount to sloganeering where the PM gets to make yet another of his long-winded, repetitive speeches. Today it’s Pan Against Crime; tomorrow it’s Sports Against Crime—nothing sustainable or thought out. In many ways, it gives the impression that something tangible is being done. In fact, it simply passes state resources to some supporters. To him and his band of clansmen, it’s another episode of a soap opera. They get to smile, and their dwindling band of supporters get to beg or touch the naked emperor. No empowerment, no consciousness-raising, and no attempt to draw young people and the wider population into the arduous task of nation-building.
Hopelessness and helplessness breed dislocation and alienation. Generalised disconnect with society causes the young to develop a “don’t care” attitude. When society offers few or no avenues for advancement, our citizens fall prey to corrupting habits. When community values break down mainly because our political leaders are the opposite of good examples, society goes into a wobble that leads downwards.
No society can survive, prosper or develop based on sweet words and empty rhetoric. Time and again, Plain Talk warned against scoring easy points when crime and violence take a dip. Once you claim the good, you are saddled with the bad.
What does it mean to tell the population that the spike in homicides has its genesis in a cocaine deal that went bad in 2016? The parents, family members and friends who have had to bury their loved ones could care less about the cause. Citizens want to feel safe, but the government offers nothing to soothe the fears of an increasingly nervous population.
Our people must come to the realisation that SVG is one of the most violent societies on the planet. We have more than 120 persons in prison who killed someone. Scores of prisoners are there for wounding, and close to 50 prisoners are incarcerated for raping and indecently assaulting our women and children.
Many of these crimes, especially murders, manslaughter and wounding, are crimes of frustration. They rarely display evidence of premeditation and planning. They are proof that too many of our young people are at wits end. They are all too often easily pushed over the edge.
Society has lost its way. The country’s high unemployment and under-employment situation make it exceedingly difficult for our young people to remain focused. They watch as the gap between the rich and the poor get more expansive. They are witness to the dwindling middle class. Many come from poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged families. They know the taste of hungry and the angry steer of poverty.
All too often, some of them try to beat the system at its nasty, corrupted game. They commit to getting rich quickly or die trying. As their villages and communities fall apart and lend little support, they bond with elements who offer them props, respect, a meal, and a dollar. It’s not much, but it’s more than the ruling elite offers.
If we fail to understand this harsh reality, we will never get a handle on crime and violence. Our homicide rate stands at 42. The homicide rate in Grenada, less than 100 miles to our south, is nine. What accounts for this damning contrast? And to think Grenada has neither a world boss nor five-star general at the helm. It is clear that idle boasting is terrible policy, and bad policy is tearing our country apart.
In the same way that Gonsalves opportunistically wrapped crime, violence and drugs around the political neck of the then-governing New Democratic Party, citizens must hold the ULP administration accountable for the sad state of affairs regarding crime and violence. Vincentians have been lulled asleep by this administration on so many issues that we think of Trinidad and Jamaica when considering violent destinations. We failed to be mindful that we live in one of the most violent countries on the planet.
This reality is unacceptable. The government claimed it had answers. We, the people, must demand solutions. We must not allow the government to bring us to a point where we accept pervasive violence as normal. The time for excuses is over. They must be made to put up or shut up, deliver or made to take a hike. Their failure to deliver on so many issues is proof that Gonsalves and his clansmen have outlived their usefulness. They have, for some time now, become a burden on the nation.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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