Opposition spokesperson on national security, St. Clair Leacock, says Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves should resign as minister of national security and that the country should seek regional and international help in its effort to reduce the number of killings in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Leacock, who is MP for Central Kingstown, suggested that some of this help could come from the Regional Security System (RSS), a CARICOM agency, of which SVG is a member.
Leacock, a vice-president of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) said on NICE Radio, on Wednesday, that he made that suggestion to Opposition Leader and NDP President, Godwin Friday on New Year’s Day, when the country recorded two homicides, following the record 42 last year.
So far, SVG has recorded eight homicides, two of which are police killings of civilians in the line of duty.
He noted that the NDP has issued a press statement on the crime situation.
In the statement on Wednesday, the party, for yet another time, said, “crime is out of hand” in SVG and the country is on course to break the 2022 homicide record.
“Clearly, we are headed in the wrong direction. But we are yet to hear of a plan to fight crime from the current regime, including the Commissioner of Police,” the NDP said.
It said the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration’s “refusal to acknowledge the depth of this crisis shows that they are overwhelmed by it and lack solutions.
“The Minister of National Security, Dr. Gonsalves, has failed to be ‘tough on crime and the causes of crime’, as promised.”
The NDP said that crime in SVG is “a national crisis that requires a national response.
“Therefore, the New Democratic Party is renewing our call for the ULP administration to collaborate with us and other social partners in the development and implementation of strategies to address the crime epidemic. In his recent national address on the problem, Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday outlined how the crime problem can be successfully tackled.”
The party urged anyone with information that might assist in the police investigations to contact the police immediately.
Leacock, who is an NDP vice-president, said:
“But I want to say this, my views at the start of the year with respect to those two homicides in January, New Year’s Day, was that we had arrived at the destination, where we needed to make a national call – one, for the resignation of the Minister of national security…”
Leacock said that two homicides on New Year’s Day, following the record 42 last year, were “an indication that it’s going to be more of the same”.
He noted that there had already been two killings this month.
“And I felt that in addition to the call for his resignation is that St. Vincent needed to go outside of its borders, and request assistance from the Regional Security System that they should come into St. Vincent and turn the country up.
“Because the stop and searches and the placement of mobile stations, important as it is, needs to be more widespread. And it needs to be deepened,” Leacock said.
He said it needs to be “a day-to-day job for the Minister of National Security to be on the bridge.
“Yes, it’s the work of the Commissioner of Police. And yes, they are having some results,” Leacock said, adding that one can see the evidence that certain communities have been “virtually under tighter management”.
He mentioned Rose Place and Paul’s Avenue where police have instituted 24-hour police presence.
“It’s not happening in my beloved [Redemption] Sharpes. But I don’t think Sharpes has really been doing that badly. Although we have had one or two cases and there are a number of communities. I do not want to call and put mouth on other people’s community,” Leacock said.
“But obviously, we need some assistance from the Regional Security System.”
He noted that there are many unsolved killings in SVG.
On Feb. 1, Commissioner of Police, Colin John said police have brought charges in “between 10 and 12” of the 42 homicides last year.
“There are still too many unsolved murders. So, with respect to that, we still need to ask for international help from Interpol, the FBI, or whoever we figure are sufficiently resourced to come and help us.”
He said he has gone beyond the RSS “because if we had the capacity, we would not have bad outcomes in Trinidad and Tobago, where crime is running away, we’d have better results in Jamaica, where crime is also running away, we would have better results in some of our neighbouring countries — St. Lucia next door which doesn’t have a very good picture either, and St. Kitts is also a case of concern.”
Leacock said “even Barbados is struggling” to be on top of the crime situation.
He said that as a person who has served as commandant of the Cadet Force and twice as commandant of the auxiliary police force, as far as he is concerned, the situation is exacerbated by “the very parsimonious way in which the head of government is dealing with crime”.
Leacock said that in his defence, Gonsalves could say there is no relationship between crime and poverty.
“Well, I’m not saying that it is the root cause or the only cause. But I’m saying without any research, and I’m not accepting anybody’s invitation to go and do research, 80, 90% of the people who have been killed in homicides, you can marry them to situations of poverty,” Leacock said.
He said where there is poverty, there is often ignorance.
“And when there’s ignorance, there’s often violence. And it is indicative of people choosing another lifestyle. That’s my measure,” Leacock said.
He said Gonsalves might also say in his defence that the problem, rather than poverty, is the easy access to illegal guns and that SVG does not make guns, which come from the United States.
Leacock said that to suggest that killings in SVG are “because guns are made in America is hogwash.
“It may be a causal factor or contributing factor. But where there is buyer, there is seller and where there is seller, there’s buyer.”
The opposition lawmaker said that the United States must and are doing “their bit” because “a lot of procedures are taking place in America even though the gun culture in America is out of order.
“But we must deal with what’s on our doorstep. And what’s on our door steps means that we must have a preventative aspect of it. That is, what can we do in our society to reduce the temptation to respond to every infraction, every difference, every diversion, every baderation as we call it, every bassa-bassa with a stabbing or chopping or shooting, more often the shooting.”
Leacock said that “in the good old days” when people had a problem with each other they used to have a fistfight.
“And I’m not promoting that. … But obviously, people are resorting now to guns. And it is a situation which even I and you and others have to be careful to be involved in,” he said, adding that he has reduced the time he spends socialising on blocks and shops in his constituency for fear of becoming an unintended victim of a shooting.
In 2009, a month-long security operation dubbed Vincy Pac, which involved RSS forces, saw three people being shot and killed, 30 others arrested, 12 firearms and 395 rounds of ammunition seized.
Vincy Pac also confiscated 8.5 million mature marijuana plants and 7.3 million marijuana seedlings.