Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says the crime situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) needs focused attention but Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security, seems too busy for it.
“The prime minister, I heard in a statement recently, overnight, seems to be fitting it into his busy schedule when the people in this country are retreating into their homes, they are afraid to go to public places,” the opposition leader said on Hot 97 FM on Thursday.
He was speaking hours after Gonsalves, who is in Morocco on an official visit, said via the media that his government would get to the bottom of the mass murder of five men during a shooting in Kingstown Wednesday night.
Lamont Hector aka “Dutchie”, of Paul’s Avenue; Jamal “Dutty” Bobb, of Ottley Hall; Dondre Hillocks, of Long Wall; Ricky Taylor, of Long Wall and Kashie Primus, a 13-year-old student, died when unknown assailants opened fire on them.
“…it’s not just the fact that people are being killed. It’s the way in which it is being done. It happens anywhere,” Friday said of the killing, which brought the homicide count this year to 35.
The men were felled by what investigators believe was an assault weapon as they were hanging out at the roadside near the Grenadines Wharf on the eastern end of the city.
Friday, who lives in Bequia, a northern Grenadine island, noted that the area of the shooting is very familiar to him as he passes there everyday as he travels between Bequia and Kingstown and had passed the area two hours before the shooting .
“It is shocking. It shocks the country. Because we are too comfortable, getting too used to this violence and one or two persons being shot every so often,” the opposition leader said.
“And then it becomes a situation where there are five persons gunned down in Kingstown in a single incident. Submachine guns ,you hear from the video that I’ve seen — the clip. That is just simply unacceptable. And it creates fear within our people.”
The opposition leader said that he passed the area after disembarking the ferry Thursday morning and saw people at the scene of the shooting.
“I inquired. I went over. I learned that one of the persons sitting there crying was the mother of one of the victims there last night,” Friday said, adding that blood was still on the ground and vehicles were driving through it.
“The scene is one that would shock the conscience of anyone. The first thing that gripped me was sadness,” he said and expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased.
He also expressed disgust at the unidentified perpetrator(s) of “this terrible act of violence in our country that has shocked the conscience of our nation and has created fear and insecurity amongst our people.
“This is unprecedented and we get the same tepid response from the government as though this is some passing thing. It is not a passing thing. It’s getting worse every day. And the warnings are not heeded, the calls for action are not heeded.”
He noted that the nation’s homicide victims this year have included a man disembarking a bus, a man coming out of his business place in Bequia, a man chased down in the street and shot in Arnos Vale, and a man walking to work.
“That is what creates the sense of fear and I don’t want to say hopelessness. But the point is that the people in this country are getting to the point where they have lost faith in the institutions that are there to protect them.”
The opposition leader said that the principal function of government is the security of the people of the county.
“That is the first thing; without that nothing else happens. You can’t have an investment; you can’t have peace of mind; you can’t have enjoyment; you can’t have any of those things that you associate with a civilised society. Security is number one. The government has failed us in that,” Friday said, noting that there are 35 homicides in the country so far this year.
“That is probably more than consecutive days that the prime minister has spent in this country. Has he been here for more than a month in a row? This terrible incident has occurred and he’s away.”
The opposition leader said that when Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel is acting prime minister “the country is on autopilot.
“This is a crisis. Anybody who sees it otherwise, and thinking that it is a fascination with guns or is vanity, they don’t get it.”
“They’re out of touch with the reality of what’s happening in this country. As the minister of national security, obviously, Ralph doesn’t seem to have the time to deal with this. It’s time to make this a separate ministry for somebody who has been tasked directly to deal with the security situation in this country,” the opposition leader said.
“The Commissioner of Police has proven himself to be incapable of dealing with the situation. There needs to be regional cooperation on dealing with this problem. There needs to be a national approach; not a partisan approach for dealing with this issue. You cannot be scoring political points on this matter.”
He noted that the opposition offered to partner with the government in the efforts to fight crime.
“The response was that they don’t talk to the opposition; that opposition wants to score political points,” Friday said, noting that his family had been touched by the killings, when his cousin was murdered in Bequia this year.
“And it doesn’t have anything to do with political stripe. It has to do with a breakdown in law and order that is taking place in this country, the inability of the police, their effectiveness in responding to it.”
He said that people who are contemplating these offences feel they can do so with impunity.
“When you do that, it’s a sense of lawlessness,” Friday said, adding that the prosecution of these matters is what really deters the commission of these offences.
Friday, a lawyer, said this means there must be “effective investigation, proper prosecution and conviction at a higher rate — not one in 20. And that deters people”.
He said there must also be collaboration between the police and the community, adding that too often, the police are at odds with the community, abusing their authority, and alienating the very people they must rely on to assist them in investigating crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
The opposition leader said that his offer to the government of a bipartisan approach to crime fighting is still on the table.
“… this is such an important matter; it is such a terrible scourge in our country that everybody has to come together and work to bring it under control. And you have to show that there is leadership on it.
“We don’t have that in this country. People just feel that the thing is slipping and sliding and is going worse and worse. And [Wednesday] night is a clear indication of that. And it has to be arrested. It has to be stopped,” the opposition leader said.