Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday says that he sometimes does not feel safe in St. Vincent and the Grenadines because of the crime situation, adding that the country must see crime as a social problem that can be fixed.
“Gun violence is out of control in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We have become the murder capital of the Eastern Caribbean,” he told the “Hope for Home” town hall meeting organised by his New Democratic Party in Toronto Sunday night.
“We have become the murder capital in Eastern Caribbean. You all know of the mass shooting in Kingstown, where five persons were gunned down. Who would ever have thought that in our blessed St Vincent and the Grenadines this would be a reality?” he said on the day that SVG recorded its 42nd homicide for the year.
The death of Delano “Smokes” Patrick, who was shot in Layou around 1 a.m. Sunday, brought the homicide count to the record set last year.
“Where will it end? As [Senator] Shevern [John] said, must we settle for this? Is that our new normal? Must the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines resign themselves to constantly feeling insecure and frightened in their own homes, walking to work, in the places that they play?” Friday said.
“That can’t be what we have come to. We must not accept this as our fate. But see it for what it is. It is a social problem that has a cause and it has remedies but it can only be addressed effectively if there is a plan and a will to get it done.”
He told the meeting that he did not come to Toronto “with a litany of complaints or things that bring you down.
“The challenges that we have are challenges that we can confront and overcome. And that is the principal message that we have.”
He spoke to the shooting death, adding, “The life of another young man was cut short in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and another family grieves. Our condolences to them.”
He said that some Vincentians throw their hands up and excuse the situation, asking what can be done and saying crime is everywhere.
“We are not saying that we are going to end crime. We’re not that naive. The point that I’m making is that in a free democratic society, there are tolerable limits that we accept as a society living amongst one another and we go on with our lives,” the opposition leader said.
“Where we have arrived now, we do not go on with our lives. Too many people put their lives on hold. They don’t go out and enjoy the things they used to, the businesses that used to profit from those activities don’t get those clients anymore because people feel unsafe. That is true.
“It has been 22, 23 years since I returned to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and there has come a time now where even I sometimes do not feel safe.”
He said the problem with violent crimes in SVG is that guns are getting into the country.
“So, obviously, there needs to be better policing of our borders. The problem we have, the biggest problem, is in the mind: that no one in the government seems to accept or admit that this is a crisis in our country.”
He noted that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security, has a way of saying that if one understands where a problem comes from, it’s not a crisis.
“That’s not a definition I share. If you don’t understand or you don’t accept the fact that homicides and gun killings are a problem, how can we begin to look for solutions?
“And I started out by saying I believe this is not something handed down to us. It’s not a plague on St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is a social problem that has causes and it has solutions.”
He however said that there must be the will and a plan to deal with the problem.
“We now have a new commissioner of police. I had called for that some time ago in a press conference I gave in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So now we have a new commissioner of police, let us hope that he takes a more effective approach and can do better to fix this problem.”
Patrick’s murder is the first since acting Commissioner of Police Enville Williams took over leadership of the police force after Commissioner of Police Colin John, who is on pre-retirement leave, applied for and obtained early retirement.