For years, Dominica has been celebrated for its natural beauty, friendly communities, and relatively low crime rate compared to many other nations in the Caribbean. However, the recent spike in homicides, which stand at 14 for the year thus far, the latest being a double homicide over the week, has cast a shadow over this idyllic image.

While the reasons behind this surge in violence are complex and multifaceted, one prominent factor is the prevalence of firearms-related crimes, shedding light on the urgent need for intervention and a comprehensive approach to address this growing problem.

Most homicides in Dominica this year have been gun-related. As the nation grapples with this alarming trend, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit emphasized the need to tackle this issue.

In a recent statement, the nation's leader spoke plainly when addressing the escalating homicide rate. He expressed deep concern over the loss of life and its impact on Dominica's communities.

"The police are taking a zero tolerance to these things, and I want to urge people who have illegal firearms to make a way in getting it to the police," he said. "The police can facilitate you in getting it to them." He continued, "I have said to many people that when you have a firearm, you always run the risk of using it, and when you sell it, you will be selling it to someone who will come back and kill you or kill your mother, or kill your brother," Skerrit remarked. "And so, the possession and the trading of firearms is not for a country like Dominica. It is too small for this."

Skerrit stressed the importance of unity within communities, urging residents to work together to prevent violence and create safer environments for all citizens.

The Prime Minister assured the public that law enforcement agencies would receive additional resources, training, and technology to improve their ability to combat crime effectively. He revealed that the United States government had made some movements in responding to Dominica's concerns about the number of firearms coming into the region.

"What we have done on the government standpoint to mitigate against is to put systems at the port of entry, and we expended significant funds in putting these scanners at the ports of entry, to identify those firearms that are coming in," Skerrit explained.

Call for action

Meanwhile, Catholic priest Fr. Brancker John has issued a resounding call to those responsible for law enforcement in the country, urging them to step up and tackle the menace of "drug lords and gunslingers." His impassioned plea was delivered during his homily at the funeral service of one of the victims of a fatal shooting.

His message echoed with a sense of urgency as he addressed the congregation. "Over the last few months, we have been waking up to news of young men being shot."

While acknowledging that many have focused their attention on Grand Bay, the community with the highest homicide rate of 2023, he noted that this issue transcends geographical boundaries.

"Nobody should put on a garment of self-righteousness and say Grand Bay again as if they are exempt, and the problem is not theirs," Fr. John emphasized. He urged people to recognize that this is not just a Grand Bay problem but a national crisis, a "cancer" that afflicts the entire nation. According to the priest, the question is who bears responsibility for the deaths of young people.

In no uncertain terms, Fr. John pointed fingers at law enforcement officials and those entrusted with upholding the rule of law. He stated, "Law enforcement officials, those responsible for the enforcement of the law, are equally responsible for this man's death and others like him. Those responsible for the law of the land don't enforce the laws of the land. Those who allow drug dealers and gunslingers to operate with impunity, we know who they are and don't clamp them down. We allow them to operate with impunity."

The priest warned against the dire consequences of turning a blind eye to illegal drugs and the proliferation of illegal firearms. "If we allow that to happen, we are responsible for deaths like these," he stressed. Fr. John underscored the symbiotic relationship between the illegal drug trade and firearms, highlighting that drug dealers often employ guns to protect their illicit merchandise.

"This is a wake-up call for us, our policymakers, our sisters and brothers in government; we have to exercise the powers given to us by God to save the lives of our young men and women, and this cannot continue. We cannot allow drug dealers and gunslingers to operate with impunity in our country; this is a crime," he implored.

The priest also drew attention to the detrimental impact of harmful behaviour displayed towards law enforcement officers, especially in front of young people and children. He noted, "So when our children are corrected in school, we go to the school and give the teacher what's coming for them. When we do this, brothers and sisters, we teach our children disrespect for the law."

He concluded his message by pleading to all to take responsibility and work together to address the pressing issue of rising violence and crime in Dominica to create a safer, more respectful, and law-abiding society for future generations.

Apart from the homicide rate, Dominica has also recorded an increase in road fatalities, as the total number recorded for the year thus far is 15, all males. Four fatalities were motorcycles, three were pedestrians, and one was a cyclist.

-By Ronalda Luke