Violent crime: Are we trying to kill the problem with talk?
Here we go again. Another young man is dead, another life snuffed away by a gunman as the music played and the people danced to celebrate, they pretend, the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead to save mankind. This time the young man who was murdered is Elio Edwards, 23, of Pointe Michel. He was shot during an Easter weekend fete on the Machourie Beach while the Triple Kay band played.
Just a few weeks earlier, Ken Mitchel, 26, of Gallion was stabbed to death during a J'ouvert Parade on Carnival Monday, again while the music played. Is there some connection between music and violent crime?
Reacting to these two crimes, and others, a number of prominent citizens have spoken out on the state of violence in Dominica. But these leaders of civil society have neither reflected on the causes for the escalation of these crimes nor have they recommended solutions to the problem. Like the weather, they may have concluded that they can do very little about it.
If one looks at the statistics, it will be alarmingly clear that Dominica is a very violent country although, we frequently boast, there are only less than a dozen murders in a calendar year. According to the website go.caribbean.about.com Dominica has a murder rate of 23 per 100,000; compare that to the United States of America with a rate of 4.7 murders per 100,000. St. Lucia, a country that many Dominicans consider to be very violent has a murder rate of 25 to100, 000. So statistics tend to exaggerate crime rates in small countries with small populations. But the point is our level of violent crime is not something we should be boasting about and there's no doubt many of our young men are extremely violent.
But, of course, politicians react with some level of hostility when the crime rate in Dominica is brought to the attention of the public. One recalls a few years ago when Loreen Bannis-Roberts, the then Minister of Community Development publicly lambasted a headline in the Sun Newspaper which suggested that Dominica may be as violent as Jamaica. The paper quoted Dr. Francis Severin, the head of the University of the West Indies Open Campus Dominica who stated in a speech to retired police officers that because of its miniscule population, Dominica should be weary of the number of violent deaths that had occurred here in recent times. In her critique of the Sun's headline, Bannis-Roberts seem to suggest that when the press buries stories of violence, the problem somehow disappears.
Additionally, some ministers of the Roosevelt Skerrit administration have brazenly denied that there were indeed high levels of violence in Dominica; others blamed the situation on the failure of the judiciary that frequently confused the public with seemingly weird judgements of persons who have committed violent crimes such as murder.
But of course, by blaming the judiciary and threatening to resume hanging in Dominica, these officials have neither thought about the implications of their statements nor have they considered the fact that the judiciary is not the only institution responsible for the escalation of violent crimes. Of course, it is common knowledge that the justice system needs urgent reform.
Nevertheless, in seeking solutions to the problem of the escalating levels of violence in society, one should avoid the mistake of ascribing blame to one sector because, essentially, the problem is extremely complex. Instead we suggest that the bleak economy and soaring unemployment, abuse of illegal drugs and the lack of appreciation of the value of life itself are largely responsible for the perpetuation of a culture of violence among our young persons, in particular.
Additionally, the contribution of poverty to the increases in violent crime should not be underestimated. The conditions of persons in many rural areas in Dominica, and in the slums of the city, show an alarming level of neglect and abandonment. And it is an undeniable fact that the Dominican economy has not grown adequately over the past thirty years to create enough jobs to meet the needs of the youth. Pervasive poverty, perpetual unemployment, the lack of hope, not only breeds low self-esteem, these conditions predisposes the youth to violence. We also argue that the heart-breaking conditions in the rural areas, for instance, is the result of the failure of the education system from which the youth graduate without skills that would allow them to earn a living in their community.
In the meantime, concerned persons have become increasingly alarmed, not only at the levels and ferocity of violent crimes they are also warning that society is becoming increasingly tolerant of violence and corruption.
But Dominicans need to move beyond talking about violence. Instead the society needs to find short, medium and long term and sustainable solutions to the problem. Whatever the curative measures, their application will undoubtedly involve all government institutions, the private sector, Christian and non-Christian denominations and citizens of all ages and political persuasions, who must come together to tackle this crisis.
We were, therefore, looking forward to the enactment of the so-called "draconian" laws against the possession of illegal firearms that Prime Minister Skerrit promised in a speech that he delivered many months ago following a violent crime. Additionally, the current minister of national security, Rayburn Blackmore, last week promised additional resources to the police to assist them in the battle to reduce the number of illegal guns in Dominica. We wait for the fulfilment of that promise as well.