Our People/The Player: Each year several countries carry out a set of new policies, rules and law, and how it moves that society forward. The Caribbean islands are no different from many other nations such as the United States where over 40,000 will be implemented in 2014. These range from voting rights, economic development, pot/marijuana to gun-crime control and victims’ rights.
As someone who works in the public service/safety environment, I have seen a bit of violence despite new laws, and it cuts across several socio-economic statuses. However, most of the violence is in the black communities, where several West Indies and other minorities call home, and where economic opportunities have diminished.
Working in the public safety community surrounding the criminal justice environment can become difficult dealing with both the offenders and victims of crimes. This is why taking a break is extremely important. A trip to the Caribbean islands countryside to escape these issues has always been a priority. These islands have always been a cooling off period, to refresh before heading back to take on the next case. Furthermore, arriving there I believe is better than taking over-the counter medicines to relax, which can be more dangerous than some of our streets. Most importantly, giving back to a region that has played a pivotal role in my career today.
On other occasions, I have travelled and presented at criminal justice conferences. These topics include: the role of corrections, leadership, values, history of incarceration, balance approach to corrections, what works, offenders risk, and building an effective and efficient criminal justice team. These events and other non-business activities have allowed me to learn about some issues are diminishing the hope of several young people, and families.
The highlights of the trips were when we rounded up a few old friends and played unscheduled games such as football, cricket, dancing, dominoes, and reminiscing on the good old times.
Sometimes at these events, I noticed missing faces, and their stories became all too familiar like the ones left back in the US. Suddenly, I realized violence, drugs, and other illegal activities played a role in which families are left torn apart and helpless, searching for answers. Some of these cases are still unsolved.
On the other hand, a few were career criminals, and others did not take personal responsibility from early exposure into the criminal justice system, and did not change their behavior and ultimately died prematurely. Not all these negative outcomes can be blamed on the economic decay that has taken over some of the regions.
Despite a sense of hopelessness that stretched beyond the warm welcome at the airports, it is always easy to count down the days left imagining the passport and plane ticket to get out. However, looking back, one of these stories could have been many of us. The only factors that separated us decades ago or recently were the opportunities given to us by our family, education or from someone who took us under their wing, and told us to turn around.
Drugs: What was also troubling is the use and sale of hardcore illegal drugs. It seems to have taken over some of these parishes and local food markets and streets. Crack and cocaine have now reached the riverbanks, which run throughout these parishes. It has also escalated into turf wars, and gang affiliations. The days of getting dressed, and hitching a ride to the local markets are quietly becoming very dangerous, and have created more disconnect in the communities from the fear of become a victim of crime.
The local shops are still on the corner streets. These issues seem normal on the surface, but deep down you can still feel the hurt when a name of a loved one is mentioned and the reasons that led to their premature death or the substance abuse issues. “Who do I turn to for help, or blame?” is always the question asked.
What is behind the use of illegal substance? Most of the end users do not have any idea of the long-term impact from using these drugs. These drugs often lead to more crimes being committed. Cocaine and crack in any form produces the same psychological effects.
Users begin to feel a high within 3-5 minutes, and within 10-20 minutes peak at the highest levels in the brain. If they are not treated, the long-term impact can be severe, and these people can become extremely violent. Most studies have shown they often engage in illegal activities to support their habits. Combating these issues requires a long-term strategy that is woven inside politics, economics, rehabilitation and the justice system. These areas are not mutually exclusive.
The Politics: Crime has become a major issue to a region known for its fruit and vegetables and warmth of the people. Crimes continue to be a problem. Although not all the Caribbean islands share the same high crime rates; however, others nations cannot sit in isolation and look away when they can offer support. Globally, visitors see the Caribbean as an entire blue body of water and sand under one collective unit.
Leaders in these regions must come together not only during carnival seasons, or just showing up at CARICOM conferences in tailored suites just to repeat the next trip, and nothing has been done from the last meeting. This institution has been around for a while, and has done significant work in moving the region forward. However, it seems this body has not caught up with the new generation and the demands to promote equality, and economic growth. They must unite in developing a comprehensive crime fighting plan, and let it be known that they care.
In recent years, several reports have shown that Jamaica and Trinidad have a higher crime rate compared to others the regions. These two Islands receive more notoriety compared to some others, and issues are reported almost instantly. However, since they are all linked together, the leaders must prove that they care about all problems facing these islands. From Aruba to Trinidad, they all have some form of drugs and crime infested areas. CARICOM in the next conference should develop an island wide crime fighting strategy.
Today, the penetration of hard drugs seems too normal, and killing of innocent people has become the new mediation process, as some of our youths have lost their moral compass. The struggles moving young people send; especially men from economic deprivation and high unemployment can lead to criminal behaviour. However, we must not give up hope. Some of these criminals need to be isolated, and in some cases incapacitated from committing more crimes and for the one who needs rehabilitation, the resources should be provided.
We cannot escape these issues by ignoring them. Soon addicts and criminals will continue to move throughout the region. He or she will be well dressed, have the proper documents to clear customs until they decide to canvass your local town looking for jobs or to commit another criminal act, or buy illegal drugs.
When a nation continues to lose people to crimes of violence, it goes to the broader problem. It cuts short who will be the next track star, or who will be the next Usain Bolt, Arthur Lewis and Derek Alton Walcott: Nobel prizewinners. In addition, the next bobsled team, doctor, teacher, or Alison Hinds, Bob Marley, Mighty Sparrow, Rihanna, or prime minister if we turn a “blind eye”.
Equally troubling, a vast number of the community continue to be at the mercy of our decision makers. Some of these leaders cannot relate to the problems facing their communities. When we choose leaders, we hope that the community problems are addressed. The only time they interact with the less fortunate and the ones who elected them is during an election period, then back to the high-rise buildings overlooking the parishes and towns in isolation promoted as success.
Sure, when we analyze these issues, it is often met with resistance. Nothing is wrong with being successful, but we have to make sure that our policies are reaching all and not only a selected few. The essence of the community events are often where several local politicians build their skills into higher offices, and or watch the next star in the making. Some of these events are becoming fewer due to violence and turf wars, gangs, and illegal drugs activities. These behaviours must be met with serious resistance by law enforcement and the community in general.
Law Enforcement/Police: Despite some local law enforcement strategies to combat this criminal behavior, it can be very difficult. I have friends who are local officers and they tell me that, throughout the Caribbean, more resources are needed to change course, such as rehabilitation for substance abusers and other criminal behavior.
A vast amount of issues not resolved or being addressed properly. In some cases, the communities know these perpetrators, but are unwilling to come forward despite rewards being offered. No amount of rewards will prompt these people to come forward because they too have lost hope in the justice system.
It is not an easy task being a police officer. Law enforcement wears multiple hats; they need as much support as we can afford them. Sometimes it seems they have more issues than policies to meet society’s demands in fighting crimes while balancing human rights. Even in cases where an officer is being out-gunned, the expectation society places on the officer often puts law enforcement in a tight spot, balancing perceptions and reality.
Equally important, we must not allow ourselves to be overrun by a few lawless individuals. As a community, we should demand more from our representatives. During election cycles some politicians will stop in local areas, and hand out cash, but never return after they are elected. It is time to stop voting for people and start to look at their policies.
We cannot only promote new jails and criminal tracking systems, as I have seen during few conferences attended in these regions, to monitor prisoners inside, and not much being done to keep them on the outside. Several scholars have noted a nation cannot lock its way out of crimes. I am not implying that this industry should not explore the opportunities that capitalism has given us, but there has to be a balance.
Here is one solution formula: [(+) One more educated child, (-) one less jail bed (=) fewer offenders/or victims].
As our income and inequality gaps widen globally; communities will need each other for survival, and we cannot allow drugs, violence to separate us while some decisions makers stand by and watch.
Across your well-known islands with a global appeal, I hope you look at your new laws for the coming year(s) and see how they affect your upward mobility; promote equality and human rights and what role it plays in public safety
I believe especially for politicians in today’s society, they have significant influence, but it has become more complex, selfish and isolated, and gone are the days where both sides build our community. Today it does not have to be about the perfect, but striving for perfection.