To reduce serious criminality, a COVID-19 strategy is needed in some Caribbean `islands.`

BY R.D. Miller

Part I-

Finding the right balance

COVID-19 has led to an economic crisis, with job losses, business closures, and restrictions. It highlighted structural inequities in the medical system preparedness; access to affordable healthcare and the strength of many economies.

Following the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spill onto the coast of the Caribbean Islands. It included similar waves of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety we have seen elsewhere. Daily and weekly news conferences, compliance, and outreach have proven to be key in reducing the risk of this communicable disease, including death rates and new infections.

This pandemic also underscored the tension between political party leaders, local communities from the science to the best way to reduce the spread and safety of front-line staff.

Like many other places, in which the tourist industry fulfills an essential role in the local economy. It remains a delicate balance between the security many local businesses operations, job losses, curfew, and long-term sustainability.

It equally served as the basis for the next local election campaign. Each side accused the other of the nation’s shortcomings from preparedness; economic loss, corruption, resources present to cope with the pandemic. Further; what party was better prepared to handle the crisis?

However, behind the cameras; dedicated doctors and nurses work faithfully to combat this lethal disease in these challenging conditions. The approach has been successful in the initial stage, and international organizations applauded some local leaders for their efforts.

But figuring out precisely how deadly the coronavirus will be, how many people are infected, and the exact number of deaths being reported, that remains is a key question facing epidemiologists and local communities, especially in poor and developing countries.

The old virus off the ventilator:

Though the Personal Protective Equipment [PPE’s], awareness, curfews, and lock-downs were effective; reports have shown an increase in multiple shootings, robberies, thefts, assaults, and murders and an increase in gang activities.

These stories represent an extra strain of the virus, and equally needed a national conference like COVID-19 strategies. And while local law enforcement cannot attribute the uptick in violence where deaths may surpass the pandemic numbers, it serves as another public health crisis.

The answers many of these communities will seek for years are, they may understand that the Coronavirus crime wave threatens the economy, but between economic downturns from the pandemic and the increases in crime rates, which one do you hold accountable, the virus or the leaders?

Although violence is ubiquitous; unfortunately, some regional media outlets in these communities often compare and minimize, and that is not a solution. It creates a message of moral and diminished equivalence that is deviating from local crime reality and other systematic issues.

These issues may demonstrate external influence such as drug trafficking, and illegal firearms being imported, but handling crime requires more collaboration to curtail criminal enterprises

A nation can curtail a pandemic through travel restrictions and other government programs. What are the social disadvantages and economic barriers that produce these crimes that invite the youths?

Leaders must address poverty, parental neglect, elder abuse, and know the warning signs, low self-esteem, alcohol, drug abuse, and psychological issues like depression, other mental health issues, anger, and economic inequality and social disadvantage.

While these debates continue with each changing guard of the people’s house, these horrific crimes have not waned. Nowhere, or no one is safe today, not even the church; as the criminals, gangs abduct students, intellectuals, sports icons, youth, seniors, entrepreneurs; business owners and kidnapping women, and other cases surrounding domestic violence, according to local reports.

Part II

Violent crime does not discriminate like COVID-19 regardless of the political side

The fact is, experts noted that English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, and a few others have at least 30 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. These rates are six times higher than those of the United States and 15 to 30 times higher than those of most European countries, according to several data on crime.

Studies have shown that on average about 40 percent of the Caribbean population identifies crime and security-related issues more severe facing their countries, further so than poverty or inequality. And while leaders debate, the emotional and physical effects linger, and sadly, there will be more victims.

In the Bahamas, Belize, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, and US Virgin Island, local leaders cannot afford also to lose sight of what experts assess as a troubling murder rate per 100,000.

Though there are limited studies, reports also show that crime costs countries in Latin America and the Caribbean approximately three percent of GDP on average, representing over US$350 billion in policing, private spending, violent victimization, and capital investments.

According to police statistics from January 1–March 2020, 306 people were killed across Jamaica. Between January and February 2020, reports show that Trinidad and Tobago recorded over 73 murders. If this trend continues, it may surpass 2019, 536 murders–the second-highest in Trinidad’s history for one year.

In contrast, Bermuda, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, and other countries maintain lower rates. Of course, they are less populous, and although some remain under colonial rule and well-managed government, there are also reported smuggling of illicit drugs, and firearms, organized crime, and criminal gangs, but these islands have a much better handle on crime. Bermuda recorded its first murder in two years: five in 2018 and zero (0) murders in 2019.

The hidden victims

The society must get back to taking care of each other, and that is how a nation stop feeling like it is on trial after each crisis because solidity seems to have been missing. 

While following the COVID-19 rule, a 75-year-old grandmother held back tears after Ahkeem Lindsay, a 22-year-old man shot to death on March 26, 2020. She spoke of her frustration at the continuing violence, according to the Jamaican Gleaner.

Photo Credit: Jamaica Gleaner

Her story reverberates with other victims, and the data shows that a cycle of violence repeats itself. Often a quick media clip is published as empathy, but only gives the impression of concern, while victims in these communities have barely to no follow-up support. Besides, many of these crimes go on unsolved.

Today, more high-powered weapons are being displayed on social media only seen in war zones. And though the local authorities have seized few; there may be gloomier days if these criminals continue roaming these streets.

They are too many reports of innocent people embarking on their daily lives, hard-working business owners contributing to the locals economy, but their success seems to place them at high-risk for these criminals.

Regrettably, when you have reports of weapons found in barrels and those containers that are normally used to import food and other supplies; it seems the nation is being prepared for a civil war, or gangs creating more mayhem on the already criminal enterprise.

Many experts cautioned that these trends support that you may have a failed state or edging closer.

Further, for everyone one barrel of weapons or illegal drugs found, how many already passed through these ports.

Maybe it is time to conduct a thorough background investigation on who are the employees in these critical public service jobs because they too play a pivotal role in the nation‘s safety and security.

Part III

The judiciary separate but equal:

Today, it seems the court now must play a more active role. The America Bar Association said it best, The Role of Judges. “What does a judge do? Maybe it’s best to start with what he or she doesn’t do.” A judge is not a law enforcement officer, and while they interpret the law, I believe to enact and enforce those laws better suited for the lawmaking body and other public servants and the community in general.

And even though the court’s role continues as it always has been – to use sentencing policy to cut violence and enhance public safety. However, given today’s uptick in violence, a lengthy sentence may not offer a different solution.
Though terms of confinement and sanctions deter the offender and other persons from committing acts of violence; that alone will not provide overall public safety. 
 Where does it leave leaders to work together to develop re-entry strategies because no nation can lock itself out of violence?
The nature of a crime captures more attention while the root of criminality seems diminished in these community debates. Sure, no nation cannot forecast criminal behavior for several reasons, but reactionary application serves a purpose, but often it may be late.

The sequence of violence and from decades as reported by scholars, they have the data from these violent reports and activities. Therefore, it is not total gloom or despair, but it needs a bold approach, and not we are going to because that is not a strategy nor minimization is a solution.

Throughout this essay, I’ve pointed to several key areas to address these issues, but have not shied away from the realism on the ground.

The embedding of criminality seems to be overlooked in these community questions, and rigid application serves a purpose, but often it may be too late. Nevertheless, it demands a forceful approach, without leaving communities with more questions.

Amnesty international opposed the death penalty and many countries have stopped such punishment for capital crimes. I believe Jamaica still practices death by hanging.

Though it is ultimately cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, many argued, some say it may deter these criminality, that has diminished the nations tranquility.

But at this point would you blame them for debating with just deserts, an eye for an eye, or incapacitation. However, leaders must get to the root of the socio-economic decay because tough penalty also needs a mental shift

Furthermore, whether arming business owners or handing over more guns to citizens offers a solution. Most times, criminals target legal gun owners for their weapons, and some maybe behind these new crimes.

Walking a tight rope

Caught in the middle are those local dedicated law enforcement officers who must consistently wear multiple hats; key mediator, advisor, diversity coordinator, and youth advocate; group leaders; psychologists, and local volunteers.

They are overwhelmed, outgunned, and seem to lack the resources to minimize violence while consistently explaining the thin line between perceptions of the community and reality.

Officers must serve communities along close political line. They are often exposed to imminent danger, overexerted hostility, and possibly underpaid.

The crucial role for officers of these communities is like discovering a COVID-19 vaccine as organized criminals who may suffer from mental illness, frustration, or feel untouchable due to political connections.

They will take anyone’s life in their path like the virus because they do not feel bound by the laws, and rules that have been established in a society.

Some are using this unprecedented period of unease, anxiety, uncertainty, and stress to unleash chaos on local communities. Unfortunately, a few will stand up for some of those accused of horrific criminal acts, camouflage, or refuse to provide valuable information to make local law enforcement more effective.

These communities may have mass serial murderers on the local streets if they do not deal with these crimes with the support of the community. They cannot continue blaming law enforcement if they refuse to speak when they have critical information; though some strains between law enforcement in these communities and what they are facing today is self-inflicted and routed in a history of distrust.

There are similar stores that often under the radar, like Haiti. A CNN report mentioned a rising tension in February 2020; Armed Forces desolate country’s National Police headquarters, leaving one wounded, and a soldier dead in Port-au-Prince. Other published reports observed millions threatened by hunger in 2020 because of a spiraling economic and political crisis ten years after their terrible disaster that could cause more civil unrest.

Photo Credit-Globe Post

Part IV

The criminogenic risk and needs:

Social disadvantages not only in Jamaica but impoverished youths in poor and developing countries who feel abandoned from their economy with insufficient support to establish a solid ground to a positive direction, misconduct, and disorder become more attractive.

These ongoing barbaric headlines will not stop and require a holistic approach, like tackling this pandemic for a healthier future. It can no longer (us) compare to (them). The COVID-19 coverage, rules, and strategies have been good to date, but horrific crimes need more than “we’re aggressive on crime”, but do they ordinarily identify these criminals?

Experts also noted an increase in emotional tension that has lead to spousal abuse because people are now at home with little or no support and are unemployed though economic and psychological implications of COVID-19 are still being tested.

These criminals routinely exhibit risk factors like anti-social and personality behavior. They are angry, have inadequate education, and low job skills or training, suffer from illegal substance abuse, mental health issues.

They equally lack moral discipline, and many are victims of crime and need help. Many spoke of the frustration with their leaders in the face of expectations, only to be stuck in a similar place after each election cycle.

Today, weapons have replaced discussion to minimize a minor conflict. And with the lack of resources for resolution, disagreements degenerate into brutal personal aggression and killings.

Crime reduction does not always achieve its goals form of imprisonment. Many incarcerated offenders struggle after the reintegration process with stigmatization, inhuman treatment, and the lack of resources to turn their lives. Using a general classification of all convicted offenders, whether inside or outside the prison walls, also creates tension and isolation.

Often many individuals who were deported lack resources to reintegrate and classification, and yes, some are blamed for a crime even when innocent to deflect. Many troubled individuals frequently have limited adaptive abilities and are quick to commit crimes against anyone, including family members in any conflict, including vigilante justice.

Studies have shown that modernized institutions and policies aimed at transforming offenders once they return to society have noted low rates of recidivism. Bordelais Correctional Institution in St. Lucia is an institution and others that I have visited and talked about minimizing community risk. They have an excellent re-entry program in a modernized facility.

The recruitment of good staff is as vital as the assessment and treatment of mental health, substance abuse,psycho-sexual evaluation and vocational training and more investment in social workers. These interventions targeting criminal behavior towards community re-integration will create a fundamental change to address the causes of this problem.

Though it is not an easy task, fighting crime is more than an election talking point. To eradicate these pockets of criminals and build public trust, they need an all hands on deck approach.

Public safety risk requires a multi-faceted approach ranging from rehabilitation, counselors, social workers, mentors and investment in these communities with the participation of law enforcement agencies to entertainers.

Part V

The social intelligence struggle

The correction institution, legislation, and judicial system including politician where often the silence is deafening must speak beyond the elected or elite bubble; and address it as a public health issue.

Every electoral cycle is like a revolving door in most of the region. Economic inequalities, rampant poverty, reported corruption that breeds hopelessness continues. Leaders on both sides blame each other, and this creates stagnation in critical crime-fighting and economic policies. At what point does good governance come into play once an election is over?

While many victims search for answers, rarely find both political sides call for the disruption of these criminal gangs in outlying parishes and counties. In achieving a common conviction, joint statements send a persuasive message to these criminals that the nation will not tolerate the chaos and mayhem.

Community and constituency leaders need to work together to condemn these barbaric ideas that target police; reduce robberies, murders, and kidnapping. They must accept the reality to eradicate these pockets of criminals and build back social trust, not only those looking on from gated communities; abroad but every community regardless of socioeconomic status.

The silent generation can no longer close their eyes hoping these atrocities will go away.

Governance seems to have come down to a delicate balance between fear and holding on to the ballot box. These leaders will risk their health by avoiding social distancing in the same communities they have neglected, where criminals have taken over to solicit their future votes.

It appears that some leaders aren’t courageous and willing to tick off these criminals. They are walking a tight rope pushing back to peddle a delightful story while the systematic issues continue.

They cannot capture personal responsibility in a few tweets for likes, selective amnesia, and a false sense of empathy when one dies from a heinous crime. This conveys an impression as if politicians are the only shrewdest people in those communities who control the headlines to minimize the reality on the ground. And when responsible media call out the failures by leaders, they too are attacked.

Part VI

Can the island pride still holds?

Despite these gloomy clouds, it is not a total tragedy on these banks; [Jamaica] and other islands’ economies will rebound, and the residents are still resilient. There are reports of modernization and recovery projects, like modern highways and technological upgrades.

These government programs will help in the long-run, but the widening gap between the rich and the poor has been stagnant for decades and maybe the cause of several issues that need to be addressed.

In many of these high-crime islands, pride is still an asset, but also a handicap when critical data present a fundamental problem that few divert elsewhere. Although COVID-19 has required several people to remain in their homes, many homes had already mentally quarantined before the pandemic in gated communities, where security is a constant reminder from steel bars mounted on some homes.

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives

A glimmer is that, you cannot give up because if they win, there go this beautiful nation and other places.

Today, there are still ex-pats and off-springs who are however looking to land safely. The advantage and disadvantages; many do not have a political side or agenda, left, right, conservative, or liberal but bound by heritage, roots, culture, or authentic love.

Many likewise are affected by COVID-19, but equality if criminals are creating a sense of unsafe feelings only when society beats this crime virus, people can gain back a sense of security like mitigating COVOD-19 with the vaccine and other safety measures.

Stay safe!

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