BY R.D. Miller
Part I- Finding the right balance
COVID-19 has triggered an economic crisis, with job losses, business closures, and restrictions. It also highlighted structural inequities in the medical system preparedness; access to affordable healthcare and the strength of many economies, especially in some poverty-stricken and developing countries.
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. The news conferences and push for compliance by elected officials have reduced the risk of this communicable disease, including death rates to date based on local reports.
The pandemic also underscored the tension between political party leaders, local communities, the science to the best way to mitigate the potential spread and the safety of front-line staff.
Furthermore, what party was better prepared to handle the crisis without a vaccine on many socio-economic, and healthcare issues that cannot be washed away?
It equally served as the political basis for the next local election campaign. Each opposing side accused the other of the nation’s shortcomings from preparedness; economic loss, corruption, to bed space available, and other resources present to cope with the pandemic.
Fortunately, behind the cameras; the Personal Protective Equipment [PPE’s]; dedicated doctors, and nurses work faithfully to combat this lethal disease in these challenging conditions. And their approach seems to have made a huge impact in the initial stage with this virus.
But figuring out precisely how deadly the coronavirus will be, how many people are infected, and the exact number of deaths being reported remains a key question facing epidemiologists and local communities.
Like many other places, in which the tourist industry plays an essential role in the local economy, and a huge part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Managing this pandemic effectively is critical, and it has created a delicate balance between local business operations, job losses, tourism, curfew, public safety, and long-term economic sustainability.
Part II –The other public health crisis off the ventilator
While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, there is another epidemic. This is an extra strain on are the criminal violence virus. It kept coming back for decades that equally needed a national daily conference like COVID-19 strategies. Several reports have shown an increase in multiple shootings, robberies, thefts, assaults, and murders and an increase in gang activities.
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; and what are some of the internal driving factors.
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 behind the mask, awareness, curfews, and lock-downs, or political deflection.
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 to minimize, and that is not a solution. It creates a message of moral equivalence that is deviating from local crime reality and other systematic issues.
At some point, if all the apples under the tree are rotten, you may now have to look at the tree.
According to police statistics from January 1–March 2020, 306 people were killed across Jamaica. What these numbers told us, if that average weekly murder rate continues; sadly, Jamaica seems to be on track to reach over 1, 200 deaths this year.
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.
If this trend continues, it assumes an honorific title no civilized nation should be proud of in the region as the highest murder rate per 100, 000 local inhabitants. The other number often hidden, the death rate is also edging up from an average of 35.8 to now over 40.1 based on several crime analysis reports.
Though identifying where the specific crime might happen can be difficult, what are the social disadvantages and, economic barriers that make joining a gang more attractive for many youths- to even break social distancing rules?
A nation can curtail a pandemic through travel restrictions and other government programs, but it must begin to analyze troubled spots that led to ongoing crime.
Realistically it is not an overnight solution to sufficiently address neglect, re-victimization, school fights that can escalate, weapons accessibility, school dropouts, Juvenile delinquency, use of drugs or alcohol. Leading experts argued that if these issues are not handled early can escalate into more problems.
Leaders must know the warning signs: low self-esteem, mental health issues like depression, lack of parental guidance, anger, economic inequality, and social disadvantage to address these subjects.
While these debates continue with each changing guard of the people’s house, horrific crimes have not waned. Today, it seems nowhere, or no one is safe from the pulpit to schools. It looks like criminals; gangs abducting students, murdering intellectuals, sports icons, youths, entrepreneurs; business owners, and cases surrounding domestic violence which is on the rise, according to local reports.
Part III- Violent crime does not discriminate like COVID-19 regardless of the political side in power
Experts also noted that English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, and parts of Latin America such as Honduras, Venezuela have high rates 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 confronting their countries, further so than poverty or inequality. And while leaders debate, the emotional, economical and psychological effects linger; and sadly, there will be more victims.
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.
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.
The hidden victims
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.
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 local economy, but their success seems to place them at high risk for these criminals.
Society must get back to taking care of each other, and that is how a nation reduces the feeling like it is on trial after each crisis
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.
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.
Many experts cautioned that these trends support that you may have a failed state or edging closer.
Part IV– The judiciary role-separate but equal:
Today, it seems the court now must play a more active role. The American 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, other public servants, and the community in general.
Even though the court’s pivotal role continues as it always has been – to use sentencing policy to cut violence and enhance public safety. However, given today’s noticeable uptick in violence, the death penalty debate seems to emerge every few years.
Though it is ultimately cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, many argued, some say it may deter these criminalities, that has diminished the tranquility of the nation.
Amnesty international opposed the death penalty and many countries have stopped such punishment for capital crimes.
If Jamaica and other high crime islands or any other regional areas still practice death by hanging, will it alter an offender’s behavior?
While debating Just Deserts, an Eye for an Eye, or Incapacitation. However, leaders must get to the root of the socio-economic decay because the tough penalty alone is not a solution. No modern nation can lock itself out of violence?
Even Though a term of confinement and sanctions may deter the offender and other individuals from committing acts of violence and increase general safety. Many of these poor and developing nations lack a Re-entry strategies.
The sequence of violence being reported, these islands have the data. 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 I believe are fundamental in addressing these issues. However, I have not shied away from the realism on the ground. Nevertheless, addressing criminality demands a forceful balanced approach.
The nature of a crime seems to capture more attention while the root of criminality diminished in these community debates. Sure, no nation cannot forecast criminal behavior for several reasons, but the reactionary application is not a long-term solution.
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 may be behind these new crimes.
If these communities feel that crime and other economic issues are being overlooked, or quick and rigid application serves as a public relations purpose, any strategies tend to have more questions than answers.
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 a 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 will not hesitate in inflect fear.
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.
They cannot continue blaming law enforcement if they refuse to speak when they have critical information. 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.
Many are being told not to call the police believing that they will not show up to help. Some strains between law enforcement in these communities and what they are facing today are self-inflicted and others routed in a history of systematic distrust going back to colonial rule,
There are similar stores that are 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.
Though society should hope for the best, this political turmoil and economic decay, the nation of Haiti may at boiling point to tip over and inflame innocent people in its path. Sadly, there may be other Haiti waiting for an opportune time to strike at the core of its system of government.
Part V–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?
Often, these individuals have overlooked criminogenic risk factors that include anti-social cognition. They routinely exhibit risk factors like anti-social and personality behavior. They are angry, have inadequate education, and low job skills or training, employment, suffer from illegal substance abuse mental health issues. sadly, many are also victims of crime and need counseling.
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. And though the economic and psychological implications of COVID-19 are still being assessed, there are more reports of domestic violence cases and robberies. Experts noted many people are now at home with little or no support and are unemployed, and may have had previous issues.
Today, it seems high powered weapons have replaced discussion to minimize minor conflicts. And with the lack of resources for resolution, disagreements degenerate into brutal personal aggression and killings. Many troubled individuals frequently have limited adaptive abilities and are quick to commit crimes against anyone, including family members in any conflict, through vigilante justice.
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 yes, some are missed-classified and blamed for a crime even when innocent to deflect.
Studies have shown that modernized institutions and policies aimed at transforming offenders once they return to society have 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, 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, community advocates, and investment in these communities with the participation of law enforcement agencies to entertainers.
The correction institution, legislation, and judicial system including politicians where often the silence is deafening must speak beyond the elected or elite bubble; and address it as a public health issue.
Part VI-The social intelligence struggle
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 regardless of socioeconomic status.
Many will claim patriotism from their gated community, locally or from abroad while they continue to influence the political system only to protect their profit margin while violence and systematic issues rage on.
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.
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.
Personal responsibility can no longer be captured 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 VII– Can the island pride still hold?
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.
Some 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 been mentally quarantined before the pandemic in gated communities, where security is a constant reminder from steel bars mounted on some homes.
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.
You cannot give up because if these criminals win, there go these beautiful islands and other places.