In the first 48 hours of a new year we remain shell-shocked, angry, numb and panicked by the frenzy of blood from which we staggered out of 2013. These feelings are seething, snowballing towards an ever-mounting rage.
In the Advent-Christmas season, a celebration of life and peace, we witnessed a gut-churning spate of killing and violence, a culture of life battling with a culture of death. It was a blood-soaked Christmas.
Why does death seem to have the upper hand, the superior strategy and the greater will to destroy and demean life?
Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade, among others, has spoken of drawing a line in the sand. The tide of violence continues to erase and mock lines repeatedly drawn.
It is not just the number of murders recorded that is harrowing. It is also the types of crimes and the galloping brazenness of criminals: Multiple and cavalier killings in a single incident, the robbery of the acting prime minister, assaults on tourists and diplomatic personnel, among others.
The spiral of killing continues. The weekend before Christmas a woman was stabbed to death and a man gunned down. That weekend the police discovered the remains of a man and a woman at Central Andros.
Then came the bloodletting of Christmas week: On Monday the 23rd a web shop courier was murdered, on Boxing Day two people were murdered and on Friday the 27th there was the carnage in Fox Hill which left four more dead. Christmas week averaged to a murder a day.
On Monday the 30th, following a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced “a programme of action in the wake of the tragic incident at Fox Hill ... ” The next day, New Year’s Eve, another murder was reported, a grim reminder of a gruesome year. On the first day of the new year there are reports of at least one murder.
Christie indicated that the Cabinet was due to meet to discuss an announcement on the outcome of the government’s negotiations with Cable & Wireless over reclaiming a majority interest in BTC, but switched the agenda in the aftermath of the Fox Hill killings.
This was something of an irony for many who feel that the prime minister has appeared to expend more willpower, energy and determination on the BTC matter than he has demonstrated on the crime front.
Many of the “key measures” in the Christie administration’s “programme of action” were measures largely introduced by the FNM such as the expansion of the number of court facilities and the appointment of new judges. The vaunted pseudo-panacea of Urban Renewal 2.0 was downplayed.
To understand the recent announcement requires a look back at a previous statement of a leader of the opposition.
“People are afraid, and they are angry: They are afraid that the violence is going to continue to escalate, and they are angry that the government has offered no meaningful response ...
“ ... Every shooting leaves behind a devastating legacy. Every murder leaves behind a shattered family, and a heartsick community, terrified they will never escape the cycle of violence.”
“ .... The tsunami of violence sweeping our nation was never inevitable.
“It tells you an important reason for the escalation of crime in The Bahamas is poor governance.
“This government has been paralyzed, unable to lead on this crucial issue.
“And their determination to put politics first, not Bahamians, has made a terrible problem much worse.”
“... Too many criminals have no respect for our justice system -- we need to remove their sense of impunity, increase the likelihood they will not just be arrested, but prosecuted, not just prosecuted but sentenced, not just sentenced but sentenced harshly. We must be clear: violence will be punished, and justice will be swift ...
“ ... How can it be that people accused of one horrific crime are freed to commit more crime? This violates common sense and it violates common decency. We must move heaven and earth to get persons accused of murder tried within 12 months, preventing their release on bail.”
These were not the words of current Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis. These were the conclusions of then Leader of the Opposition Perry Christie on August 15, 2011 in an address to the nation on crime.
Towards the end of his address he urged: “So let us mark today [15 August 2011] as the day that as a nation, we say: Enough is enough.”
By his own words and benchmarks the prime minister has failed to lead in the war on crime. Nearly two years into his administration, and having promised certain actions in his national crime address of 2011, the government is announcing measures which should have been introduced at the beginning of its term.
Having unnecessarily politicized crime during the 2012 election, including the gratuitous and unseemly exercise promoted by now Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis of erecting billboards highlighting certain crime statistics, much of the PLP’s crime plan was always more public relations than sound public policy.
In his 2011 crime address Christie promised:
“We will bring back the Swift Justice programme, stronger than ever, to coordinate police, prosecutors, prison administration and social services, to ensure that criminals are swiftly caught, swiftly tried, and swiftly punished.”
Now in the wake of the Fox Hill carnage the government is pushing key measures to help prosecute offenders in a timelier manner, measures which it should have acted on soon after its election to office in 2012. In its recent announcement the administration noted:
“The government is deeply concerned about the number of persons who are arrested and charged with serious crimes while out on bail. This is a major problem in the war against crime. The government is fully prepared to legislatively intervene to impose additional restrictions on the ability of judges to grant bail in offences involving crimes of violence and the use of firearms.”
Why wasn’t this acted upon before now? The government now says:
“Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Works to work around the clock to complete refurbishment of additional criminal courts so that as many as 10 criminal courts will be able to hear criminal cases simultaneously.”
Had this been done soon after May 2012 many of these facilities would now be up and running. The failure to have done so then is a direct failure of the Christie administration which must accept full responsibility for this grave dereliction of responsibility.
As in other matters, the Prime Minister should stop talking about what needs to be done. He needs to act. Given his and the government’s track record many will wait to see how many of these key measures will actually be realized.
Further, the government now says:
“This massive expansion of the judicial infrastructure will enable criminal cases to be disposed of much more quickly and efficiently which, in turn, should dramatically reduce the number of persons released on bail while at the same time ensuring that violent offenders are kept securely behind bars to serve their sentences once they have been speedily convicted.”
Why did it take the bloodletting in Fox Hill for the government to act on this front?
Crime is complex in its causes and the responses, requiring action by many parts of society. As an editorial in this journal rightly noted crime is a political issue inasmuch as it concerns matters of public policy and governance. As such, political parties should debate issues of law and order.
But it is when either or both parties unnecessarily politicize or play games on the issue that Bahamians get upset. Many become outraged when a party promises action and then repeatedly fails to act, such as is the case with the current administration.
In the crime fight we don’t expect magical or easy solutions from our political leaders. But we do want more considered and determined action and less talk amidst what then Opposition Leader Christie described in 2011 as a “tsunami of violence”, a tsunami surging still in 2014.