In recent news headlines, we have seen over 20 reported cases of young men being murdered on New Providence in March. This spree of what appears to be retaliation killings, has caught the attention of the nation and in response, Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis held a conclave to address ways to combat these acts of violence. The government’s response to the recent wave of crime comes as no surprise, since it is hard to ignore the cry of citizens living in fear and broken families that mourned loved ones. But the government must do more than responding with knee jerk decisions.
Crime has always existed at alarming rates in The Bahamas. A 2016 study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on crime and violence in The Bahamas found one of the major murder motives in 2013 was retaliation (33 percent), which has been consistently climbing since 2010. Therefore, this is something that has always plagued us, yet we have done nothing to make a significant change.
Why does crime exist?
Crime and social policy must be looked at together. Several pieces of research have pointed out that societies that lack significant economic development tend to have more violent crime, whereas in societies that modernize and become economically developed, violent acts become increasingly unacceptable as they also become increasingly rare. But crime is also deeper than just economic hardship and survival needs. Crime stems from a myriad of reasons outside economic conditions, such as upbringing, beliefs, customs, family structure, education, and other social factors. While we often neglect some of these social factors, they are equally important in understanding how criminal behavior starts. To understand this, let’s examine the state of being poor, also known as poverty.
One of the most frequently studied correlations, where the relationship has been found to exist, is between crime and poverty. The idea behind this is that persons who are poor are more likely to be involved in more criminal activity, because being poor means having less access to a certain standard of living, which can impact the way someone wants to change their life. But to change someone’s life, they would need the means to do so, especially financial means. Therefore, a life of crime may seem appealing to someone who is seeking to move away from poverty and improve their way of life.
However, crime is not always motivated by poverty or income inequality. It is possible that crime is motivated by social inequalities which result in trauma from childhood to adulthood. After all, we are a subtotal of our experiences. In the face of poverty, we can become desperate and hopeless. Amid desperation, those faced with poverty stricken conditions are watching family members suffer, sometimes going days without food or no access to basic utilities. Poverty can be ugly, and it can break us as human beings. The psychological toll it takes is immense, especially when faced with doing right or wrong. But do not believe that some criminals do not know right or wrong. That is why poverty is a very difficult cycle to break, especially when someone becomes enamored with a lifestyle of crime. The mindset of criminals can be passed on from generation to generation.
We see it being glorified in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. We enjoyed the “magic city”, we respect the street code and we somehow have created this unspoken notion that criminality is cool. Not everyone is afforded the same opportunity, but it does not mean that the only way out is a life of crime. There are many individuals who grow up in impoverished neighborhoods that used the resources around them to make a better way. Therefore, improving the distribution of economic resources is something that we can do at the very least to give everyone a fair chance.
Crime is complex
We agree that doing more for the poor can help to reduce crime. But what does that really mean? If we took a criminal and gave him a house, a job and money to survive, would that necessarily change his outlook on life?
We don’t know. According to an IDB study named Crime and Violence in The Bahamas, “When asked about the causes of crime and violence, many Bahamians will cite substance abuse, unemployment, poverty, poor parenting, teenage pregnancy, absentee fathers, and the breakdown of social capital (defined as the capacity to transmit positive values to younger generations).” These responses were taken from a focus group of Bahamians for research purposes. The responses also accurately point out that crime goes beyond just poor economic conditions. For this reason, tackling crime requires a plan that is comprehensive enough to tackle all roots and offer preventative methods to combat crime rather than suppressive measures. This thinking is also aligned with the findings from the IDB study which states that, “The presentation of programs, projects, and interventions in this report is meant to be a starting point for assessing and documenting promising crime prevention and control practices.
It is worth noting that while government programs targeting violence and crime still fall predominantly under the category of suppression, Urban renewal centers and some aspects of Operation
Ceasefire fall into the categories of situational and secondary prevention. This may signify a growing recognition of the importance of prevention.”
National Development Plan
Since crime is a full circle, then we need a solution that is also full circle. The National Development Plan (NDP) already addresses this by considering key challenges and how to address them such as:
1. Diminished compliance with the law;
2. Culture of non-enforcement of the law;
3. Unequal access to structured and effective education programs;
4. Community distrust or lack of social capital within communities;
5. Increase in criminal behavior.
By outlining steps to combat these challenges, we can tackle the deeper issues related to crime that are outside just the need for economic conditions to improve. With these combined efforts, we can see a decline in the crime rate and criminals.
A full circle approach
If we want to lower the crime rate, we need to go back to the drawing board and think about how to execute solutions that will address the challenges we have already identified. This must go beyond youth intervention and outreach programs. While the success of such interventions has been proven to have an impact, we need to dig deeper. By using the NDP as our starting point, we need to put in place policies/laws that will begin to curb social behaviors that have been known to lead to higher crime rates. Policies and strategies should focus on the following areas:
1. Targeted programs that reduce risk factors for families and communities of criminals. We often look at targeting areas known for crime by increasing police presence and patrol. But understanding the socioeconomic conditions of what these men and women are facing would help us to build out strategies that would improve their well-being. These programs must also follow strict accountability guidelines and reporting to ensure that efforts and sponsors are not being wasted.
2. Crime is a public health issue and has been recognized as one for many years. Research has found that, “people can be exposed to violence in many ways. They may be victimized directly, witness violence or property crimes in their community, or hear about crime and violence from other residents”. Therefore, when we aim to treat crime, we must also consider the risk factors for all parties involved: family, friends, community. We often overlook mental health issues that are carried on through generations that continue to raise a community or household or criminals. But it these very same issues that we should be deciphering to get a true picture of what a criminal is faced with on a day-to-day basis. With this data, we can help others improve parenting, household structure and family goals.
3. Arms trafficking is still rampant in The Bahamas, and we seem to think that it only exists in certain places. But gun violence impacts us We are not taking this issue seriously enough. Earlier this year, the government of Jamaica proposed that a person convicted of illegal possession of a firearm must serve at least 15 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. This is part of the country’s robust framework to combat crime. This type of law has proven results and it will work for us in The Bahamas if we decide to step up. Some may argue that is seems harsh but unless you glorify the lifestyle of criminal behavior, drug trafficking and gangster love, then this penalty is just fitting.
There is no easy way to solve a complex problem like crime. We have several programs in place, we have improved reporting efforts, and we are simply trying. But crime must be a huge societal effort where everyone shares a responsibility in shaping the mindset and attitude towards criminal behavior. We must recognize the mistakes of our past and keep an open mind to what we should start doing differently, starting from the home.
While it is important to push for economic growth, better wages, and less unemployment, it is equally important to strive for better, challenge defected ways of parenting, challenge societal norms and stand our ground despite even the most tiring circumstances. No one is perfect but we have a choice no matter how hard things are.
• Roderick A. Simms II is an advocate for sustainable family island growth and development. Email: RASII@ME.com.