We are not ten days into the Year of Our Lord 2019 and already someone has taken that which he can neither give nor replace, a human life.
The last year ended with as many murders as the year before. And already, we pass over the details of the snuffing out of the first slain of 2019 with the same casual indifference as over the lost life of the 28th of 2018.
Has life, and particularly life of our nation’s young men and women, become so cheap that we have become inured to slaughter?
Do we shrug collective shoulders, look upon the fallen with judgment, disdain or pity, and move on? Do we bay for blood, invoke Old Testament retribution and call for the State to resume executions, deluding ourselves into believing that executions are a deterrent to anyone but a convicted killer? Do we write off our nation as unsafe in any place and at any time and live in perpetual fear and loathing of our fellow citizens?
What, then, should be the response of a nation that has enjoyed a decline in overall rates of crime but seen an ominous spike in shootings, stabbings and bludgeonings?
Do we sit and await a Messiah or Moses, either of human or divine form? Do we declare that these, now, finally, utterly, are The Last Days?
We believe that until the Lord is ready for His world, as Barbadians often put it, it is time we make as much an all-round effort to reduce the shedding of blood as we are attempting to reduce the haemorrhaging of foreign exchange.
As we seek to rebuild our economy, we can no longer ignore the bleeding elephant in the room. Guns, drugs and dirty cash will not increase the ease of doing business or improve our position as an investment-grade nation.
To think that the bloodletting is only among those who live by the sword, we ask you to remember Oscar Hamblin, 83.
The stray bullets of cowards in the heart of the City, in the shadow of our Houses of Parliament, could have easily found a child, a pregnant woman, a young father, a middle-aged mother. They found instead a pensioner. His crime: loving to play dominoes in what he spent eight decades of his life doing – loving and living in a safe, caring island nation.
He was shot in the head while drinking a beer and liming with friends during a game of dominoes. A nearby doctor could not save him.
There have been no protest marches and candlelight vigils for Oscar Hamblin, nor indeed for the slaughter of the innocents and the presumably not-so-innocent. No questions, so far as we are aware, have been asked in Parliament about his or any other slaying.
But we require not fine words nor bold gestures. The best protest against these killings is action, and not just by crime-solving detectives. We need no lipservice about ‘zero tolerance’ – for it would appear that our nation can now tolerate the loss of 30-odd lives a year to violence. There needs to be a living, breathing strategy for the reduction of violent crime; this must include root-and-branch reform of education, social care and criminal justice systems, to say nothing of the way our economy is ordered.
We also need to get back to basics. If our people no longer wish to be their brother’s keeper, heed political rhetoric, or yield to spiritual and moral impulses, then surely our police force can revisit successful efforts at community policing and juvenile intervention. But with a system of policing of six districts and police station locations hardly changed since 1835, a year after emancipation, we are not convinced that policing has sufficiently adapted to a society unrecognizable from when the Royal Barbados Police Force was established.
Our policymakers need to examine the reams of research and evidence on crime and society in the 21st Century being generated by the Government’s crime research unit. We call on them to create a “BERT-level” plan for citizen security. This information should be made fully and freely available to the media and, by extension, the public so we can make informed contributions in the public square.
We need to engage in sober stock-taking of what is driving the engine of death and destruction on this island of near 300,000 souls – each and every single one of which is worthy of the very best service, protection and reassurance.