NEW YORK NEW YORK: Too many murders
The figures paint a frightening picture.
An area of fewer than five million people, seven Caribbean nations and territories, Barbados included, recorded more than 12 000 murders between 2005 and 2009.
Add last year’s 2 100 plus to that total and the figure would jump to at least 14 100 for Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States Virgin Islands, Barbados and St Lucia.
In New York State, where more than 500 000 West Indians are among the 19.4 million people who live within its borders, in the same period, the number of homicides was about 5 000.
According to figures compiled by Dr Ivelaw Griffith, provost and senior vice president at York College, of the City University of New York, Jamaica had 9 323 murders; Trinidad and Tobago, 2 680; Guyana, 834; Belize, 600; St Lucia, 241 and the US Virgin Islands, 295 between 2005-2010.
In?Barbados, between 2006 and 2010, there were 133 murders: 2006, 35, 2007, 25, 2008, 23, 2009, 19, and 2010, 31.
Data published by the Nassau Guardian newspaper, in The Bahamas, showed that Barbados recorded the highest spike in homicides last year in the Caribbean when its total went up to 31.
Admittedly, Barbados’ increase was influenced by the firebombing of a Bridgetown store that killed six people.
By any measure, the murder rate across the Caribbean is appallingly high.
While New York State’s murder rate in 2009 was less than five per 100 000 persons in 2010 in line with the international standard of five per 100 000, the situation in the Caribbean was reflected in Jamaica’s 53; Belize 42; St Kitts-Nevis 40; Trinidad and Tobago 36; the Bahamas 29; St Lucia 26; Guyana 18; Barbados 11; Grenada 9 and Antigua & Barbuda seven.
The lone Caricom state with a homicide rate less than New York’s was Suriname, which recorded 22 murders last year and had a rate of four deaths per 100 000. Interestingly, Suriname has suspended capital punishment.
The English-speaking Caribbean has some of the world’s highest homicide rates. That was why it was particularly shocking when the communiqué issued at the end of Caricom’s recent inter-sessional heads of government meeting in Grenada didn’t make any significant reference to the crime problem.
That omission prompts the question: what are the governments planning to do collectively about an issue that goes the heart of people’s lives: their safety and peace of mind in their homes and on the streets?
Griffith, who is due to speak in Barbados in May, complained that “in too many [Caribbean] jurisdictions, the experience of many citizens is such that they have little or no tangible evidence of justice. They rightly expect arrests that lead to arraignments which lead to convictions, that lead to incarceration or steep fines, which lead to a reduction in crime.”
“In sum, they perceive an absence of personal and societal justice and this undermines confidence in the criminal justice architecture – not just in the police, but also in the courts and other elements of that architecture.”
Crime and punishment aren’t simply a national issue for each country, it is a regional matter as well. The Caribbean needs a comprehensive regional strategy that would boost cooperation and confidence in the criminal justice system, provide for closer collaboration between countries and crackdown on lawlessness by individuals who are tempted to get on an airplane or a ship and commit crimes in one jurisdiction and then flee safely to another, feeling confident that they wouldn’t be caught and punished.
When Caricom leaders meet in retreat in Guyana before their summit in St Kitts-Nevis in July, they should place crime high on their agenda and agree on a programme that strengthens law enforcement and guarantees punishment.