SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: Crime posing threat to Bajan persona
I AM NOT SURE what is happening in Barbados.
The level of crime has clearly gone to new levels.
Criminals are apparently becoming more ingenious in their approaches, particularly where robberies are concerned. Daily, on social media, people are relating stories of encounters or near encounters with criminals or would-be criminals. I even heard of one story where people are pretending to be from a mobile service provider and asking you to shut down your phone and then calling family members and claiming that you are kidnapped. They are apparently even able to fake your voice. No longer can we make assumptions about the appearances of people or even the type of the crime.
When you add this to what appears to be an increase in murders execution style, there is almost a feeling that the island is under a cloud of fear. In all of this, kudos must be given the Royal Barbados Police force. I think that they have a good record of capturing criminals.
I also appreciate the attention that is being given to alternative sentencing strategies.
However, I fear that we are missing the mark in our approach. It seems that the focus is on capture and incarceration which is important but little attention is being given to the question of “why” and deterrence.
More importantly, I do not know if we completely understand how the current level of crime is undermining our whole cultural fabric. It is changing the way we relate to each other, our sense of personal security and instilling an overriding sense of fear.
I do not know about you, but entering and leaving my house has become a production of locks, lights and telephone calls.
The house is completely locked down as soon as the last person enters, and there is much negotiation about open windows and who is responsible for which door.
Where once I used to be open to conversations with complete strangers in whatever circumstance, I have become more suspicious and circumspect when approached. I really hope that no one comes to my house knocking who really needs help because I am unsure whether he or she will receive it. It is amazing that crime has become the No.1 topic of most conversations and unfortunately it is becoming so because each of us knows someone who has become a victim of crime.
While it true that indeed we have come a long way from when we used to be able to go to sleep with windows and doors open or when we extended an abundance of hospitality to strangers, I still believe that there is something more intense about the current sense of insecurity than at any time before.
More importantly, I fear that it could permanently erode the most defining elements of the Bajan character. Above all, this would be the greatest loss, regardless of how many criminals are captured or what tinkering we do with the justice system there is no replacing the intangible element of a country’s persona that can potentially be lost when people lose their sense of self.
The question however that keeps me most preoccupied is why. What circumstances in our economy and society has led to this very dramatic change in the nature of crime. Why are criminals suddenly becoming more desperate, more violent and all the more cunning at the same time? It seems no one is interested in understanding or probing the why?
Not addressing the question means that we will do what we do best – ignore it until the issue becomes a crisis and unfortunately affects the people and groups we deem most important.
Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]