Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crime and Violence in Paradise

Back on the verandah this evening letting the calm view soak over me, sitting with my beautiful big mug that I bought at Valmont the other day, full of good tea sent from Ireland by the relatives…(I have a thing about tea mugs – a good mug is necessary for a good mug of tea)…I should be thankful, there’s much close at hand that is good.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about really – I’m here wondering what really are the riches in life…and although I want to think about this in other lights, there is an overwhelming issue we’re dealing with that keeps blocking out those more pleasant thoughts…and so, with a deep breath, I figure I better write about it…even at the risk of contributing negatively to our oh so important tourism image. Here goes.

St. Lucia has been rocked by a spate of gun violence in recent weeks – up close and personal shootings that seem to be crime witnesses and / or relatives of some guy some gang wants for something. M’a sav. But it strikes me that we should have known this was coming a long time ago. I’m not so surprised that this is our news these days.

Amongst my memories of good days in my growing up days in St. Lucia, there are enough ones etched in there that tell stories that should have been warnings to us. “Don’t drive through Bonneterre in the night uh! They have fellas that lying in de road and when you stop, a nex set hombre-ing you! Drive over dem! Don stop” Some of you will remember those warnings…1980s people, a long time ago.

What about the season of car-jackings – La Clary junction was a place you tried not to stop…1990s. Drive by shootings all around….

So why are we shocked at these more recent stories? Have we done anything to steer our society away from the roads set out on so many years ago?

My early Saturday morning last weekend, (just after we laid ‘Aunty’ Anne to rest just by my mother’s grave) my pre-coffee sunny morning, was cracked wide open by the quiet voice of an old friend telling me on the phone “Finola, you hear about the shootings?” Well, I hadn’t as I hardly listen to local news these days…too stressing. So I heard then, of people being shot in their heads as they opened the door…just down the road from my Alma Matar, St. Joseph’s Convent School, just down the road from where my niece and many other kids I know go to school, where many friends of mine teach.

Then Tuesday this week, my bliss that still lingered from just one night spent away from the bustle and dust and melee of ‘the North’ of our island, down in the serenity of Balenbouche Estate, where I wondered if I was really still in the same island…my bliss was similarly broken by the news that a man had been shot point blank range, right in the heart of Rodney Bay…turns out to be the husband of a person I vaguely know, father of a kid in my niece’s year…

As in small island circles, it’s hard for anything to happen without the person being known somehow to you or to someone close to you…there’s just not enough of us to go around to have it any other way. Seems it was a hit – that’s what the people say and the way it was done, cool so, casual, walk by, so smooth that no-one even noticed the person who did it…looks that way.

Should that comfort us? Is that violence seems targeted in a small island enough to allow those of us who don’t involve ourselves in any magee to feel safe? Somehow I feel not…it’s hard not to know someone who’s doing something that might lead them into trouble; so keeping your distance is not so easy. So it worries us all, makes us a whole lot less happy in our paradise isle. But will it make us change anything? Can we? How?

I know there are people who want to do something – make a difference – but the question that keeps coming up is ‘How?’ Some people say, “You see, the poverty has these people doing these things – involving themselves in crime”…really? So what has the rich people involved in crime then? My niece remarked to me the other day “It’s like anyone who’s rich has gotten there by doing some crime or bad things” Uhuh. It seems so some days…for sure there’s a lot of money made that isn’t listed in the business activities on the Business Registration Forms. And a lot of daily activities that are not listed in the “Duties and Responsibilities” in civil service contracts of employment….

And people from overseas say, “Well it happens everywhere you know” Yes, we do know, but here it happens on our doorsteps and we can’t move our doorsteps to anywhere that is untouched by it…we are a small, no, tiny island nation– our entire country is about 170,000 people small. It may take a couple hours to drive from one end of the island to the other, but on the globe you’ve only gone 27 miles. There’s no operating outside of the system here…the system runs through your life, like it or not.

So I just watched the news…more shootings, notices of warrants for some arrests, promises that the Government is about to unveil its strategy, its plan to combat crime – did they just whip that up in the last week? Or is it coincidence that it comes out just after this spree of shootings? Then there are calls from the Opposition to investigate the issuing of firearms licenses…ok…so we’re thinking these are all licensed firearms? Really? Am I living in another planet?

I even heard the Opposition call for bringing in foreign help for the police...that one ‘gets’ me seriously; it must be 25 or more years ago that my Dad, then in his role as the island’s senior insurance professional, was so rude as to suggest that we go outside for help…his name was called on the market steps as a foreigner who felt locals were not good enough to handle their own business…hmm, do you think that might have been a bit of a knee-jerk, stereotyping, prejudiced retort? Maybe if it had been done then, we would not be in as bad a state as we are now.

But in truth it will take a real shake up for anything to change here – top first, working down to the bottom. When people are ready to stop discriminating based on party colours, based on family ties, based on religious persuasion; when people are prepared to look in their mirror and see themselves instead of peeking at what that other body is doing…when people are prepared to accept sometimes that they don’t get what they want because they have not shown the necessary ability, commitment, etc and that it in fact isn’t always because their skin is not light enough, their father doesn’t carry the right name or some such other…when those in places of power don’t, as a matter of course, punish the few that do speak their mind, but instead perhaps listen to see if there is something they can take from criticisms and concerns and actually do some good…and when we all stop waiting for someone else to do something…when our admittedly growing talking-about-it, grows into actual sustained action…when we finally realize that freedom only comes when you are prepared to live by certain rules, live in a community with respect for yourself and to other people….or get the hell out of society and go live on a rock by yourself. Maybe then we will manage to make a change…

Do you think it’s possible? With our limited resources, our strongly interwoven society, our long-term habits that cultivated all this in the first place? What are we to do? Where do we start?