GUYANA: Is Crime Tearing Society Asunder? Can the Hemorrhage be Stopped?

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By Dr. TARA SINGH

“Crimes flourishes in a social medium appropriate to its development and society has the criminals it deserves.”

One wonders if there is any truth in this statement proffered by a French philosopher. Additionally, could this statement be applied to Guyana! The usual position taken will depend upon how one perceives and/or is affected by the crime problem.

Still fresh in our memories are the brutal murders of the Henry boys, and Haresh of West Coast Berbice, as well as the 86-year pensioner of La Grange, West Bank Demerara. While three persons have been charged with the heinous murder of the Henry boys, no arrest has been made relative to Haresh’s murder. Ironically, there was a protest which suggested that the wrong individuals were arrested for the Henry boys’ murder even though the press were invited to view the confession by one of the accused. The protestors–under political influence– want to imply a political, rather than a drug dispute, motive.

These and other serious crimes add to the uneasiness and great concern of Guyanese, both at home and abroad. The gravity of the crime problem is expressed as follow: “One can get the best job, accumulate all the wealth, enjoy all the social welfare benefits, live in the best home, have fancy vehicle(s), but as soon as he goes onto the street he is cut down by a hail of bullets. Or even in his own home, he can become a victim of robbery or murder.” So, what is the point of having all these material comforts but deprived of adequate public security?

We know that crimes cannot be fully eradicated. No matter how effective the maintenance of law and order is (and this is the primary role of government), a certain level of crime will occur. What people categorically reject is when crimes, particularly serious ones, get of out control (as measured by rising rates, low detection levels (unsolved), and high acquittal rates).

More troubling is when the power to determine whether person(s) live or die, is exercised by criminals and not by God. How can any civilized society accept this perversion and not respond appropriately to ‘decapitate the infidels?’ Relative to the law enforcement agencies, the government claims that it will take time to clean up the police force and the prison system of corruption that contributes directly to criminality. Of course, it is also looking at reforms in other areas of the administration of justice, including alternative sentencing strategies.

There has been a call, for example, for uniformity in sentencing policies to be adopted by the court. Too often the disparity in sentencing for the same offence is so wide as to render it unintelligible. In addition, many Guyanese have been calling upon the government to restore the death penalty. But the PPPC, like the PNCR, do not support capital punishment. They claim, for example, that they have been under pressure from the GHRA and Amnesty International not to execute capital offenders. Whether hanging or the use of lethal injection will serve as a general deterrence of crime is not known.
Predatory crimes (murder, rape, robbery, arson, etc.) not only physically hurt and traumatize victims, but also drive fear into law abiding citizens. In addition, crime clogs up social intercourse; it scares away investment; hurts tourism, and stifles repatriation of Guyanese. (The prevalence of “white collar” crime and corruption will be discussed elsewhere).

There are enforcement officials and analysts who are overly concerned about the plight of victims. Former Crown Prosecutor, Bill Ramnarace strongly suggests; “no one cares for the victims of crimes and their suffering families.” While this statement is generally true, there have been a few exceptions, like in the case of the victims of the West Coast Berbice mayhem where the government has promised victims monetary compensation.
The Spotlite Program grant of €4million+ ($US 5 million) by the United Nations and the European Union to the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security provide for the intervention and implementation of strategic measures to minimize violence against women and girls. In addition, the re-design of, and launch of community policing groups is another useful step.

But these programs must be part of an integrated National Crime Fighting Strategy. The previous Citizens’ Security Program under the PNCR administration for youth engagement had failed mainly because it was not part of an integrated program. More importantly, any training program must have as its main goal job creation for the trainees. Otherwise, they will remain locked in the same social and physical environment with no hope. This is not to suggest that creating more jobs will end the crime problem. Rather it is likely to ease and bring it under tolerable level.

Public security of which crime control is a dominant element must always be on the government’s as well as civil society’s political radar. While the law enforcement agencies must continue to take the lead in crime fighting, we must not lose sight that ‘crime’ is everybody’s business. Here is where the concept of community policing, with adequate resources, could be effective. Re-tooling and retraining to meet the increasing challenges of the emerging high tech and sophisticated criminals, are essential for any crime fighting strategy.

I still believe that there should be a national conversation on the crime and penal system. To engage civil society as quickly as possible, the government should sponsor a National Conference on Crime and the Penal System. From this Conference would flow a coherent set of policy recommendations for consideration, refinement, and implementation where practicable.

While discourses on economic issues, such as in agriculture, and oil and gas, are important these should also be analyzed in the context of the country’s social environment. Racism and crime are dominant negative social forces that hurt development and destroy dreams. To pretend otherwise, is to be disingenuous. Let the conversation begin!

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The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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