Pushing an anti-gang bill right now is like putting a band aid on a brain tumour. Of all the ro-ro out of Tuesday’s House session, I choose this as the clearest indication that the en rouge PR machinery is clanking away below stage, along with the smoke machine that constantly and conveniently belches out thick brown stuff in hope of taking the sight out of the electorate’s already tired and jaded eyes.
Make no mistake, I have absolutely no political leanings in this adopted home of mine, and I’ve seen governments come and go, like some heinously long traffic light, causing gridlock and mass u-turns when it changed from yellow to red to yellow to red. I’ve been twenty-one years in Saint Lucia this month, but my first eighteen years growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland gave me a complete, almost physical and deeply passionate aversion to politics, particularly the sectarian kind.
For that’s really what we’re talking about in Saint Lucia, isn’t it? Sectarianism in as tangible a form as when the Catholic/Republicans and Protestant/Unionists of my island ripped families, lives and communities apart in a political struggle that to this day to some degree or another still affects every single member of my generation and my parents’. Oxford Dictionary defines the adjective sectarian as “denoting or concerning a sect or sects; (of an action) carried out on the grounds of membership of a sect, denomination, or other group; rigidly following the doctrines of a sect or other group.” (I’m not so sure if the doctrines thing applies here, as I’ve never figured out who stands for what in Saint Lucia, other than against whoever isn’t in power.)
Synonyms include “factional, schismatic, cliquish, clannish, partisan, parti pris; denominational; doctrinaire, dogmatic, extreme, fanatical, rigid, inflexible, bigoted, hidebound, narrow-minded.” Add “bad grammar and badly-written speeches” and that sounds like Saint Lucian politics to me – so who can blame me for not immersing my toes as deep into the local mêlée as I did into the sea off the Ramp most Sundays when my kids were growing up in this tropical paradise. Sorry, boss!
Anyway, my point is not political – that’s my point! It is more sociological, because this anti-gang bill seems to have taken people by surprise, and online there’s a healthy mistrust of the sudden focus on ‘gangs’, even a debate on whether we truly have our own version of the Crips and Bloods or the Shower Posse on the streets of Castries. Whether we have or not is immaterial, although common sense would say that a population with approximately fifty thousand men between the ages of 14 and 54, and unemployment running at 23.8% might just develop a generation of potential gang members; on my island in the 1970s the same dynamic was the fuel that stoked the ranks of the I.R.A., who would naturally have argued they were not a gang, but a political movement.
But don’t be blinded by the Ramboesque oomph behind the latest machinations of the red propaganda-mobile: introducing powerful legislation to criminalise and control gangs is just another belch of the smoke machine – alcolado on an amputation as it were – all about the concerned tone of the press release and nothing to do with getting to the root of the problem and fixing it. Get the public worried about gangs, then throw in an ordinarily tongue-tied AG bigging up the police’s outstanding record of drug interdiction [cut to video of ganja bundles being destroyed by the fellas], then really scare us with the news that the laws of supply and demand mean that the price on the street has gone up, so guess what? There’ll probably be a gang war!
Seriously, it’s a pretty sophisticated media strategy – a bit like the whole of American news television, full of dangers and horrors, overstating and over-reacting to the tiniest new health survey or purple with pink spots terror threat level, then telling the petrified viewer there’s nothing really to worry about. Focus the people on their fear, and they won’t see the real problem, which in this case is why aren’t there any jobs for the young men who are merging together and forming these gangs with their shared experiences of having nothing, doing nothing and wanting everything?
Could it be that keeping kids in decent schools and encouraging them that education is key to their future would make a difference to some of the young fellas growing up with the pressure of joining in? Could it be that gainful employment and a sense of purpose would help some of them avoid the temptation to a life of crime in a gang? If so, why not fix these problems (which I believe were mentioned in the en rouge manifesto) and heal the source of the malignancy before it actually gets out of control, killing the hopes and dreams of a generation. For a cabinet full of self-proclaimed intellectuals, this is either a singularly bone-headed PR ploy or a cynically calculated diversion tactic, but both ways it’s a waste of vital resources.
Saint Lucia has some of the highest statistics in all the wrong places: in post-911 but pre-recession 2004 we were 11th in the world for youth unemployment, so what do you think that figure might be nowadays? All the steppin’ and smilin’ and niceties are making not a dent in the size of the labour force and they want to talk about gangs. We have the highest alcohol consumption rates on the planet – and I’m Irish, so I’m not here to judge – but we fête, we party, we kill people on the road between the hours of midnight and five a.m. and still we don’t have breathilisers, but we do have gangs. The RSLPF have lost the support of the US State Department because of a lack of investigation of 12 extra judicial killings with no word yet as to how these valuable training funds can be won back – other than the extraordinary choice of death squad fans, the Jamaican police, to be among the guards checking the guards. Talk about a WTF moment? And now the problem is gangs?
The young women of our country are being sexually abused, sold for a few dollars by their supposed guardians to opportunistic paedophiles who shack up with teenagers and laugh about it at the rum shop, but it will take two months for the police to react and take the pervert next door away from his 12 year old prey, especially if they are all tied up with gangs.
Other parents can bully a child in school with impunity, and if you’re a gay person you can expect to be verbally and physically abused by unabashed citizens who feel it is their human right to deny you yours, but the police will be too busy looking for gangs to worry about the sexual predators, gay-bashers and bullies of this island.
And as for all that interdiction and whacking down of marijuana plants, to say nothing of the high profile offshore busts? There were 470 drug crimes reported in Saint Lucia last year, compared with 4651 crimes against persons and 4703 offences against property, so either they have it under control and it’s time to turn resources to real community policing, or someone is wasting a lot of time and money chasing another type of smoke. Or perhaps that low number is something to do with the “blind eye” the online ganja tourists praise Saint Lucia for in their reviews.
Saint Lucians and visitors to our shores can be murdered or electrocuted, killed on our roads or raped or robbed or battered, still some smiling minister will no doubt intimate to the media that we have a bit of a gang problem here on the island, though of course it’s under control – the AG’s just rushing that bill into the PM’s inbox.