Dead is 24-year-old Shervon Ashton of Bocage, Castries. Ashton’s body was discovered at about 6 a.m. on Tuesday this week, at Crown Lands, Bexon. He had a wound to the back of his neck – later confirmed to be from a gunshot – and other marks of violence about his body. The deceased was no stranger to the law. He’d had several run-ins with the police. In October 2013 he had to be shot in the leg before yielding to police commands to drop a machete which he was brandishing menacingly. Earlier the police had responded to a complaint that Ashton had damaged items in his sister’s home before making good on earlier threats to burn it down. His sister readily acknowledged that he was “no saint”. She indicated that he routinely instigated arguments with family members and other neighbourhood residents. She also disclosed that he had a history of mental illness, and had been a National Wellness Centre patient.
Notwithstanding his history, Ashton’s violent death must be treated as what it is: a heinous crime. It marked the 49th homicide thus far this year: forty-nine children, siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, all dispatched like so much road kill. Even as I write, news reaching me indicates that yet another young life has been abruptly taken by person or persons unknown at this time. Twenty-eight-year-old La Clery resident Kirk Dwight Prospere reportedly was
shot dead at the wheel of his parked vehicle at Pigeon Point; more road kill. Still I hear the old refrain: “Crime must not be politicized!”
So what exactly does it mean to politicize something? Though the definition has, over time, been conveniently corrupted, to politicize a thing is to make it a political issue – to consider it in the context of opposing opinions and approaches. Have issues ever been made political for partisan gain? Absolutely! But the manner in which a thing is used has never dictated its worth.
Do you still hold the view that crime should not be politicized? Do you think it not a worthwhile exercise to thrash out the opinions and proposed approaches on crime of those who aspire to represent us? To evaluate the efficacy of the policies of our current representatives? I cannot recall ever hearing anyone bemoan the politicization of education. I may be wrong, but no one has ever admonished the politicization of health care. Why then avoid the politicization of crime? Are the lives of our people so inconsequential to us?
To those who retort, “No government can eradicate crime,” I say, you’re absolutely correct. However, their actions can assist in its mitigation or make things worse. The mitigation tools which are likely to have the most immediate effect are legislative reform and effective law enforcement. Statutes should reflect the criminal reality of the country. Draconian and anachronistic laws should be repealed in some cases and amended
in others because they needlessly criminalize
certain harmless people and activities.
In addition, the punitive measures attached to specific criminal acts should be commensurate with the severity of said acts. The leeway of judges and magistrates to reduce sentences should be drastically reduced. How demotivating it must be to the police to go through the painstaking investigative process and risk their lives in the apprehension of dangerous criminals, only to have an inept prosecutor bungle the case or an aloof magistrate prescribe a slap on the wrist.
The Ministry of National Security needs to ensure that the police force has the resources it needs to do its job. The allocations made to the police, and their working conditions, were perfectly encapsulated by the Public Relations Officer of the Police Welfare Association, Zachary Hippolyte, during a press conference held two months ago when he described it as demoralizing. “We have so many issues in our stations across the island,” he said. “We have mould issues, we have problems where persons can’t even stay in a particular area if AC is not working.” He also complained that the force was grossly undermanned, a perennial problem.
Law enforcement on its own is not sufficient to ameliorate crime. Without also focussing on preventing the conditions which predispose individuals to criminality amounts to, as they say, spinning top in mud. Successive administrations have been guilty of such myopia by their overly simplified view of crime as a cops vs. criminals dynamic – a sentiment perpetuated by the media and a large part of society. This misrepresentation has the effect, doubtless unintended, of criminalizing poverty.
The Ministry of Health and Human Services is vital in crime prevention. Much in the same way campaigns, social programmes and the education system are employed to positively affect pervasive health issues such as diabetes, they could be similarly used for crime. We need to educate our people, the young in particular, on conflict resolution. In addition, resources need to be made available to bolster families.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports is also important in crime prevention. It is responsible for managing sporting and youth events and supporting groups which help mould our youth.
Employment is one of the key mitigating factors to crime. A large percentage of people who resort to criminality do so because of economic difficulty brought on by unemployment. The government is responsible for facilitating employment.
With all that being said, understand that while each administration must be held accountable for its management, there is enough blame to go around for the current situation. We didn’t get here in five years; it would be unreasonable to expect to get out of here in five years. Moreover, we cannot pin the current rate of crime on an administration which is but a year and five months old – as convenient as it might be for some. Let’s begin the journey against crime in earnest. Please stop perpetuating the claptrap that crime should not be politicized. It is a political issue!