Editorial: What’s happening?

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We join with the rest of the citizenry in asking, “What the hell is going on?” We’re talking about the alarming increase in gun violence in our fair Antigua & Barbuda. The latest was a shooting at the Villa Primary School this past Tuesday evening. The grim irony was that this shooting was taking place even as the evening newscasts were touting the many wonderful things that were going to be done to combat crime and stem the rising tide of illegal gun activity. Not that the citizenry was comforted at the ‘we are going to do’ pronouncements! After all, we’d seen this movie before, and heard this song and dance a thousand times. So forgive us if we were not exactly doing cartwheels with joy.
What is rather disheartening is that this apparent spike in crime and violence is a problem that has bedeviled and confounded two administrations, and the responses have been pretty much the same – cynical speeches and knee-jerk reactions. And those reactions have all invariably been aspirational and in the future tense – “We are exploring ways to …,” “Going forward, we are looking into …,” “We will be introducing legislation to …,” “We are setting up a committee to …,” “We will be studying the problem, and then submitting recommendations to …,” “We have a plan in the works to …,” “Cabinet is meeting, even as we speak, to …”  There is never a forward-thinking proactive tackling of the problem before it metastasizes and becomes a full-blown crisis.
Indeed, it almost appears as though, in the past and present, ours is a government by crisis, to wit, they see a problem
brewing, but procrastinate and do nothing or the de minimis until it is too late. For example, the pothole crisis, the water crisis, the CIP crisis, the CBH building crisis, the Canadian visa crisis, the crime crisis and so on and so forth. The list is as long as it is varied. And this leadership by crisis is not limited to the government. Nay, the slow-motion deterioration of the historic St John’s Cathedral was a national disgrace. Much as the precipitous decline in West Indies cricket is a regional disgrace. Seems, we are living in a paraphrased version of Chinua Achebe’s literary classic, THINGS FALL APART: “Life is a helluva thing! We see trouble coming, but we don’t do a damn thing about it! We just sit and watch and wait!” So sad!
The question is: what will it take for the authorities to get serious about crime and gun violence? Will it take a (heaven forfend) fatal incident of violence against a tourist? Or a (gasp!) tragic gun encounter with ‘Mr High Society pickney?’ Will we wait for our country to descend into an orgy of daily killings, as is so unfortunately the case in some of our Caribbean islands? And what will that do to our fragile tourism sector? What, in the name of all that is good, are we waiting for? We submit that waiting for a major gun incident to a ‘major’ society figure, is a shocking abdication of responsibility. After all, what is a government’s fundamental duty if it is not the safety and security of its citizens?  
 Having said that, here are a few suggestions: Why not increase patrols in high crime areas like the Point, Desouza Road area and Ottos? Why not more stop and frisks? Why not more traffic road stops? Why not a gun-buyback programme? Why not an amnesty for all owners of illegal firearms? Why not do more to stem the flow of firearms into our fair country? And why not, as the Prime Minister suggested a few days ago, seriously stiffen the penalties for illegal gun possession and violence? We submit that these are all common-sense measures that should be quickly implemented without the grandstanding in parliament or the formation of a do-nothing committee or the conducting of a never-ending feasibility study.
Of course, none of the above-mentioned measures are a licence for the police to abuse their power or infringe on the rights of decent, law-abiding citizens. Au contraire, these measures must be implemented judiciously, and with much diligent oversight of the police. After all, we do not want our country to become a police state.
 But neither should it be the Wild West, with daily shoot-outs at the Wadadli Corral!

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