Gov’t declares ‘war on crime’ at meeting with Syrian community in wake of murder

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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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The government and the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) have given the Syrian community and the public by extension the assurance that they will do all in their power “together” to step up crime-fighting initiatives in Antigua and Barbuda.

Upon request of the Honorary Syrian Consul, members of the Syrian community met with two government officials and an opposition member at the Syrian Club on Blue Waters Road on Tuesday to discuss crime in the country, following the murder of a Syrian man.

On Monday, Roudi Shmali, 26, became the country’s first homicide of 2023, after he was killed by an armed robber at the Pick N Mix superette on DeSouza Road.

Public Safety Minister Steadroy Benjamin told those in attendance at the meeting that the government would look at legislation with a view to increasing penalties for certain offences.

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Roudi Shmali, 26, became the first homicide victim of the year on Monday

Declaring what he said was a “war on crime”, Benjamin also gave the assurance that the spike in crime that is currently being experienced will be fully addressed.

Meanwhile, some of those present believe that the use of marijuana is causing youngsters to have behavioural problems. The man who pulled the trigger and shot Shmali, who resided at Utopia Place, Sir George Walter Highway, is believed to be in his teens.

Tourism Minister and Rural North MP, Charles Fernandez, who was also at the meeting, agreed, adding that some of the youngsters who “push” drugs are mere victims of the real drug dealers.

Fernandez said Cabinet had approved increasing the number of police officers and CCTV cameras around St John’s and some villages.

“We have also decided and agreed to improve and upgrade radios and police patrol vehicles. Unfortunately, we do not give our police enough credit. Antigua and Barbuda has the highest rate of solving crimes…a young man is already in custody [for Shmali’s killing],” he said.

Pearl Quinn, a UPP member who was also at Tuesday evening’s meeting, said while she supports the government in its bid to tackle crime in the country, the focus should be on prevention.

“The leadership of the UPP is fully on board with all the steps that will be taken to rid Antigua of this surge that we are seeing right now. I think however that we need to concentrate on prevention rather than consequences and punishment,” she said.

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Members of the community turned out for Tuesday night’s meeting

“At the end of the day, all the punishment cannot bring a person back to life. We have noticed that the punishment does nothing to deter them. Even if we increase the punishment, the crime is still being committed.”

Quinn gave kudos to the government’s decision to increase police numbers around the city but she said these officers must branch out into the uncomfortable communities. She also claimed that the extra 50 police officers planned are not enough.

“The officers need to be consistent. Not just when an incident happens you see the stop and search increase. They need to stay on the streets 24-7. Some business places are open late. We need the officers who are in St Lucia back here,” she said.

A candlelight vigil will take place outside Shmali’s business, the Chicken Hub on DeSouza Road, at 6.30pm Thursday.

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