guyana chronicle editorial October 15, 2017


GUYANESE cannot be comfortable with the number of murders that have so frequently been occurring in our country. These past few weeks have been especially bloody—from the murder of young Leonard Archibald to the hacking to death of Kenesha Sheriff-Fraser to the senseless killing of two senior citizens, Constance Fraser and Phyllis Melrose Caesar. It seems as if we have been waking up to one of these violent incidents every day. There were many before and have been others since the ones cited here. What is particularly hard to come to grips with is the wanton disregard for human life that seems to be at play here.

Violent crimes are not new to the human experience and to Guyana. Indeed, we have witnessed in recent times in the wider CARICOM Region an alarming rise in such crimes. But, for us in Guyana, we have reached the point where we should not continue to treat this development as normal. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we are being faced with a gathering national security threat that cannot be explained by any single social factor. It is the multiplicity of causes that must worry those who are charged with maintaining law and order in our society—the circumstances of these murders range from jealousy to domestic abuse to robbery to mental health.

Our social scientists have long argued that the root cause of our relatively high crime rate lies in our inability to rid our country of the scourge of poverty. That prognosis still holds true. But what accounts for the sharp increase in violent crimes, whereby those who commit these acts seem to be simultaneously intent on taking the lives of the victims ? It is not unreasonable to conclude that there must be other factors at work. It is difficult not to be swayed in the direction of those who believe that, in addition to the socio-economic condition, we are quickly losing our moral compass—something deadly is taking hold of the soul of the nation.

What on earth could explain the targeting of a little boy, full of life and hope and a long, bright future, for the kind of dark end that was meted out to him by adults in his community? We may be tempted to view that incident as an isolated one, but we have seen too many similar murders. We should guard against the temptation to be drawn into that proverbial comfort zone. When young men, in the course of a robbery, could matter-of-factly, but intentionally, snuff out the lives of two older women just because they raised an alarm on seeing strange men in their home, then our society is in serious trouble. Just look at how a man could pre-meditate to murder a woman for whatever reason and then calmly take his own life!

We cannot as a society continue to be comfortable with these senseless acts. There are those who will turn this into a partisan political football by charging the present government with being unable to bring the crime rate under control. Many will call for this and that minister to be fired. But, that very political chatter may be a hindrance to a wider societal approach to this problem. How many times have we, for example, racialised the crime and violence in our midst, thus leading to the belief by some that their community does not produce crime and to the motivation by others to be defensive about the same? If we have not realised by now that this phenomenon cuts across ethnicity, then we will be forever trapped in a state of paralysis.

The police force and the government of the day have so often turned to statistics to explain the crime situation—we are constantly fed with statistics about the decrease in crimes. While statistics don’t necessarily lie, they often mask the human toll that crime and violence take on a society. It is impossible, inhuman and immoral to quantify violent crimes—the impact can never be captured by numerical decreases or increases.
Some may be tempted to reach for the easy solution—capital punishment. We say easy, because the operationalising of that form of punishment does not require rational thought or policy-making. We acknowledge that it is difficult to tell the families and loved ones of the victims of violence that capital punishment is not an effective form of deterrence, that while it satisfies a limited desire for justice, it has not made the rest of us less vulnerable to violence.

This crime situation is out of control. The government, as stewards of our day-to-day affairs must take the lead in bringing some sanity to the situation. But we must admit that the solution is not straightforward for the source is a combination of the social, economic and the moral. But it seems that we have reached the point where all sectors and sections of the society must assume responsibility for the moment.
These mostly young men do not drop from the sky, they come from communities. And these communities are full of churches and clubs and other organisations of faith. It may be that our religious organisations should tailor their gospel and teachings towards helping to create zones of deterrence from violence. The mission of our churches and schools and social organisations must be to deter our young people not just from crime, but from the culture of violence that is eating away at our social fabric. If we do not begin to act in unison now, our nation could descend into anarchy.