DEALING EFFECTIVELY WITH CRIME ON ANGUILLA (By Rev. Dr. H. Clifton Niles)
During the last two to three weeks, there has been much concern expressed over some criminal activity which has taken place in Anguilla. While the concern has come from all quarters on the island, the greatest hype has come from persons in the tourism sector. This is well understood given the importance of tourism to the economy of Anguilla, and the fact that the industry is not “booming” at present. Any further erosion resulting from criminal activity will have dire consequences for all citizens and residents of Anguilla. It is very important, therefore, that we all do whatever we can and whatever is necessary, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that there is no further criminal activity that will adversely affect the industry, and our standard of living on the island.
However, the reality is that criminal activity in Anguilla is not confined to the tourism industry only. A review of the weekly reports appearing in The Anguillian reveals the fact that criminal activity is experienced island-wide and in many areas of our national life. While many of the crimes committed are not really serious in nature, we are witnessing a rise in serious crimes, for example, woundings, murders, shootings, bank robbery, and the like. We are also witnessing a greater degree of sophistication in the methods used by those who are engaged in criminal activity.
I use this medium to call upon every right thinking Anguillian and resident of Anguilla to feel a sense of urgency to become engaged in the task of drastically reducing and eventually stamping out, as much as possible, criminal activity from our beautiful island. Let the vision of a “crime-free Anguilla” capture your imagination, influence your attitude, energise your commitment and drive your actions. This vision of a “crime-free Anguilla” requires us to be SMART(Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) as we determine our targets, approach and strategies. Our target must be correctly and clearly defined, our approach must be wholistic, inclusive and multi-pronged, and our strategies must include intervention and preventive, as well as short, medium and long term strategies. While narrow, knee-jerk, reactionary approaches and strategies may appear to have some immediate impact, in the long term they will turn out to be ineffective.
Related to the above situation, are two matters of very serious concern which I wish to highlight in the hope that, being aware of them, they will not become a trend in our society, for then they will portend a real danger to our autonomy and well being as Anguillians. The first has to do with the widespread outcry and obvious anger expressed as a result of the robbery some tourists experienced at Little Bay and the attempted robbery at Blanchards Restaurant. We are all saddened by the events, but very grateful no one was physically hurt. The outrage is justifiable, and this sort of outrage should always be seen and heard whenever there is some criminal activity, especially if human life is involved. The degree of outrage among our expatriate population especially was, and still is, particularly noticeable. After all, their special interest came under attack.
What I find very, very, very troubling and disturbing is the fact that a few weeks earlier, when there was a robbery which left two human beings dead, there was no outrage, there was no widespread outcry, not even from our political leaders who had a meeting in the House shortly after that ugly event. Is one left to think that for those who are connected to the tourism industry, crime in Anguilla does not matter as long as it does not touch the tourists or a tourist-related establishment? What message is sent when there is such an out-cry from the expatriate community over two criminal activities, in which no one was physically hurt or maimed, but there was a deafening silence when two human beings were murdered?
Is it that the expat community cares only about what affects their business and their bottom-line, and have little or no concern for the well being of Anguillians and other residents? Are we witnessing the beginning of an ugly divide? Sometimes things happen almost unawares and before long a trend or pattern is set, and then becomes a social reality. I use this medium to sound an alarm, and I call upon all concerned to ensure that the ugly and deadly “divide” does not take root in Anguilla.
The second matter which is even more serious is related to the first. I am in receipt of several emails which are in circulation among several persons, most of whom are members of the expat community, but included are His Excellency, the Chief Minister, the Chief of Police, Parliamentarians and some other prominent Anguillians. The email trail is very long, and many persons are contributing to its length. At the heart of it is the expat community’s action plan for dealing with criminal activity on Anguilla. The plan is a stout call to “Take Anguilla Back” (TAB) as set out in a separate document. A three-fold strategy is to be employed.
The FIRST order of business is to mobilize the expat community to raise US$200K, then US$300K then US$400K to equip the Royal Anguilla Police Force (RAPF). It is emphasised that the money raised “will always be (1) spent very carefully and (2) ONLY on police equipment. Not a penny elsewhere”.
The NEXT step, as laid out in the email, is to find a “prominent Anguillian who can drive this,” says the writer. He continues: “While I can be effective in a receptive group such as this one, I have no credibility in the front of the general population as a leader to take this to the people.” The writer indicates a preference for “a forceful person to sell this (plan) with passion to the population” who must be brought into a “Take Anguilla Back Frenzy”. Meanwhile, “smart legislation and other policies laid out.. [that] can make Anguilla safer than ever” will be enacted.
The so called ‘smart legislation and other policies’ will include making crime on tourists, treason, and therefore punishable by death or life imprisonment. Lifting up the St. Kitts model of stiffer penalties as an example, the writer “improved upon” it by stating “although it may scare jurists due to lack of precedence, crime on tourists, as we have just seen, is treason when your country depends on that for its entire way of life”. (not true) Because those who commit crimes on tourists are seen as a “Treacherous people”. The way to deal with them is “by getting the right equipment to the commissioner to get the job done”.
The THIRD piece in the plan is what to do with those persons who are in prison. The expat community (at least some of them) already have a proposal. The writer of an email on February 22, 2013 notes: “Melinda brought up the “pleasant” prison conditions. …I should have included that prison does not seem to be a strong deterrent in the TAB document, that criminal activities are, in fact, even conducted by cell phone from prison.” “I lack the expertise to know how to make prison ‘an absolute horrible place’, but we need recommendations to at least stiffen the penalty”.
In a response dated February 25, 2013, the writer, J.B., refers to the prison here as a “soft holiday camp” and states: “What would be a great deterrent would be if these criminals could be sent to a U.K. Jail. It would create the instant deterrent that is required. If this could be checked out with the Governor and the Anguilla government officials who are responsible it would certainly be worth considering”.
It is unbelievable that some members of the expat community in Anguilla can be thinking this way. But it is an extreme outrage and underhand hypocrisy that our Parliamentary Secretary (H.H.) is in league with them. His email, in response to the suggestion that Anguilla’s prisoners should be sent to a U.K. prison, indicates that it was done in the past and, barring prohibitive costs, the likelihood is possible again. In any event, he gave the expats the ok to approach the Governor on the matter.
We believe that there are many in the expat community who mean well for Anguilla, and we commend them. We sympathise with you if you or your business has been hurt in any way because of criminal activity. We all would like to see a “crime-free Anguilla”. However, the approach being espoused in the circulated emails is so outrageous, demeaning and insensitive to us as a people, and to the causes of criminal activity in a community, that it is insulting and offensive. Perhaps you did not mean to be offensive and insulting but, unfortunately, that is really what you did when your correspondence is carefully analysed. As important as the tourist industry is to the economy of the island, Anguilla is much more than a destination for tourists. It is the only place many of us can call home. A second basic fact to note is that no one who is involved in criminal activity was born that way. Criminals are created by the life experiences they have had. Even if you kill all the criminals now on the streets, and ship out all those in prison, but do nothing to improve community life and living standards – and enable those who are growing up to have a sense of worth, dignity and hope by helping them to feel that they can enjoy a piece of the national pie – more criminals will be created to take their place.
My appeal therefore is for us to join our energies and resources to create an Anguilla we all can enjoy – because it is crime free, friendly and safe – and where people are valued more than things. Let us have ONE inclusive, comprehensive, multi-pronged approach that concentrates on transforming those who are, or likely to become involved in criminal activities, to become creative citizens – rather than concentrating on eliminating or banishing those who are victims of social neglect, and therefore driven to criminal activity.