Over the past two weeks there have been a growing number of reports in social media as well as on various national radio call-in programmes expressing public outrage about the increasing incidents of harassment and police brutality taking place during the searches and raids by the police and the Regional Security System (RSS) forces who are assisting them. Members of the general public are beginning to worry that such abuses will continue since it is rumored that the excessive use of force being used by the police is based on a directive from the Prime Minister and Minister for National Security, Dr. Timothy Harris. who allegedly has given orders to “rough up” the people of St. Kitts and Nevis.
One distraught caller on the radio programme “Ask the Leader” hosted Dr. Denzil Douglas, Leader of the Opposition on KYSS FM, was even heard asking him to make a request for an emergency meeting of the National Assembly to be convened in order to discuss the terms of engagement that have been provided to the RSS during its latest operation here in St. Kitts and Nevis.
“I want to call on the law enforcement authorities to cease and desist any operation or activity that infringes the human rights of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. Violence will only beget more violence and if people feel as if their rights are not respected they will fight back and the situation of violence in this country will only degenerate into absolute chaos,” responded Dr. Douglas emphatically.
Dr. Douglas in his presentation on the radio programme further emphasized that the current tactics being used are not an effective strategy to solve crime. He pointed to a recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study entitled “Better Spending for Better Lives: How Latin America and the Caribbean can do more with less” that was published earlier this year.
“[The report] tells us in Chapter Seven that the punitive approach to crime that is focused on harsher and more militarized types of policing, longer prison sentences, and massive incarceration does not work when done in isolation. Putting more money to beef up the police and military personnel and to imprison people does not work,” said the concerned Opposition Leader.
“Punitive approaches must be combined with preventative approaches that expand government programmes aimed at reducing inequality and social exclusion that favour crime and violence. That cut the rate of school dropouts as well as family disintegration, urban poverty and youth unemployment. These measures must also be added to the national strategy on crime,” Dr. Douglas continued.
“So far Dr. Harris as the Minister of National Security has only focused on the easy part, throwing money at crime. His so-called “zero-tolerance approach” is only serving to criminalize our young people, particularly our young men who are 25 and under. This government must ask itself, what is it doing to address the root causes of crime? When they have cut back on many of the programmes implemented by Labour to train and empower your young people and extend full employment to our people through programmes such as the PEP then there is no wonder that there has been a dramatic increase in youth unemployment.”
Dr. Douglas explained to listeners that he believes that Dr. Timothy Harris is completely clueless on crime and that is why he is focusing on measures that give the appearance that he is trying to do something about crime, but the general public must ask how effective are these measures really being.
“The fact that the RSS was here before in 2016, in even greater numbers than what we have now, yet when they left things returned to the way they were with crime continuing to increase, means that Dr. Harris does not have any idea or plan for how to effectively curb crime in a way that yields lasting results. When my government was in office our plans resulted in a 30% reduction in crime from a spike of 34 murders in 2011 to 18 in 2012 and it never got that high again up until we left office in 2015. Since Team Unity has been in office crime has increased and has remained high. To take the murder rate it, has been as high as 31 homicides for 2016,” Dr. Douglas declared.
“This is why I have been tireless in calling for a national strategy on crime that is comprehensive, holistic and inclusive of all stakeholders in society that would give equal attention to the preventative aspects of crime,” said the Opposition leader.
For almost four years Dr. Douglas and the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party have been appealing for a national consultation on crime in the face of Dr. Harris’ complete denial and insistence that “crime is trending downward”. The Opposition Leader has welcomed the initiative by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce to convene a High Level Committee on crime comprising stakeholders, institutions and entities across civil society, on which the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party has been invited to participate. In early September the Chamber of Industry and Commerce issued a statement that said that crime in St. Kitts and Nevis had reached “new and dangerous levels” which prompted the Harris administration to finally take action by establishing the National Security Strategy Formulation Committee, which however, deliberately excludes the parliamentary opposition.
“When the economy is stagnant because the government has not introduced any new job-creating project what does [Team Unity] expect? When businesses have to downsize or layoff people because they are not making a profit what does Dr. Harris think will happen? When parents are not being empowered to parent effectively and teachers are not being empowered to educate effectively what does Dr. Harris expect?” queried the exasperated Opposition Leader. “When our young men cannot access legitimate means of employment the general tendency will be to shift to the underground economy and criminality. This is not to say that getting involved in crime is not a choice and a wrong choice, but it puts an obligation on the government to create an enabling environment that would make it less likely or less attractive for people to turn to a life of crime.”
In light of Dr. Harris’ failure to take a holistic approach to crime fighting, Dr. Douglas insists that the people of St. Kitts and Nevis cannot allow a situation where the police and military are given unlimited powers to abuse people without any regards to their human rights. “The end does not justify the means. There must be limits to what they are allowed to do and how they are allowed to treat people. The excessive use of force must never be allowed. It is unacceptable. The people of St. Kitts and Nevis should not stand for it. The government should not allow it,” Dr. Douglas concluded.