Lydia Thomas, left, and Erma Alleyne, second at right, the grandmothers of murder victim Hakeem Thomas are consoled where candles were lit for Thomas at Mt Pleasant on May 11. Thomas was killed on May 9.
– David Reid
A wave of violence, including six murders in less than five months, threatens to disrupt the usually laid-back, tourist-oriented scene in Tobago but stakeholders want urgent action before it gets any worse.
President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) Alpha Lorde said empowering communities can help reduce crime.
“I would like to hear a broader plan that treats with the youth population to prevent those who are at risk to addressing some of the things that caused them to be perpetually at risk.”
He said crime is multi-faceted and it imposes economic and social costs adding that the victims of violent crime are predominantly the youth population, and such crimes also negatively impact the business environment.
“As a person watching crime and criminality, you’ll have to feel uncomfortable to the fullest extent. Tobago has never had a case where it’s pacing to have murders in that kind of manner. I feel saddened by it. I feel that it would have long-term impact but I’m human, I’m more concerned that we’re losing people that we don’t need to be losing in a manner which sends a psychological impact to the communities, that we don’t need to have.”
He described the entire situation as “crazy,” especially as guns are used in most of the crimes.
“It shows the extent to which the crime situation has evolved, it shows the extent to which the society has evolved and situations, whatever they may be, the result is to use a gun. That cannot auger well at all for society in no way, form or fashion. I think it’s quite atrocious that the weapon of choice now is just to walk with a gun.”
He said crime and criminality do not start at the point in time of somebody holding a gun or choosing to go and kill somebody but long before that.
“Therefore, yes, these roadblocks. Yes, these searches, where warranted, are a positive thing, but if we try to deal with it from that point of view only, we’ll just be spinning top in mud. There are a lot of other socio-economic factors that have to be looked into as to why people are picking up guns with such ease.”
As to how such levels of crime affect tourism, Lorde said every major tourist destination contends with crime in one form or fashion that can have a negative impact on the destination.
“So yes, we would have a negative impact. I think what is far more important is how we manage the communication not only of the crime situation, how we manage the communication of the destination and the brand that is the destination – the communication has to be a whole lot more positive and not acknowledge that crime.
“The crime has to be acknowledged, it has to be treated with, but I think there are far more positive things that need to be the lead story. Otherwise, once we leave the crime regardless of whether it is two murders or 200, if that is the story, then the impact would be negative. There are destinations with a whole lot more crime but that isn’t the lead story. There are plenty of positives going on in those destinations and they’re not burying their heads in the sand about it but they’re also not making crime the centrepiece of the conversation. They’re making their positives known, so we have to do the same thing. It would affect us but we have to treat with it and we have to also be able to amplify a message that goes beyond the crime.”
Defence Force director of operations in Tobago Major Michael Adams speaks of joint patrols at a media briefing with Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, left, at Shaw Park Complex on May 10. – David Reid
His sentiments were echoed by many of the youths in the Buccoo/ Mt Pleasant district. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one young man said: “We need more opportunities, there is nothing out here for the young people. It have more in a life a crime, apparently.”
Another man said: “If you can’t get it legally, you might as well just get it illegally because we not getting it at all. We want jobs, that is what we want.”
Former president of the association Nick Hardwicke described the recent upsurge in violent criminal activity as “deplorable.” Hardwicke said much more must be done to tackle the scourge of illegal guns on the island.
“The police and other branches of the security services need to be tasked and appropriately resourced to deal with and stamp out the problem and directed by the highest authority to do so immediately. In a small island with a population of about 60,000 where everyone knows everybody there ought to be no easy hiding place for the criminally inclined.”
He said if this violent trend continues, then there is no doubt that it will undermine investments in tourism and through it the wider community and economy of the island.
“All will suffer. To be productive, the meeting between the security services and THA needs to result in a combined approach of resources for the police and other security services to tackle, interdict and stamp out the problem in the short to medium term. This initiative should be backed by a strong social message from the politicians of all parties and community leaders, aimed at fostering respect for our fellow citizens, respect for the law and zero-tolerance for criminal activity and those who support and enable criminal behaviour.”
On May 10, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine called in the leadership of the police and defence force vowing, as they announced plans to set up more joint patrols, and random searches, to rid Tobago of criminal gangs who have been blamed for the spike in gun crimes.
THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris said he too is concerned.
“As a law-abiding Tobagonian, we are also concerned about the level of criminality on the island and the murder rate at this time.”
On the joint measures instituted, he said, “We welcome anything that is within the law and bring any kind of reprieve to us here in Tobago and give us some sense of comfort.”
“My challenge is that crime is not an isolated kind of thing, it requires a holistic, comprehensive kind of approach, so therefore policing is important but at the same time there are the social interventions that must happen at the same time.”
He said he has recognised that the Augustine-led administration has not really talked about the cause, they’re talking about the actions to prevent crime but what about those things that cause people to really go towards a life of crime?
“We’re talking about employment – when you look at Tobago right now and you talk to young people, you know the kinds of frustrations that are in the system, both the academic people who would have gone out, studied, come back, want to contribute. They’re frustrated because there are limited opportunities for them and then you have those young people in the system who would have come out from high school looking for something to do and they too are very, very frustrated because the employment opportunities just aren’t coming as they should.”
He said it is known that the THA cannot employ everyone, but the THA can create the enabling environment to have a booming private sector.
“Through that we can create industries and the industries would be able to take up some of the slack in terms of employment but that isn’t happening at this time.”
Crime is a social problem, he said, adding that it is because of social ills and challenges. “If you look at the statistics, whenever employment is low, you tend to have a lower crime rate, when you have high unemployment, you have an increase in crime and this is what we are seeing.”
He said the administration must take some responsibility.
“All is not lost. Therefore, I was quite disappointed when I saw the press briefing and all we had there was simply the security forces. I’m asking where is the community intervention, where are our community groups, our church groups, our sports-based organisations, our NGOs dealing with women and children and at-risk families and all that. What you really need is a holistic approach, an approach that is all-inclusive, all-embracing, all of society.”
“I’ve consistently said to this administration, I am not so much focused on trying to knock you for whatever issue is happening with crime, I’m here to work with you, I’m here to provide whatever little assistance that can be had because crime is all of our problems.”