NASSAU, BAHAMAS – A man was killed and a child hit by a car during a drive-by shooting in an inner-city area yesterday afternoon. Two days before that,14 people, including minors, were sprayed with bullets at a birthday party in Montell Heights, and two days before that, two men were shot to death execution style.
There are serious fears of reprisal as these communities struggle to come to grips with these tragedies. Yet, all some Bahamians can seem to focus on is one wealthy businessman’s decision to resign from Cabinet.
We are in a state of crisis, whether police are willing to admit that or not. There are people who are genuinely afraid to go outside out of fear that they may in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, that’s not what we’re talking about.
I tuned in to several talk shows this week, and listened in on candid conversations among people chatting at different establishments around town. The hot topic of the day was Brent Symonette’s resignation as Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration. Not the children that were shot, not Montell Heights, the community desecrated by these heinous acts – Brent Symonette.
Sunday’s mass shooting in the Englerston constituency managed to secure headlines for a few days, and I applaud the media for giving the residents an opportunity to speak candidly about what transpired.
But, it’s the general ho-hum reaction to these shootings that are proving to be most shocking and disturbing.
New Providence residents are dangerously close to being completely desensitized, and that is a scary thought.
There used to be a time when reports of people being shot, particularly en masse, would send shockwaves that reverberated for weeks, even months.
But, times have changed.
Last month, 21-year-old Bradley Smith was killed in a drive-by shooting on Dunmore Street. The 23-second surveillance video clip of his shooting was shared widely on social media. But, it was met with a virtual shoulder shrug and a general feeling of “another day, another murder.”
In fact, this dispassion was highlighted by The Tribune, which later produced a heart-tugging editorial denouncing the casual reactions to this heinous act.
Police have long sought to quell the fears of a frightened public, reminding residents that many of these criminal acts are targeted, confined to certain areas or are a result of gang conflicts. Unfortunately, too many residents have been pacified by these facts.
They somehow figure that as long as those crimes are confined to areas they don’t live in or traverse, they don’t need to worry.
There is little care or concern for the residents who cannot afford to move from these crime-ridden, environmentally neglected areas. On top of that, they have to live with the stigma of what daily life in their respective communities brings.
National Security Minister Marvin Dames said while crime numbers continue to trend down they will not disappear overnight as the authorities are fighting “decades of neglect.”
He is absolutely correct.
Many of these inner-city communities have been neglected and ignored for years until they are of use again. Their value typically spikes towards the end of a five-year political cycle.
I often note that we are dealing with two versions of The Bahamas. As the criminal acts become more heinous, these parallel worlds become even more evident, and no one seems to be immune – not women, not the elderly and certainly not children.
During yesterday’s drive-by shooting on Ragged Island Street and Andros Avenue, a little boy was hit by a car as suspects fled the crime scene.
I am also reminded of little Eugene Woodside, the eight-year-old Albury Sayle Primary School third-grader who was shot by a stray bullet as he was doing homework.
I also think of Perry Rolle, the 15-year-old T.A. Thompson ninth-grade student who was stabbed to death by another teenage boy after allegedly being bullied.
Sunday’s shooting in Montell Heights was reminiscent of the 2013 Fox Hill Massacre where four people were killed and many others wounded in a drive-by shooting on Freedom Park.
The incident greatly shook up the community known for his close-knit ties.
Many people critical of these heinous acts will urge residents to play a greater role in weeding out the criminal element. They’ll urge them to report certain incidents to police and stop protecting those destroying their communities. It’s unlikely to happen. Here’s why.
The authorities have not traditionally enjoyed a good reputation with the residents, particularly those living in inner-city areas who often feel targeted rather than respected.
Many are also reluctant to step forth and provide information because they fear retribution. It’s a legitimate concern. Very few people would be willing to make themselves or their families a target, especially if they have to return to those same communities where those criminals live.
Those in charge of securing our nation must really begin to figure out how AK-47 assault rifles are making their way into our country.
Are we properly checking these shipping containers thoroughly? Are the vehicles that are being imported being properly scanned? What about the private individuals sailing into The Bahamas, are we checking their boats or those on private planes?
We do not manufacture guns, so they have to be coming from somewhere. Everyone should be properly checked.
More importantly, ordinary Bahamians cannot be content to resume their regular lives after witnessing such carnage.
As I end, I think back on one of the most powerful scenes that I have ever seen in my entire life. It came courtesy of the 2004 historical film, Hotel Rwanda.
In the scene, actor Don Cheadle, who plays Paul Rusesabagina – the manager at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, who hid and protected hundreds of Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the 1994 genocide – thanks a reporter, Jack Daglish, played by Joaquin Phoenix, for shooting footage of the genocide.
Paul seems comforted by the thought that the world will intervene once it sees images of the mass slaughter. The reporter asks him what would happen if they don’t intervene and Paul can’t understand why they wouldn’t, especially after witnessing such atrocities.
The reporter responds, “I think, if people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s horrible’ and they’ll go on eating their dinners.
Bahamians have an opportunity to be better than that. We owe it to each other to be better than that.