Contributing writer Dickson Igwe

Second article in a three article series, and word of caution for the British Virgin Islands, about a state of denial that fails to see the threat from overspill of a violent and deadly antisocial subculture prevalent in the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands.

A news story on BVI News, and  sourced to Caribbean Media Vision, of July 15, 2011, a narrative titled, ‘’ anti gang bill tabled in St. Kitts,’’ described how the St. Kitts Government tabled at the time, legislation, aimed at ‘’ suppressing gangs, as well as the prosecution and reform of juveniles found to be gang members.’’

This Bill sought to ‘’ make provision for the maintenance of public safety, and public order, by discouraging persons from joining criminal gangs and by suppressing gang related activities.’’  The Bill became law on September 2, 2011, with police making their first arrests recently, of two gang members, who may face up to 25 years in jail for gang related activities, under this new law.  The St. Kitts effort at using legislation to fight the gang menace provides a useful model of study for these Virgin Antilles.

Returning to the British Virgin Islands, and National News Forum Contributor, Edgar Leonard, responding to this Pilgrim’s commentary on the growing, subtle, organized, and criminal gang menace in the British Virgin Islands, a narrative titled ‘’ GANGSTA, alive, well, and thriving in the British Virgin Islands’’ of March 17, 2012, and posted on both BVI News Online and Virgin Islands News, and the opinion page of the Island Sun of March 23, 2012, and Mr. Leonard made one critical assertion in his response.

Leonard’s assertion in the ‘VI gang menace discussion’ was that ‘’treating the symptom only provides temporary relief.’’ One assumes that in using the phrase, treating the symptom, Leonard was speaking of law enforcement measures against the outward and physical manifestation of gangs and gang type behaviours, such as aggressive Law enforcement measures against gangs, which is certainly necessary, but which will only really be a simple band aid, covering a festering and worsening social sore.

The Writer viewed ‘’ high unemployment, and lots of idle time, ‘’ as leading to violence, property crimes, and destructive behavior.  He further asserted that ‘’ providing a job is not a panacea for the problem, ‘’ that there ‘’ needs to be a holistic approach, it requires the whole village: family, civil society, and government.’’ He stated that the gang problem was a community problem, not an individual one, ‘’ so the community must get engaged.’’ This Believer will add this however: the Church has a pivotal role to play in protecting BVI children and youth from the gang malignancy, and this it must do by adopting a more socially oriented Christian Gospel, mixed with hard action.

Now, stepping back in time to June 16, 2011, at a seminar held under the big tent at the Elmore Stoutt High School, on a brilliant West Indian afternoon in Road Town, Capital of the British Virgin Islands, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force sponsored a symposium on gangs for the benefit of the education establishment primarily. The seminar featured presentations by a number of visiting police officers and gang experts, from the United States Virgin Islands.  The focus was on the dangers of a US culture of gangs becoming dominant and permanent in these British Virgin Islands.

The main presenter at the symposium was Officer Lavelle Mark Campbell who was Safety Officer for schools in the USVI, and described as the Gang Tsar. Campbell stated that it was indeed a tragedy that kids joined gangs in order to feel safe and fit in. He further stated that it was easy to be blind to the gang problem, especially when it was in the embryonic stages as it probably was in the BVI at the time. He described the problem of copy cat gangs and stated that the prime age of the gang member was between 16 and 24 years.

Photo courtesy monster.wikia.com

Campbell believed that the problem in the BVI was that there was a new generation of wannabe gangsters who did not fully appreciate how destructive the gang culture was.  Campbell described how gangs evolved quickly, and went from one stage in the cycle to the next in about 4 weeks.  This was a deadly evolution from embryo to destructive social subset that has been well observed and documented, especially in the United States.

Campbell stated that it was critical that British Virgin Islands society, especially the legal, educational and police establishments understand the graffiti, nomenclature, language, colours, and clothing of the various gangs.  Gangs he said ‘’ engage in criminal activity, have their own very specific mode of operation, are very territorial, and jealous of turf, ‘’ and that ‘’ control of specific vicinities and locales is very important to the system and culture of gangs.’’

The USVI ‘Gang Tsar’ further added that the most vulnerable to gang membership are ‘’ children and youth from dysfunctional homes where there is no father figure present. The gangster provides the fatherless male with a role model that he may find appealing, but that will eventually destroy him.’’ The gang is also viewed as ‘’ an alternative to school and regular work, and a way of making money.’’ However the money making aspect of gangs is through illegal activity: drug dealing, robbery, prostitution, and so on and so forth.

In June 2011, Campbell warned that in the BVI gangs are at the embryonic stage, and consequently this evolving culture had to be tackled and removed, before it became a social menace. He further warned that of the 66 homicides in the USVI in 2010, half were gang related.’’

His predictions are certainly coming to pass and increasingly, this first half of 2012. One only has to amble about certain parts of Road Town these days, and the number of youngsters dressed in gangster type dress and paraphernalia, and walking together in organized type groups, suggests that the culture of gangs in these Tropical Isles is no longer a problem that is embryonic. No, ‘gangsta’ has arrived ‘big time’ in the British Virgin Islands.

We can only pray this avant garde gangsta type culture does not become part of the permanent criminal infrastructure. That a gangsta culture in these relatively safe British Virgin Islands does not become the ‘killing machine’ for young black men it is in the United States.

This tiny British Overseas territory cannot afford a gangland type epidemic of the type spreading uncontrollably in a USA that possesses a police force armed to the teeth. Furthermore, the BVI must not adopt the failed United States Virgin Islands approach of reacting at the periphery of the gang problem.

The core, as Leonard so aptly determined, must be tackled before any defeat of the gang culture is realized. The USVI modus in dealing with the gang issue is a posture of the flat footed and evidenced by the continued existence of this menace on the streets of St. Thomas and St. Croix.

The gang culture must be attacked at its nucleus. Like destroying the fabled evil vampire, a stake must be thrust through the heart of the gang beast, killing the monster.  But how does all of this alluding to vampires and beasts relate to a growing gang culture in the British Virgin Islands?

Well, it determines that in addition to the holistic approach so aptly proposed by Mr. Leonard, new and increasingly draconian legislation must be introduced in the BVI, and totally focused upon making life very difficult for gangs and their members. New laws specifically designed, giving the police more powers to stop suspicious type loitering, and a regime of curfews that is fully and thoroughly enforced.

Tough laws that are focused upon targeting those who are recruiting youngsters into gangs, and laws giving the police more powers in identifying, apprehending, and interrogating gang members should be introduced as part of the crime fighting national apparatus. Then, add a much tougher stop and search regimen, greater intelligence gathering, and so on and so forth.

A very senior police officer asserted while conversing with this Pilgrim sometime in mid March, 2012, that he believed that the gang culture must be stopped immediately, that it could not be condoned nor trifled with. In his own words: ‘’ we’ve got to crush this gang thing once and for all.’’

He further informed this Observer, that he had the very unpleasant task recently of having to deal harshly with a 12 year child who was suspected of gang involvement, and a vulnerable boy at that who was displaying all of the anti social type behaviors of a gangster. ‘’Yes Police Inspector, this community cannot afford to trifle with this very subtle, but terrible beast!’’

In a similar vein, a prominent Virgin Islands Educator and School Principal made a remark at a meeting recently. The Principal asserted that the time had come in these Virgin Islands for its leaders to draft legislation holding parents accountable for the poor, anti social and illegal behavior of their children, in certain circumstances. For example, a youth breaking and entering into a property should not only face a legal sanction, but in addition, the parents fined, and if found culpable for being a factor in the child’s misdemeanor, even face jail time. Add the parents of gang members to the list, and the parents of ‘little gangsters’ should explain whether they are aware of their child’s very dangerous behavior.

The Principal even spoke of the common occurrence of parents having the temerity to come into a school and attack and abuse the school authorities when children are reprimanded and disciplined for bad behaviour: a foolish rendition of the wrong and strong that could be much more intelligently and wisely handled. This threatening of school authorities by angry parents too, must be investigated.

Yes, what an excellent idea Principal! Parents facing the stiff sanction of law should alert them into taking greater care of their child rearing responsibilities, not just chase the mighty dollar bill all day and all night, in an effort to keep up with the Jones,’ while their children are running wild on the streets. And then unwisely coming into a school facility and blaming their child’s failure to behave on the education establishment. Come on: behave!