Contributing Author Dickson Igwe

Continuation of a series of articles on a growing and dangerous gang and gun culture in the British Virgin Islands

It would be a serious mistake not to begin this story on criminality with a very important preamble. And that preamble tells of a Conference on Criminality held in the British Virgin Islands at the Hamilton Lavitty Stoutt Community College, on Friday June 8, 2012: a seminar that was clearly a stunning success.

And why was this ‘town hall meeting,’ at the nation’s ‘citadel of knowledge’ such a valuable series of presentations and discussions? Because attendees were able to receive first hand, critical, qualitative, and substantive information, on the issue of crime, the causes of crime, and ways and means of preventing and combating a growing and deadly anti-social scourge, in Virgin Islands community.

Crime in the BVI is a steadily growing octopus that threatens to encompass every aspect of this tiny society in its lethal and highly elastic tentacles. And members of the public in attendance at this butting together of myriad heads, from a cross section of national stakeholders, indeed obtained precious nuggets and tidbits. They gained a knowledge and understanding that will protect not just their valuables, businesses, and homes; but life and limb as well.

In attendance at this symposium, were the Territory’s Governor, the Acting Premier, an At Large Representative, the Commissioner of Police; and  clergy, media, educators, and investigators, add a number of distinguished guests, including members of the general public, like this Eternally Curious Layman.

The brainchild of Ms. Alegra Jennings: a Virgin Islander who must certainly be congratulated for a herculean task and effort, in bringing critical stakeholders together, to discuss the issue of crime in the country. This Quasi Investigator and Public Officer will certainly be writing a number of narratives on Virgin Islands criminality in the near future, all based upon what he heard and received at CRIME CONFERENCE 2012.

Now, in another vein, and an important article of April 16, 2012, in BVI News Online headed: ‘’ GANGS REVEALED,’’ informed the Virgin Islands public that ‘’ the Royal Virgin Islands Police knows of at least 10 gangs that operated in the territory from as far back as 1992. ‘’

The article further highlighted ‘’ a panel discussion organized by the New Life Baptist Church titled ‘’ BVI’s dirty little secrets’’ on April 15, 2012, where Inspector Patrick Harewood listed these 10 gangs as: the Crips, The Bloods, Brave Heart Soldiers, squad Up, Lower Estate, Purcell Estate, and the Black Shirt Gang out of Baugher’s Bay. Additional gangs highlighted were The Sudan Posse, The Boys from Country, Rassville Posse, and Lower Estate Posse.’’ The gangs, according to the Police Inspector, varied from the typical to the atypical. And not all were violent.

However, according to the article, the Inspector stated that, ‘’ the problems that we are experiencing with steady increases in burglaries, occasional robberies and thefts, are usually committed by young people between the ages 14-25, where a concerning percentage of those young people have been found to be involved’’ with gangs.

The Inspector added that gangs were involved in ‘’ gang fights with rivals,

Photo courtesy thisislondon.co.uk

murders, and shootings. Some gang members were being influenced by foreign gang members coming into the territory from places in the Caribbean to commit serious crimes.’’  More chillingly, Harewood spoke of his dialog with a much scarred hit man: ‘’ a traceless killer, coming into the territory to recruit youths looking for an identity.’’

Now, of the responses posted to this article, the one this Investigator found most useful was by an anonymous writer whose words were these: ‘’ I have had experience with gangs in the Washington D.C. area.  It is important to realize that younger children commit crimes as initiation exercises.  This accounts for some of the thefts, assaults and damage to property.

These younger kids are used to run messages and are often bribed.  Parents need to be diligent in noticing changes.  Community policing plays an important role, and there needs to be a police presence in the schools, and teachers trained to be vigilant with regard to changes in the behavior of pupils that may denote gang involvement, especially with regard to boys.’’

In a related story, and the USA love affair with guns continued with a new rendition of death in Oakland California, where an Asian named One Goh, in his early 40s, walked into a university campus from which he was expelled, and with a 45 caliber handgun, murdered randomly, and in cold blood, 7 persons, execution style.

This act of violent madness, all too characteristic of the United States, took place on Monday April 2, 2012. Now the call for students on US campuses to be allowed guns in class to protect them from the lone shooter has grown: but isn’t this a simple mothballing of the gun problem, into a more ominous model that spells open warfare in the American citadels of learning?

Then, on April 8, 2012, the arrests of two apparently racist shooters, who earlier murdered 3 African Americans in Tulsa Oklahoma, revealed a continuing racial divide in the USA that despite decades of progress in race relations, still haunts that great nation. But it also showed the prevalence of gun use in most homicides in the USA.

But even earlier, there was another gun crime that caught the world’s attention. And that was the murder of a precious 17 year old African American son, Trayvon Martin, in Sandford Florida, USA, on February 26, 2012. This time by a Latino American neighbourhood watchman named George Zimmerman. There was one unique ingredient in that shooting however: the teen was probably racially profiled. And this is a warning to communities everywhere, never to stereotype a kid, teen, or adult, because of their colour, culture, and dress, or image and style.

Aaron David Miller, a US policy adviser for decades in the US State department, made a sage observation in a book he wrote titled, ‘’ the much too promised land.’’ Miller asserted that all human beings ‘’ are nothing, if not the sum of our experiences, biases, prejudices, and ethnic and religious backgrounds.’’ So true! We all create stereotypes of others, frequently, based upon our own cultural and ethnic identities, and apparently, this is simple human nature.

However, racial profiling is a more diabolical type of stereotyping:  a petty mindedness that is a very human foible indeed, and sadly enough, easy to embrace by many who should know better. Using stereotype when observing or interacting with another person is a common human trait, and a very negative one at that, notwithstanding the guilty party’s colour, ethnicity, or creed: it is a sign of parochialism and ignorance, combined with fear. In the school system, stereotyping is at the root of the bullying epidemic, of children who may not fit in with a preconceived mould or characteristic, preferred by the more physically dominant peers.

And all peoples, races, and ethnicities are culpable. It is behavior that springs from the wells of prejudice deep within the human soul. The teen’s shooter, Zimmerman, may or may not have been a racist hater, but evidence is now pointing in a direction that determines he was certainly ‘on the lookout for young black males of a certain cultural subset, in a racially diverse neighbourhood.’ Zimmerman was clearly careless and thoughtless.

It is worthy of note that this ‘cop wannabe,’ Zimmerman, while on neighbourhood watch, was not supposed to carry a firearm.  And now a group of police officers, probably friends with a Zimmerman, often on the telephone to the police, in an attempt to enforce his ‘good guy,’ credentials, are attempting to aid the shooter by trying to cover up this sad episode: and thereby creating an even bigger mess.

Fortunately, today’s USA appears to possess a new racial and political dynamic that will no longer tolerate the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent black children, teens and men.

Stereotyping is very dangerous feature of certain law enforcement agencies: a police officer, voluntary local constable, or security officer, sees a black kid with head covered by a hood, or adorned in a head stocking, dressed in black, walking the ‘white’ neighbourhood with a swagger, and then assumes the worst.  The child or teenager is harassed, even worse.

A family is left in mourning; a parent lives the rest of their life in a state of sorrow and pain.  This is what happens when law enforcement gets things wrong. The repercussions are serious, even terrible for victim and society alike.

This generalizing, and then pinpointing someone as criminal, based upon race or ethnicity, and culture, is not necessarily a US phenomenon alone.  Many in other countries are guilty of possessing preconceived ideas or stereotypes of various ethnic, social, and racial, subsets within their societies: this is a very human foible indeed. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians: there are elements within every racial and ethnic group that are guilty of the gross injustice of assuming the worst in others, owing to a physical or cultural difference from what is perceived as normal, and mainstream.

So in dealing with a growing gang menace in these Antilles, law enforcement officials are wise to learn the lessons from Florida, and the Trayvon Martin episode. Never assume the worst about anyone based upon appearances: observe, investigate, and think rationally first and foremost; and then after doing what is absolutely necessary, make the necessary determinations.

To be continued