American diplomats in Barbados have recently been pushing their snouts in the trough of Barbadian domestic public policy, against all conventions and accepted good manners, using their money as a Trojan horse. But this unwarranted intervention in our local domestic policymaking is not surprising; as America loses its influence in the world, it will intervene, more and more, in regional matters – the re-treading of Monroe-ism.
Part of the post-independence Barbadian political narrative is the myth that we are now masters in our own home; but, in reality, it is as much a self-deceiving nonsense as that we control our economy. However, although the language might have tempered itself in to what the Harvard sociologist Lawrence D. Bobo calls laissez faire racism, the reality is that the social outcomes of the new arrangement (that post-independence settlement which I have mentioned previously) still means that those left in the old communities, unable to escape to the Heights and Terraces, are the ones who pay the heavy social price. In a society shaped by American social biases, which is predicated on a winner/loser paradigm, there is an assumption that there must always be people at the bottom. But this is not a natural order of things; we know this from other societies, such as Scandinavia, and from the animal kingdom, that opportunities can be spread right across society.
In the US, a society in which presidential candidate Mitt Romney could say in private, with wide approval, that the bottom 47 per cent are irrelevant, is a society at war with itself. To assert ourselves in our island home, our political masters must reject US (and British and Canadian) intervention in our internal affairs. This is something that must include not only criminal justice, but our regional security, cultural affairs and the wide expanse of our lives. If we need help, we will ask for it; but if it is forced upon us, then it is not assistance, but bullying.
Crime in the US:
The one advantage that the US has over us as far as crime is concerned is that it is the laboratory of all major offences. They know more about criminal behaviour than us because of experience. Given this, there is very little there can teach us, apart about what not to do to control the rise of a criminal class. However, for Barbadian policymakers, the first line of defence against the long-reach of US criminal justice solutions is to define our social problems against theirs, and we do not have the social problems that that society has. Compared with the US, Barbados is a crime free zone, although some authoritarians seem to think we are on the precipice of Hell. However, if ordinary people think the level of crime is getting out of hand, then it must be treated with the seriousness that those people think it deserves. Even so, the bogus emphasis on money laundering, which the junior US diplomat is trying to put top of the agenda, is for America’s own internal purposes.
The really dangerous major players in money laundering in Barbados are not ordinary local people, but the dishonest hedge fund managers, the Irish and Irish-Canadians and other New Barbadians who infest the West Coast. One way of tackling that is by compelling them to declare all their worldwide assets on buying homes or applying for residential rights, and lodging what money they claim to have access to with a special central bank account. With ordinary Barbadians, including politicians, it is simply making people who have a lifestyle above their income to account for their wealth. Those that cannot do so convincingly, will have the assets seized as profits from crime. The US is a past master at exporting its demons, and we only have to travel through Central America to see the lawless gang members, speaking with America accents, who were expelled from Los Angeles, Texas or New York for allegedly not having their immigration papers in order – or, most probably, just for being Latinos.
Britain too has its myth-making about a developing criminal class. For example, crime fighting and racial and ethnic monitoring have become one and the same; no matter what new policy is introduced, from stop and search to the building of mug shot and DNA databases, the prime suspects are always young black people, meaning people from an Afro-Caribbean background. Older people agonise about this, but the younger ones exploit it to the maximum as a strategy of survival.
One trick I have seen mixed race teenagers work with success on so-called security guards, in reality privatised police, is a number of them would go in a supermarket, for example, knowing full well the security guard, obsessed with ethnicity, would target the black kids; in the meanwhile, the white boys (they are usually boys) would go around the supermarket shoplifting then depart with their black mates, who would behave impeccably, then meet up outside and share the stolen goods.
Without giving support to such theft, it shows how youngsters, growing up in an over-policed, over-watched society, can always devise ways of avoiding detection. More seriously, these young budding criminals usually have one thing in common: educational failures and marginalisation from the jobs market.
Crime and Science:
But the framers of the new criminal justice policies, and their academic supporters, are increasingly turning to science to explain away their biases. This form of new eugenics is fast approaching with the association of criminal behaviour with all kinds of bogus scientific theories, from the eating of junk food to neuroscience. They even claim they could spot future criminals from as young as the age of two, some say from birth – look at the parents and you could tell how the children will develop, they claim. And, predictably, the Rightwing tendency in the law and order brigade are jumping on the bandwagon with calls for the social control of youths – sometimes from birth – from certain social sectors. We are now hearing calls for limiting the number of children the so-called problem families can have.
Some politicians are even calling for greater privatising of criminal justice. One simplistic answer the Rightwing all over the world is becoming obsessed with is turning criminal justice in to a market issue. It even has its disciples in Barbados. But crime and punishment must be the responsibility of the state, not a few profit-hungry organisations.
Economics of Crime:
I have written about the economics of crime in this space before, and its epidemiology, but it is worth repeating that jailing one in every 300 Barbadians is anti-democratic and wasteful. This waste of youth, along with an every expanding criminal justice work force, compels advocates of these get tough measures to criminalise even more aspects of our social lives: from CCTVs at every street corner and in every shop, to the addiction to identity documents. In Barbados in the Registry a passport is no longer identification in its own right, one also needs an ID card, even though ID cards are not yet compulsory. The Royal Bank of Canada even ask existing customer who want to open new accounts to produce a passport, ID card and two utility bills as proof of identification. If this nonsense is part of its money-laundering identification process, know your customer, as we call it in Britain, the top management of the RBC should be sent packing back to Toronto.
Analysis and Conclusion:
There is an old saying that the punishment must fit the crime; but there is also a natural justice principle that the punishment must not be greater than the crime. Therefore, to amputate the arm of a thief is not only inhumane, but savage and, in many ways, more brutal than the original offence.
Equally, to remand someone in custody for an offence that s/he would not serve a fraction of the period of remand if convicted is primitive. We must also be wary of American intervention in our affairs. Barbados already has had a nasty dose of America criminal justice with the marooning of Cuban/Colombian/American Garcia on the island, having served a term in prison for a serious drug smuggling offence. If America and its diplomatic agents had the good will of little Barbados at heart, it would have intervened sometime ago and allowed him back in the States in what they must rightly know is an injustice to the Barbadian people. The reality is that anyone with a serious interest in criminal justice could do well by ignoring what takes place in the American theatre. American popular culture is framed by its history of settlement, removing indigenous peoples, conquering the wide, open plains, all backed by a fundamentalist religious fervour.
We have to decide what the ideological underpinning of our prison system is. Is rehabilitation at its heart, is it punishment, or simply to remove hardened criminals from the streets. If the system is principally punitive, then let us say so; if there is a rehabilitative element, then let us define it clearly; and, if it is simply removing villains from the streets, that too must be made clear. Whatever it is, however, must exclude US ‘assistance’.
What is urgently needed, however, is a crime strategy which priortises offences and deciding how best to tackle them. If violence and sexual offences must get priority, then we need strategies to tackle those; if economic crimes are high on the list, then we need real strategies to tackle those; if drug offences are high on the list, then we need to define which is more important, small users or the big multi-millionaire dealers who use legitimate businesses to cover their illegal actions.
We can at least start by getting some of the 42 inspectors sitting in police headquarters doing very little back on the streets, getting rid of the so-called Defence Force, making customs the lead agency in the fight against illegal drugs, immigration ditto with illegals, and get uniformed officers walking through traditional communities such as the Pine, Carrington Village, New Orleans, the Ivy and others. Law abiding people in those communities want to know they are safe.