Saint Lucia
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A Nation Cries Out in Pain! Can our “little Black Boy from Marchand” deliver the turpentine we so desperately need?

A customs officer in Castries miraculously survived after he was shot by an unknown gunman this week. Within seconds of the shooting, grisly pictures and videos of the white-shirted bleeding man were being circulated worldwide via social media.

Gossip mongers were also speculating about why the officer was shot as he sat behind the wheel of his vehicle at Monchy. Most popular was the frightening story that the shooting was a warning to other officers not to carry out their duties as thoroughly as reportedly had the victim of the roadside shooting.

No one expects the latest near fatal shooting incident to come before the court. At least, not any time soon.

In the early hours of a morning two months ago, multiple bikes were set ablaze on the premises of the Marigot Police Station. There have been no arrests, and little press coverage. But the popular word on the street is that the earlier-mentioned shooting and the Marigot fire are connected. 

Last weekend, three men were fatally shot, among them music artist, Messi Laurent. According to one media outlet quoting unidentified sources, Laurent was killed in retaliation for his role in another homicide. 

The weekend before, three people were killed in a drive-by Dennery shooting shortly after a carnival event. Again, the reported motive was revenge.   

Several weeks earlier, in Vieux-Fort, at least seven citizens were mowed down by gunmen, among the casualties a two-year-old.  Business houses were closed for the safety of staff and customers. In the meantime, it seemed the town itself had died.

Every reference to the killings included the word “retribution.” The government retaliated by enacting new laws to further empower the police in their efforts at curbing gun-related crime.    

How did we get to this point? If you see a pattern here, you’re probably right. It is obvious that more and more citizens are taking the law in their own hands. Do you know anyone who has been the victim of burglary? How about someone who is owed money and has been having a hard time collecting? Do you know someone who was deliberately pushed aside in the street or at a party by a bully? Did any of them make a report to the police? My bet is the answer is no. Does that mean they chose to let barking dogs bite them time and time again without complaint?

Do you have a friend or relative who has been waiting over five years for his day in court? Is he among the 76 percent of the Bordelais population on custodial remand?   

More pointedly, have you been a victim of a crime? Did you make a police report or did you, like so many other crime victims, decide to bide your time for revenge? Or did you turn to the Lord in prayer? Are you or a member of your family among the more than 80 percent of Saint Lucians who, for one reason or another, do not trust the police? Who remain convinced the police are themselves part of the crime problem?  

If you’ve been lucky enough to have a matter dealt with by the court, how did you feel about the decision? Was justice seen to be done? Or was the other party a friend of a powerful friend able to pull the strings of justice to suit himself? Did you come away feeling you’d wasted time and money taking the matter to court? That you should’ve taken other roads to justice, roads that did not depend on lawyers with highly placed string pullers? 

By my own estimation, we’ve never been a people to care much about the feelings of others. However, have we ever stopped to think what the effects of living daily reruns of the popular Lifetime Television series “Unsolved Mysteries” may have been on the psyche of our people? More specifically, our impressionable, often over-sensitive youth in our eye for an eye culture?   

Our Minister for National Security met with customs officers the day following the near-fatal shooting of one of their own. Later a release from the Office of the Prime Minister said he strongly condemned the recent shooting of “a dedicated customs officer, an individual who was simply carrying out his duty to protect our borders and ensure the safety of our communities.”

I, for one, was puzzled. Had the prime minister received from investigators information concerning the roadside shooting, solid enough to permit him to say publicly what was the motive? Was he confirming the rumors mere hours after the incident? 

The Prime Minister went on: “This act of violence is not only a senseless act but also an attack on the very fabric of law and order that holds our society together. It is deeply troubling that such an incident has occurred, and it is our collective responsibility to stand against any form of violence targeting those who serve and protect.”

Later that day, both the Comptroller of Customs and the Acting Police Commissioner, himself under a dark cloud of controversy at this time, chimed in with words doubtless aimed at instilling fear in the hearts of our obviously fearless facilitators and perpetrators of crime.

You may also remember Mrs. Crusita Descartes-Pelius’s words following multiple shootings in Vieux-Fort, when references were made in the House about the same victims as “dons” and “businessmen.” Ironically, Mrs. Descartes-Pelius was Saint Lucia’s first female police commissioner, appointed in October 2022, confirmed in March, and retired in June of this year. That in itself is another first for Pelius.  Since the last general elections of July 2021, we have had three police commissioners. Could this be a sign that the police force itself is in need of pain relief?  

The prime minister has been trying to reassure both residents and visitors, meantime. He often reminds that he imported a contingent of crime-fighting personnel from the Regional Security System. He has also sought assistance from the French government. His efforts have so far failed to bear fruit. Only the names of the so-called crime hotspots keep changing.   

Not so long ago the former prime minister turned backbencher, Kenny Anthony, publicly stated that the different administrations, including his own and that of Philip J. Pierre, had done their best to ameliorate crime, and obviously failed. Anthony recommended a serious look back, perchance to determine where they went wrong. Could his answer be that the different administrations, from Compton’s to Chastanet’s and the others, had all done the very things that over and over had failed to produce the desired results?   

Are we therefore doomed to suffer more weekends of retribution killings? Are the attacks on police and customs officers signs that worse is yet to come?    

Will something be done to remedy the long broken justice system, at least enough to merit the people’s trust?  Will our people continue to suffer the consequences of living by the law of the jungle? As I write, the idea of natural justice is being redefined, with more and more taking the law in their own hands. How long before the criminals take over completely, as is the case in Haiti? 

 Will our “Moses from the East” discover the solution to the weekly blood-letting? Lord help us all!