“Justice” is the cry from protesters in Ferguson, Missouri and those marching the streets of New York. People are angry, people are afraid and as they struggle to come to grips with their inability to change things, as they fight for space and freedom in a confined box of racism, their fear and anger has led them to the streets. They want their voices to be heard, but more than anything they want the reassurance that something will change. They want equality in the law. They want equality in how they are perceived, treated and valued. They want justice. Justice, or the lack thereof, is the common thread that weaves Ferguson, Missouri, New York and The Bahamas together.
Justice is defined as “just behavior or treatment”. Just means “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair”. In the Bahamas, in Ferguson, in New York and around the world social apprising is happening because the people fundamentally believe that what is going on around them is not just and fair. “Ok”, you say; “I understand how this thought could apply to two black men, both killed by white police in America. But how does this apply in The Bahamas where we are a black majority?” The underlying causes for all three are the same; a flawed police force, an inadequate justice system, and the same social dysfunction related to slavery that has kept blacks oppressed whether they live in a country as the majority or minority.
It is important to note, that the concerns raised about the police force in this section are made objectively. I know that not all officers are crooked cops. I know that officer’s work incredibly hard and very often put their lives on the line. I also know however, that we cannot get better until we acknowledge our flaws. Though I type with utmost respect for what being a police officer should mean, I also type with truth in mind.
In Ferguson, New York and The Bahamas, the system of justice is put at risk because the very cops that should be seen as our protectors are often seen as our foes. Stories like those in Ferguson and New York change our perception of officers. They become the people that we should avoid rather than trust. I myself have had to have long conversations with my brother who lives in America about how he should interact with officers. If your conversation with a young black child about their interactions with officers has to begin with “be careful,” you’ve already established that these officers cannot be trusted. Here in The Bahamas, a close knit community of all 350,000, every person knows at least one crooked cop either first hand or through stories they have been told by persons close to them. Unfair though it is, when the stories of these cops become the trending topic, the integrity of the entire force is called into question.
While Urban Renewal and the Police Band play a major role in the public relations campaign to win trust in our community, every time a person is beaten, not handled according to the standard of the law, or dies in police custody, those programs are undermined. Moreover, police inefficiencies, inconsistencies and inadequacies in terms of how they handle everything from reports to witness testimony and evidence, continuously leads to other challenges in the legal system.
Too often in The Bahamas, criminal lawyers are able to get their clients released on bail, due to allegations against police officers. These same criminals, as evidenced by our murder count this year, bring violence back into our societies resulting in more crime. As victims wait time and time again for justice, the feeling of injustice grows stronger often resulting in vigilante justice, which leads to the cycle of violence beginning again.
The Justice System
Over and over again, police spokespersons have claimed that many of the murders our society has experienced are retaliation killings; murderers killing murderers. The community’s response to this has often been passive. There is a visible difference in the way we as a society respond to the murder of a murderer and the murder of those we deem innocent. Our responses are indicative of a society readily accepting vigilante justice.
According to author Harris Bronwyn; “vigilante justice is rationalized by the idea that adequate legal mechanisms for criminal punishment are either nonexistent or insufficient. Vigilantes typically see the government as ineffective in enforcing the law. Such individuals often claim to justify their actions as a fulfillment of the wishes of the community.”
Any poll on the government’s handling of crime to date will not return favorable results. On every radio station, in every conversation about crime; whether at a taxi stand or around a business table, citizens and foreigners alike are crying out for the government to do something. As a civilized society, we cannot leave it in the hands of criminals to remove those who threaten our wellbeing. The last year has proven that when we allow this sort of justice to continue unchecked, innocent lives are caught in the crossfire. The guns and ammunition used in their individual wars find themselves in the hands of other gangsters and the war continues.
The reason they burned cars in Ferguson, and fought in New York are the same reasons there are shootings in Fox Hill. The people want justice and our courts are not giving it to them! The time has come for us to decide if we are going to be serious about the laws on our books and hang murderers. The time has come for us to look at are antiquated justice system and to make serious changes.
If our prisons are overcrowded, should we not be spending a few million dollars on building a new wing to house these criminals rather than on some of the frivolous things we waste tax dollars on? If it is in fact, that there are “too many cases on the books and not enough judges to hear them”, might not the time have come for us to promote more lawyers to our benches? Are we ensuring that we are fully utilizing technology and software available to catalog cases, set necessary dates, and maintain evidence?
I am no lawyer. I admit there is much about the court system I do not know. But I write for the people who have these questions. Please answer us! Enlighten us about why our system is so backed up and what proactive steps will be taken in this state of emergency to ensure that criminals remain behind bars. We cannot continue in this vein or this country is doomed. Justice!
I recognize that my suggestion for jail expansion and increasing the number of judges are treatments for the cancer of crime and not cures. I realize that studies have shown that capital punishment might not prevent future crimes from happening. I still firmly believe however, that if we are going to see a major reformation in our crime statistics, it is critical that we make changes to what has clearly become an inadequate justice system both in the legal and enforcement branches of government.
Social Degradation & The Struggle of the Black Man
Just as critical as treating the current problem is preventing it. In Ferguson, New York and The Bahamas the common denominator is the black man. I need not tell those of you reading this about the treatment of black slaves. I need not remind you that they were bred like cattle, stripped of their names and history, withheld from learning and did not live together long enough to understand the importance of the nuclear family unit. Some might consider it a waste of time if I told you that these factors are evident one hundred years later in our society. The truth is though, the history of the black man is increasingly relevant to his struggle with identity and hence his problem with society.
It is difficult for us to have families when they have not been a part of our history, it is difficult to promote the value of education when it has been withheld for generations, it is difficult to promote equal economic opportunity and supportive economic communities when we have been taught to be divided. Indeed it is difficult, but it is critical that we overcome these challenges if we want a safer North America to which The Bahamas belongs.
Low self-esteem is at the heart of our problems. If someone does not value their own life, how can they value others? In this vein, we must ensure that our educational system not only teaches people reading, writing and arithmetic, but that it also teaches them righteousness, respect and responsibility. Our goal as a nation should be to have every person literate in this country by 2024. It is achievable! We have reduced the HIV/AIDS transmission rate from mother to baby to zero, and we can do reduce the rate of illiteracy and increase our nation’s economic standing if we are willing to put our resources into educating the whole man.
We are called to ensure that our history lessons remind our students of their royal lineage from slave ships and from the throne of England. Our schools will be the key in identifying those who learn differently early on so that their education can be tailored to fit their needs. Education changes nations. An educated population is a wealthy population, monetarily and in acumen. We must transform our educational system in order to transform this society. What values do we want people to have? Let’s teach it! What social skills do we want citizens to display? Let’s teach it! Who are we and where are we going? Let’s teach it!
I dream of a Bahamas that is as beautiful in its character as it is on Google Maps. I dream of a society that will someday not require extra magistrates and bigger jails because we have affectively addressed our social ills and dealt with our current criminal problem. I dream of a society where men and women are both respected and valued, where children are protected and made to believe that they can achieve anything. I dream of a society of intellects and artists, each confident in their abilities and applauded for their talents. I dream of a society where people are wealthy in their bank accounts and wealthy in their heads and hearts. That is the meaning of the Kingdom of God; justice, peace and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I call on every Bahamian who has read this piece to offer their talents and abilities to this vision. To report criminals, to volunteer their time and businesses to offering technology solutions to our police force, court systems, construction of new prison wards; to mentorship, to partnership, to teaching, scholarships, feeding the hungry, housing widows and orphans, to being excellent Bahamians in integrity and character; to displaying the Christian principle of love expressed in the preamble of our constitution.
In 1492, Columbus landed on San Salvador and the “New World” began. It is time we take our rightful place as leaders in the world by showing through example that we can curb criminality, police brutality, and struggles of the black man. We must do it and we must do it now. JUSTICE, for Ferguson, New York, The Bahamas and the world.