Two Islands One paradise - Beautiful St. Kitts and Nevis
  Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne

Commentary –Murder She Wrote

By Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne 

Over the Easter week-end, I had the privilege to witness a historic event as our federation became the smallest nation to host the Carifta games. Its success and the athletes performance was a source of pride for the federation and testimony to what we can do as a unified people.
   Later that week I attended the funeral of a young relative who was the federation’s second murder victim for 2008. At that funeral, four young women danced to the tune of “How many more must carry this load.” The soul stirring presentation ended with three of the dancers taking the fourth out of the Church hoisted upon their shoulders. Whilst at the cemetery it was brought to my attention that two other murder victims had been buried on that same day.
   On Friday 19th I attended the final sitting of the House of Assembly presided over by my friend then Speaker Hon Marcella Liburd. Whilst there I noticed that a lady was exiting Parliament. As I left Government Headquarters, I learnt of the murder of her nephew. Recently I spoke to pastor Ron Collins outside of the Joseph N France General Hospital’s morgue where he was waiting to witness the autopsy of his nephew who too had been murdered. I say this to say that in some way every one of us has been affected. Whether they be victims or perpetrators, the young men are either our families, neighbors, friends, co-workers or related to the above in some way.
    I have no desire to dredge up wounds and exacerbate hurts, indeed my sympathies go out to all affected families. To those who may choose to look at my commentary as sensationalism I refer to The Economist of Feb 2 2008, an article entitled The Caribbean: sun, sea and murder. The article alluded to a joint UN/World bank study for 2007 which indicated that the murder rate in the Caribbean was 30 per 100,000 inhabitants.  The article went on to state and I quote “Pretty little St Kitts, with just 40,000 inhabitants, suffered three murders in four days last November” We are the only one of the smaller territories mentioned in that article. When you also consider that a tourist discovered one of our recent victims I would say we are already a sensation not to mention the fact that our rate is actually above the regional average.
  To trivialize the spate of murders on the basis that they occur in a particular sub-culture is to ignore the value of every human life. To trivialize it is to remain oblivious to the potential threat to our tourist industry if God forbid one foreigner gets caught in the cross-fire. To refuse to treat it with the utmost importance and urgency is to deny the increasing fear of the citizens of this country and the fact that some residents are not free to travel and work in certain areas or to wear whatever colors please them. 
    I have no desire to focus on the blame game, although this seems to have become a substitute for inaction. Familiar objects of blame are parents and to be sure there are situations of parental neglect, abuse, love deprivation and domestic violence. Yet there are many parents who dedicate time and all available resources, who instill traditional values, who endeavour to do their very best only to find their children caught up in situations and activities which are less than wholesome. The reality is that the home is no longer the only avenue of influence on children who are in day cares and preschools from a very early age. Children are also greatly influenced by television, telephones and iPods, features of the IT age of which some parents know very little. It is as if the youths live in an IT community which space by and large excludes the adults. In addition, the number of distractions and the scarcity of genuine role models, all contribute to making parenting more difficult than it has ever been. The answer is not as simplistic as better parenting and returning to traditional values, parents need our help.
    It is also simplistic to cast the blame on the church. Of course the church has a vital role to play. It has a duty to decry any form of evil, to speak out against oppression, poverty, injustice, the poor and the widowed as Jesus did and it has a duty to back that up with actions and outreach whilst at the same time praying without ceasing. Intercessory groups have been raised up, prayer walks and pray throughs have increased. I do agree there is scope for more in these challenging times particularly in relation to inter-denominational collaboration to fight these principalities and evil forces. The gravity of the situation dictates that like parenting the church alone cannot be the answer.
   Inaction most certainly cannot be an option. For those who would claim that this is the “End-times” I draw your attention to the article quoted earlier which states “The common factor behind this violence is the illegal drugs trade, which provides gangs with cash and weapons. But the link with narcotics is not simple. Since the 1990s, cocaine shipments in the Caribbean have stabilized while murder rates have soared. Suriname, no slouch in the drugs business, has the region's safest streets.” Is it not “End-times in Suriname? Closer home our sister island has approximately one third our population with about one seventh our murder rate over the past two years. Is it not “End-times there?
    More importantly I wish to site the case of New York once one of the world’s most notorious crime cities. In 1990 New York City with a population of 7.3 million inhabitants had 2,262 murders. In 1995 there were 1,181 murders, in 2001, 649 and by 2007 with a population increased to over 8 million inhabitants, there was a further decline to 496 murders, 78% less than the 1990 figure. This was no accident but the result of strategic intervention of Mayor Giuliani continued by his successors and with the full support of the Federal Government. In 2001 the city launched operation gun stop with a task force and specific data oriented strategies for gun-crime reduction. 
   I would love to be able to convene a meeting of all stake-holders and say to them, ‘come let us reason together.” Let us set out short, medium and long term plans based on all available data, on best practices elsewhere tailored to suit our needs and resources and most of all let us implement them without fear or favor. These take-holders recognizing that our youth are our future, that as our most important resource people are our chief concern, knowing our dependence on tourism and what could happen if God forbid a tourist gets caught in the crossfire, acknowledging that in these tough economic times with rising food and gas prices we need to be able to pool our resources if we are to survive, will no doubt respond. Proverbs tells us that in a multitude of counselors there is victory and I am sure such a group would be able to come up with the appropriate strategies with checks and balances and measureable goals. It would then be up to me to provide them with the appropriate autonomy and necessary resources human, financial and technical to implement such strategiest.
   Alas as much as I would love to, and I am sure there are many persons with as much zeal and passion who would also love to convene such a task force, we are private citizens. Nobody elected us to lead anything! I therefore implore, yes beg those who have been elected, selected or nominated to lead not to throw up the hands as if everything has been done, not to pass the buck, yes not to sensationalize but not to trivialize either. If ever a time your country needed you it is now! I fully concur that it is no time for politicizing. Politicians on all sides must subdue the urge to score points, to resist the passion for a win, to suppress the motive of gaining or retaining power and put country above self and party. I am in total agreement with the remarks of the hon. Dwyer Astaphan made at the afore-mentioned sitting of the Parliament when he alluded to the fact that the tone of the political discourse needs to be elevated. I believe the people of this country must demand an improvement in the standard not only of the rhetoric but of the actions of politicians of all persuasions. 
   Our little country has been well known in the region for its pioneer status from self determination in the 1930’s to education in the sixties. We now have the dubious distinction to be one of the leaders in crime. I believe that we are small enough to turn things around and demonstrate to the world how it can be done. Like Obama I see the import in Martin Luther King’s “fierce urgency of now.” 
   If we are to continue to sing with sincerity “our country where peace abounds it is time to come together and raise a standard. In these difficult times, the challenge for politicians must be not only to be good ambassadors overseas but equally or perhaps more importantly, good role models at home particularly for our young men. In the interest of the country, whoever finds this difficult ought to be prepared  to step aside and revert to being a private citizen. The challenge for our young men is to recognize that crime does not pay and turn from a lifestyle that makes them a constant target and liable to be gunned down without even the chance to ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness. The challenge for the church is to unite in the good fight of faith as it engages in this spiritual warfare. The challenge for all of us comes in the words of our calypso monarch; it is time for us to sing “one song” against crime. I believe we can take the same non-partisan approach as we did in the Carifta games and for the benefit of our country I would say,”yes we most.” 

                             Gone astray

               By Thelma Phillip-Browne

   It is not the lambs but the sheep that go astray, the lambs just follow inevitably!
This was the gist of a poem read during our children’s service on Sunday 3rd June. It is a message which has struck me to the core. A few days previously, on May 31st to be exact, I had attended a youth rally organized by the Youth Impact Ministries. Looking at the response I could not help reflecting on the fact that if it were an occasion for “pushing back the batty” to the loudest and lewdest of music at various festivals, Carnival or even politically organized events, we would undoubtedly have seen a much larger turn out. I console myself however, that if just one of those girls could be saved from exposing themselves in a pornographic video or one boy saved from a life of drugs and crime it would all be worth it.
    On that same afternoon I was moved by the dramatization of a song by Socrates in which the father of a murderer on trial begs forgiveness. This song is a poignant summary of some of what ails us today and could well be a second national anthem,  in my books anyway. Also preoccupying my mind were recent statistics I had seen  which demonstrate that since the American Supreme Court banned the Bible from  the schools in 1963, indices like teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases,  drugs and crime among teens as well as school drop-out rates had all increased.
   On the contrary, positive statistics like SAT scores and high school graduation rates had fallen.
   That night I pondered how I would put all these concerns into a commentary and eventually said “Lord you just sort that out” and went to bed.  Of the several dreams I had that night, one stuck in my mind. 
In the dream I was about seven years old and my sister and I were housed in what appeared to be a school dormitory.
   My sister suggested that we hide in our rooms until the dorm mother,whom she apparently was expecting, showed up. It seems she felt the dorm mother was bringing gifts and she did not want us to get any of those gifts. What child would be reluctant to receive a gift? Quite confused, I nevertheless obeyed my sister and hid in my tiny room.
Hanging on the door of my room was a gown
 decorated with hearts and I remember thinking it symbolized Valentines Day. I sensed in the dream that my sister’s adjoining room was the birthday room and indeed the following day was her birthday.  Every now and then we’d take a peek and eventually the dorm mother did show up. She took the form of someone I knew in my university days who had a rather  unfriendly, grumpy and austere demeanor. She strolled down the corridor and approached  the lady at the reception area. Taking out two rolls of toilet paper from her many shopping  bags she tossed them to the receptionist and continued heading towards the far door. As she was about to exit, the receptionist shouted that the rolls of toilet paper were wet. The dorm mother took the obviously ruined toilet rolls and meandered back down the corridor. I watched anxiously as she tossed them back to the receptionist with a terse order to” wrap them in gift paper” and pointed to two rooms on either side of the corridor whose occupants should receive those soaked gifts. None of those rooms were ours. On awakening my first thought was, “thank God for my sister, whoever would want a gift of wet toilet paper” The second thought soon followed, “no wonder the dorm mother was so miserable and unhappy, she gave grudgingly, gifts which cost her little and was worth even less to the receiver, besides, didn’t birthdays and valentines count for something and required a special demonstration of affection? But then, what did all this have to do with the topic I sought your help to address Lord?” Then came the revelation, by failing to demonstrate friendliness, generosity and kindness she had broken Jesus’ greatest commandment, she had failed to demonstrate love and in so doing she was another sheep gone astray.
   You see, children are a heritage from God and all of us who are entrusted with their care whether they are biologically ours or not, have a duty to love them, raise them in the nurture and admonition of the lord and train them up in the way they should go. When we as adults fail to teach them the difference between right and wrong, when we fail to make them understand that actions have consequences, and that truth is absolute not relative, we are but  sheep gone astray.
 When we fail to teach them self respect and respect for other people and their  property another sheep has gone astray. When we fail to teach children accountability,when they lie and steal and we laugh and regard it as cute, when having failed to discipline them they are disobedient in school and we think we are supporting them by  abusing the teachers, another sheep has gone astray. When we neglect their needs and bend over backwards to satisfy their wants because we’d rather be friend than disciplinarian, another sheep has gone astray. When we use abusive language to them or to others in front of them, when we fail to instruct them on the pitfalls of drugs, and illicit sex, pitfalls that sometimes we ourselves have encountered another sheep has gone astray. When children are exposed to violence in their homes, when some of them  are molested sexually by family members whom they trust, that is evidence of sheep gone astray.
    When every national issue becomes divisive, and we become more concerned with the  good of our parties rather than the greater benefit to our nation, when our youth are being  sacrificed on the altars of our pride, it is further evidence that sheep have gone astray.
 When we emphasize the tangible things, big buildings, hotels, sports complexes, white elephants, while at the same time
 neglecting the mental, physical and 
spiritual development of our children, when we wantonly sell our choicest lands to non-nationals, lands which ought to be left in posterity for our children, we are but sheep gone astray. When so many of our youth are angry and
 unaware of a sense of destiny and purpose and our small nations have the dubious distinction of being world leaders in crime, more sheep gone astray.
    Indeed, as I survey this beautiful land and particularly the alarming increase in gun  related incidents, I think despairingly, “all we like sheep have gone astray” But then I remember David and Moses, Mary Magdalene and the woman of Samaria, and how could I forget Paul?, I realize how God used liars and adulterers, fornicators and murderers to do wondrous works which bless us even today thousands of years later. I remember the  uniqueness of the Christian Faith, that where sin abound grace doth much more abound.
 In this day of raging warfare, it is that
 transforming grace that changes surrendered lives from rebels without a cause, to soldiers in the army of the Lord.
   Sudden death, whether due to violent or natural causes should certainly remind us of the  fleeting nature of life and that we do not know the day or the hour of our demise. If we but stop and make a hundred and eighty degree turn we will see the welcoming arms of the Good Shepherd who had left ninety and nine sheep behind, to search for each one of us. It is guaranteed that he will throw us a life-line rather than a gift of wet, useless toilet paper.
 More importantly, through his Holy Spirit he will personally clean up our mess. I pray that some stray sheep today will turn and take a fresh look at the “Good Shepherd.” If the sheep do what is right, the lambs will inevitably follow. 

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Intelligence plus character - that is goal of true education - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
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