Our Sunday cartoon captured it in a sense – Guyana as a wrestler bruised and battered by one opponent, the year 2014 personified, heading out of the ring as it has tagged its partner, 2015. While this was a primarily metaphorical commentary on the state of the nation, it could be translated as a primarily literal one as well.
Yesterday’s paper was a study in tragedy. Our front-page picture featured a father kneeling over his dead son, the victim of a reckless driver. Another father who was involved in a tragic accident in which his daughter died decided to take his own life. A man under arrest for killing the husband of his alleged lover, a virtual reversal of a story a few weeks ago, but one which also claimed two other lives. Today’s headlines don’t present much better news.
The argument has been made that the media is responsible for glorifying violence, but that is a hollow rationalism for an uncomfortable truth, that is, that our society is becomingly steeped in violence.
According to a recent report from the United Nations in conjunction with the World Health Organisation, Guyana is ranked among the top 20 in countries with violent deaths, with an average of 20.2 murders for every 100,000 people. While that puts us ahead of fellow CARICOM countries Belize, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, we are still more violent than places like Iraq and Namibia. For a country that has not gone through war, and in which there is no significant gang enclaves, this is an indictment.
If we are to factor in our road fatalities, 2014 has been a shamefully deadly year for Guyana. As of October of this year, there were some 113 road deaths as compared to 119 homicides. While November was arguably on average for both categories of fatalities, December has proven perhaps the deadliest month of the year so far. Add suicide to the formula (we recently gained the dubious accolade of the most suicidal country in the entire world) and what we have emerging is a picture of an endemic disregard for the sanctity of human life.
We are creating a history of violence in this society, writing our legacy in blood and pain. It’s a history we can ill afford – our society is already fractured as it is by politics, by race, and increasingly by the widening gap between the incredibly rich and the devastatingly poor. Now added to these burdens, there seems to be a wanton disregard for the value of human life in this country, one that needs to be tackled frontally, both from a perspective of public institutions as well as a change in culture.
Most recently, we had the President of Guyana, Donald Ramotar, meeting the heads of the state security apparatus, the Commissioner of Police and Head of the Army. According to a government press release, the Head of State urged the security officials to “get on top of the situation”.
This is at best just simply public relations, the appearance of doing something as acknowledgement of the stark and brutal reality of the problem but with no actual concrete strategy to deal with the said reality.
As a response, this is not good enough – the most basic function of those tasked with citizen security is for them to be ‘on top of’ assuring citizen security, whether we are speaking about murder or road fatalities, so the banality of ordering those responsible to simply do their jobs is unbecoming of the Office of the President, the man who is ultimately responsible for citizen security in this country, particularly in a time of crisis.
And we are no doubt in a time of crisis. We have had fewer fatalities from HIV/AIDS, for example, and we’ve seen a coordinated, nuanced, multi-faceted and clear-cut response to this as a public health crisis, one that extended far beyond platitudes and photo ops and resulted in actual results, like the almost complete eradication of mother-to-child infections. The question is, why aren’t we seeing a similar appropriate response to the incidence of preventable violence?
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