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Upholding the Law - June 21, 2004

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Upholding the Law

A Law-Abiding People

St. Lucians are usually regarded as a peaceful and law-abiding people. There are, however, instances when people break the law, and these isolated incidents are being treated as normal behaviour. Sometimes, individuals breach our laws in full view of members of the public. These transgressions occur without comment or expressions of disapproval. Every instance in which the law is broken is one too many.

Blowing Hot and Cold

True enough, there is justifiable anger and outrage when a major criminal act is committed. But, we also blow hot and cold over crime. Obviously, the police force must react to crime in the manner prescribed by law. But, when the police are firm and decisive they are condemned. We must be consistent in our condemnation of crime, however insignificant we may consider the criminal act in question.

Blind Support for Crime

Crime is something we all should abhor. No matter what form or fashion, we simply must detest crime. No one should apologise for criminals. But in many ways, without knowing or realizing it, we say or do things that help the criminals – like turning a blind eye. That amounts to condoning crime.

I know that there are many of you who would not inform the police of criminal activities taking place in your backyard or your neighbourhood. You will not call because you believe that it’s not your business, and in any event, you do not trust the police with information. Some of you feel that if you inform the police and the criminals find out they can do you something. Others feel that if they give evidence in a case, friends of the criminal will come after them; or the convicted criminal will come after them on completion of their jail sentence.

You may think that all these reasons are justified. But just consider this: if all of us think that way and do not report crime in order to convict criminals, then to what extent will criminals ever get caught or will justice ever be served?

It is important for all of us to understand that turning a blind eye to gain an extra minute of time on our daily journey may cost us that journey or even endanger our lives and that of others. Today, you may not be the victim, but tomorrow you could be.

All laws must be enforced. The police too must be vigilant and enforce our laws. Law and order begins to break down when we refuse to enforce even the simple laws that govern behaviour. How many times do we hear profanities in public places and in the presence of police officers and such language is treated as normal and acceptable? Why are we afraid to enforce our traffic laws in the city and on the highways? The police must never turn a blind eye to the simplest of infractions of the law. The law must be obeyed by everyone. No one must be above the law.

A Surprise Case

Like everyone else, I was also taken aback last week when a six-year-old child was abducted from her school during her lunch hour.

This incident says many things to us. It ought to remind us that we are not insulated against the crimes that we hear about in the Caribbean and the world. It is another reminder that the criminals in our midst are becoming more and more bold, aggressive and sophisticated in their methods. The criminals seem to actually believe that they can do anything and get away with it.

A Clear Message to Parents

The case of the abducted student also sends a clear message to parents. It says parents have to treat their responsibility to their children more seriously. There are still too many parents who think that the responsibility for their children lies with the teachers alone when they are at school. It is true that while children are at school, teachers stand in the shoes of the parents. Beyond this simple principle, parents must take responsibility for their children. Parents must also teach their children to be vigilant and to be distrustful of strangers. Children must also be told that they should not accompany persons who they know unless they have been given prior permission by parents. If no permission has been given in advance, then the children should be taught to say a simple “No Thank You!”

We Do Care For Each Other…

However, sad as it was, the abduction of the child from her school also reinforced some positive feelings among us at all levels. Just after the news broke, a friend told me his eight-year-old son was so touched that he said that if the little girl attended his school, he would have joined the search for her. That, to me, was a positive reaffirmation of that sense of good will and concern that continues to be a basic characteristic of all our people. Our children care for each other, just as -- or even more than -- we do as adults.

Law Abiding Citizens Must Be Commended

St. Lucians who uphold the law must continue to be the critical force in the society and I urge the media to allow their stories to also be told. Our institutions must also publicly acknowledge these cases where the actions of law-abiding citizens have either enabled their work or prevented crises. For example, the young men who saw the strange movements of those who abducted the child must be publicly commended and their actions should be emulated. I am indeed encouraged by the public response to their actions. I have learned that already, one employment agency has taken steps to give each of the two young men a job. I commend the agency concerned, as I think this is the type of public-spirited corporate behaviour which deserves applause.

We All Have Our Duties and Responsibilities

The fact is, every Saint Lucian has a duty to ensure law and order prevails in the country. We can start by taking greater responsibility for ourselves.

Every St. Lucian must create his or her own enforcement kit. This kit must include the telephone numbers and contact information of the police, fire stations and health centres nearest to you, as well as the numbers for your parliamentary representative. You also need to have the names and numbers of our regulatory institutions such as the Disaster Preparedness Committees, the Solid Waste Management Authority, the St. Lucia Bureau of Standards and the Customs and Excise Department. Equally we should have access to other Non-Governmental Organisations which assist in safeguarding individual and professional interests, such as the National Consumers Association, The Medical and Dental Association and the National Council on Public Transportation.

I continue to encourage these agencies and organisations to undertake public awareness and education programmes which will inform the public of their respective roles in upholding and enforcing our laws.

Whenever you observe a breach of the law please call the appropriate agency, individual or institution; and if you are not satisfied with the response or action, don’t hang up – please call again.

In my New Year message to the nation two years ago, I appealed to all St. Lucians for better conduct and tolerance, whether at home, at work, at school, in your community or on our roads. I appealed then to uphold our laws and I reiterate this call today.

While we want to live in a society which is not burdened by laws and procedures, we will not enjoy this peace and tranquility if we blatantly flaunt the laws which are designed to safeguard the interests of all.

I will do my part; please do yours.

Meanwhile, I have received an e-mail which comments and then asks this question:

“Each day we hear of dangerous crimes in St. Lucia. Robberies, murders, rapes, kidnappings… What is the government doing about this, because it seems that crime is rising and St. Lucia is not safe anymore…”

Next week, I intend to devote my attention to answering that question.

I thank you and do have a pleasant week.



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