We are either heartbroken or marginally concerned by the news of another shooting death or some other kind of violent act inflicted on another of our brothers or sisters. I, though, still can’t get the image of a “security guard” beating a man on the streets of Kingstown with a cutlass.
One half of our brain says we must do better, while the other half says it is what it is. In other words, I don’t care as long as it’s not someone related to me. As the older people will say, we must address this issue before things get out of hand. We must commit to doing everything in our power to keep these tragedies from happening even as our nation faces an epidemic of violence. Yes, I said it – our country has an epidemic. And it’s not covid-19. It’s violent death. Forty-two deaths in one year from violent acts in a population of just over one hundred thousand is undoubtedly an epidemic. Look at how we addressed the Covid-19 pandemic. Now compare the number of deaths we had during that pandemic to what we are experiencing with violent acts leading to death.
Are we going to wait for a high-profile shooting before we are moved to action? Right now, it seems we don’t care or are unwilling to invest in the effort needed to control this epidemic. We know these deaths are a predictable outcome of our country’s lack of political will to make a change, and the underinvestment in prevention approaches that work.
Last week I heard a leading spokesperson for the ULP say something very discouraging. He said that most of the people committing these shootings and other violent crimes did not have the benefits of the “Education Revolution”. In short, they came of age before the ULP came to power; therefore, the ULP cannot be responsible for their action, my words, not his. Well, I do not have access to the statistical information about the current list of inmates to validate that claim; let’s accept that as factual for a moment. That does not absolve the ULP from their everyday responsibilities to address the ongoing problem. A recent discussion about the prison population suggests that more than half of inmates have a mental illness. To be clear, we are not alone in this problem; over the last fifty years, the decline in proper treatment of the mentally ill worldwide has led to a reduction in treatment and an increase in the incarceration of the mentally ill.
The increasing number of individuals with mental health and substance abuse conditions in the criminal justice system has enormous fiscal, health, and human costs. Replacing proper mental health care with imprisonment does not serve anyone and certainly does not enhance our quality of life. In fact, it might be time for us to consider a separate court for those suffering from mental health issues while being accused of criminal activities other than drug use. Diverting individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders away from the prisons and toward more appropriate and culturally competent community-based mental health care is essential.
We must have a national strategy to provide people with the support they need and eliminate unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice system. Because, once someone is entangled in the criminal system, it is virtually impossible to reintegrate smoothly that person into the everyday works of life.
To secure the appropriate care for those in need, our leaders must get together and create a system of justice suitable for those handicapped with social problems beyond their control.
In order to promote fairness throughout our justice system, our leaders in the mental health system, law enforcement, prosecutors, and court personnel must get together and advocate for a system that accounts for these people’s particular conditions.
I know many among us will ask where the money will come from. I say to you, our government will always find a way to fund what they consider essential, so let’s make mental health important. In an annual budget of over one billion dollars, we can set aside the funds needed to address our mental health issues if we assign the level of importance as required.