When law and order break down

Blood was seen through the white body bags. Relatives surrounded the back of the hearse, demanding t

There is not a single Caribbean island state that is not threatened with a tide of violence. Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad are besieged by murder and mayhem, blood and hellfire. I knew this before I left London for my holiday in Barbados. Being here sharpens in my mind the urgency of the historical moment.

The citizens of these islands are alert to the fact that they are living on the edge of darkness.

Barbados is relatively stable and has a strong economy based on tourism. Even so, the MP for Christ Church East said this about violence in his constituency: "In the Silver Sands/Inch Marlow area there is now a proliferation of intercommunity rivalry [by which he meant gang violence involving guns and knives] . . . and it is reaching dangerous proportions. In Parish Land the same is true, and that has reached boiling point now, where residents are being affected by it." He asked church leaders: "How do we plan collectively a strategy to deal with these issues?"

The words uttered by this Barbadian MP could have fallen equally easily from the mouths of parliamentarians in Trinidad and Jamaica ten or more years ago.

In Trinidad, where I was born, this past month has been described in the press and from the pulpit as the Bloody Month of May. Here is what one of the daily newspapers said on 25 May:

Pandemonium broke out on Saturday as relatives of murdered husband and wife Anthony Charles and Antoinette Nedd demanded to see the bodies of their loved ones. Piercing screams of anguish echoed through the air around 6am as undertakers removed the bodies from the couple's home at Enterprise Village, Chaguanas.

Blood was seen through the white body bags and one of the sons of the couple sat on the hearse, preventing it from moving, as other relatives surrounded the back of the vehicle, demanding that police open the body bags to let them see the bodies. The deaths of Charles and Nedd, along with Moonsie Shadrack, Knolly Nicholas and Deonarine Lata, have now pushed the murder toll to 195 for the year thus far, surpassing last year's total of 113 around this same period.

A group of between five and six police officers was on patrol in Trenchtown, a violent slum of Jamaica's capital city. A posse of young residents stalked the patrol and opened fire. Two officers lay dead, riddled with bullets. Their guns were stolen and their pockets emptied of cash. Be sure that the police will retaliate, executing several young men from that community in revenge.

In the main shopping area of Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad, a shoplifter was seen recently leaving a store without paying for a pair of trainers. A police officer gave chase. He slipped and his 9mm fell from his grasp. The shoplifter turned, snatched the pistol off the ground and emptied the barrel into the policeman.

This is the reality in the Caribbean. These are no longer isolated crimes: they illustrate that social order has broken down completely. In Haiti, officials have given up on the body count and we hear nothing from the governments of the other islands. The Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding, sought debt relief from Gordon Brown on a recent visit to England. About the descent into barbarism that these murders highlight, he was silent. He turned his guns instead on homosexuals, who would not be allowed in his cabinet. This is our Caribbean as it stands today.

I had organised the disposal of my late sister's ashes in Trinidad. She passed on in September last year. A weekend in Trinidad would suffice. My brother simply said, "Don't come to come to this horrible place.” I dithered, protesting that I had no enemies in Trinidad. His was a two-word reply: “Collateral damage.”

We are all consumed.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 02 June 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Bobby and Barack