In what many believe to be a political game of backatcha', the Bahamas on Friday issued a warning to its citizens planning to travel to the United States about the danger of interacting with police officers:
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken a note of the recent tensions in some American cities over shootings of young black males by policemen. We wish to advise all Bahamians traveling to the US, but especially to the affected cities, to exercise appropriate caution generally. In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police." You can read the entire advisory here.
The travel warning from the Bahamas comes after a week of protests in the U.S after three white police officers shot two black men in separate incidents a total of 11 times and killed them.
On Tuesday, two policemen shot 37-year-old Alton Sterling (left) six times in a parking lot of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On Wednesday, a policeman fatally shot 32-year-old Philando Castile (right) five times after a traffic stop of a car which he was driving with his girlfriend and her four year old daughter inside. The police did not attempt to administer first aid to either of the dying men. After Mr. Castile was shot, the police arrested his girlfriend in front of her child who also witnessed the shooting and then was separated from her mother at the police station.
The governor of Minnesota commented that he was "appalled" by the shooting of Mr. Castile and the mistreatment of his girlfriend and said that police wouldn't have shot and killed Philando Castile if he'd been white.
President Obama put matters into perspective, that blacks are more like to be stopped, searched, arrested and imprisoned than whites. He commented: "black drivers are more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops. After being pulled over, blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites."
Here in the U.S., we have witnessed far too many black men whose lives ended prematurely by overzealous and poorly trained police officers. The images of Eric Gardner, who was choked by an officer and was then tackled by four other policemen, are impossible to watch and then are even more impossible to forget. Mr. Gardner was restrained face down on the sidewalk gasping "I can't breath" eleven times before he became unconscious and later died. The police officers and later, the EMT's, didn't bother to perform CPR on this dying man either.
Americans here in the U.S. are familiar with the names Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Sandra Brown who all died during or after confrontations with the police. Each injustice seems to blend with the next in a seemingly endless video loop that shocks the nation's conscience.
Yes, these deaths raise disturbing questions about race relations in the U.S. To me, it seems that the vestiges of racism are alive and well in the U.S. The nation will soon face the specter of probable acquittals if there is a decision to prosecute the three police officers involved in the most recent shootings. U.S. history tells us that often the murderers of blacks will be found innocent of criminal charges. I have written before that "history shows that instances of racial violence are usually followed by injustice in the legal system." Sadly, these tragedies may end with additional violent riots that will inevitably follow if the the officers are acquitted.
Of course, none of this heartbreak and injustice has anything to do with travelers from the Bahamas who live in their own world of crime and violence. As I have mentioned many times, the Bahamas has an extremely high murder rate. With a total population last year of around 388,000, the country experienced 149 murders which resulted in a per capita murder rate of around 38 per 100,000 residents (compared to the national U.S. per capita murder rate of only 4.5 per 100,000). This is the murder rate of the country. If what many consider to be generally safe locations like the Family Islands outside of New Providence are excluded, Nassau is as unsafe as the U.S.'s most dangerous cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans.
The murders in the Bahamas rival the gruesome details of the U.S. shooting I mentioned above. The case of Edgar Dart, a traveler from Britain via Canada, who was bound and killed by three robbers when they broke into his mother's home armed with a gun and a machete, remains unsolved. The family was tied up with duct tape during the raid and Mr. Dart was killed after bleeding to death in front of his son, as well as in front of his brother, sister-in-law, and young nephew.
Crimes against U.S., Canadian or British citizens in the Bahamas are rarely solved. Within the last two years, the murders of American student Mason Hart, British diving instructor Gary Vanhoeck (left), and retired Canadian doctor Geoffrey Harding have not been solved. There are no arrests following assaults, robberies, thefts and muggings of Americans.
The U.S. State Department stated in one of the dozen warnings dating back over the last couple of years: "The U.S. Embassy has received multiple reports of tourists robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint in tourist locations in the downtown areas of Nassau, to include the cruise ship docks and the Cable Beach commerce areas; several of these incidents occurred during daylight hours. Burglaries, larcenies and “snatch-and-grab” crimes happen in Nassau and U.S. citizens have been victims of these crimes. The U.S. Embassy has received reports of assaults, including sexual assaults, in diverse areas such as in casinos, outside hotels, or on cruise ships."
The Bahamas also has an incredibly high per capita rape rate. The Bahamas' rate of rape is 113 out of 100,000. In the USA it is around 28 per 100,000.
Slate's Mike Pesca was precisely on point when he wrote today in an article The Bahamas Is Warning Its Citizens About the Dangers of the United States - The Truth is Bahamians are Safer Abroad than at Home: "Of course, the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are just the latest horrific incidents in what has become a blight on America. But the Bahamian government’s warning should not be interpreted as another data point in America’s shame so much as a statistical misinterpretation of actual danger. In fact, on average, a Bahamian who leaves his country to travel to the United States would decrease his chances of being murdered."
My thought is that Bahamians should be aware of the history of violence against blacks here in the U.S., to the extent that they are not aware of this reality with the non-stop international coverage provided by cable news. But this warning seems designed to serve other purposes. Many Bahamians, particular merchants concerned that repeated U.S. warnings about crime in Nassau is bad for the cruise business in Nassau, dislike the fact that the Bahamas is repeatedly the subject of U.S. State Department's "critical crime" warnings. One Bahamian reader commenting on the Bahamian warning told the Tribune newspaper in Nassau: "No I'm not saying that there's not a real danger for black Bahamians in the US, I'm saying I don't think the primary motivation for this advisory was to protect Bahamians. This was 'stick it to the US' policy."
Other Bahamians who left comments on the Slate article singled out Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Minister Fred Mitchel, as having "a major chip on his shoulder about race issues and is very anti-USA" and "is hoping by 'sticking it to the man', as it were, he'll take some of the pressure off his government's total failure to address the crime problem."
The purpose of a governmental warning is to educate citizens about matters that they might not know about. I doubt that any Bahamians flying to the U.S. are unaware of the protests filling the cable news broadcasts about the killing of black men (and the murder of five white policemen in Dallas by a black man with a AR-15 which the Bahamian warning does not mention). However, first time cruisers to Nassau, filled with dreams that it is "better in the Bahamas," may think they are taking their family to a safe tropical island. They might not realize that they are traveling to an island where they are eight times more likely to be murdered than in the U.S.
Update July 11 2016: Opposing Views addresses the issue: Bahamas Travel Advisory Is Just Tit For Tat.
Update July 12 2016 Update: According to the Tribune newspaper, the U.S. Embassy in Nassau released a new travel warning message "urging its citizens and US visitors in Nassau and Paradise Island to exercise heightened personal security awareness, pointing out that armed robberies and violent crime remain primary criminal threats."
More Fall-Out or No Fall-Out, Depending Who You Ask: Mitchell: No Fallout From The Us Over Ministry's Travel Advisory
Photo Credit: Shooting of Philando Castile - CNN
Alton Sterling (left) and Philando Castile (right) - Twitter via Observer.
Gary Vanhoeck - BBC