Bridgetown, Barbados – The popular Barbadian dancehall and soca artiste ‘Lil Rick stares into the camera, warning all “informers” while gunfire and images of firearms punctuate the beat.
The over sixteen-minute popular “Trojan Riddim” video features several popular Barbadian chanters, dancehall artists, and rappers. Their explicit lyrics, though fictitious, often become actual newspaper headlines leaving several Barbadians demanding answers on how illegal firearms end up in Barbados in the first place.
On One Side – The Other Side…
Young men rob a village convenience store at gunpoint in Christ Church, Barbados. (Video from Facebook @BarbadosToday)
Twenty-seven-year-old Rashad Sargeant and David Johnson came up with a plan in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
They used “straw-purchaser” Shunquez Stephens, along with others who could legally buy guns from licensed gun dealers, to purchase 30 firearms.
After filing off the serial numbers, disassembling, and carefully concealing the contraband in “false compartments”, they obtained false identifications and took their packages to common shipment carriers like DHL, FEDEX and UPS.
The final destination of their packages – Barbados.
“We know that we do not manufacture guns, and that is a big concern for us because here we are, not manufacturing guns, and we have them coming to Barbados. We find that we are fighting the battle downstream, in the sense that weapons are manufactured upstream in another country,” says Police Commissioner Richard Boyce.
“So, we have no control whatsoever what occurs in the other country,” he told One-On-One television host Lisa Lorde.
Lt. Commander Derrick Brathwaite, Commanding Officer of the Barbados Coast Guard, further explains the origins of illegal firearms.
“That is no secret. North America is one of those areas where weapons originate from. Still, there’s evidence to suggest that weapons come from as far afield as Russia, in terms of the type of weapons in this or any jurisdiction, AK 47 and other assault-type weapons. Weapons also are known to come from South America.”
Types of Illegal Firearms
Barbados is not a unique destination in the region for illegal firearms. The Weapons Compass Caribbean Firearms Study, of April 2023 and published by the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), outlines the numbers of weapons and ammunition seized by Interpol destined for CARICOM member states with “the four most commonly seized makes—Glock, Taurus, Beretta, and Smith & Wesson”.
Weapons Compass: The Caribbean Firearms Study, April 2023 – IMPACS Small Arms Survey. (Designed by Esther Jones) (4 slides total)
The Commissioner of Police finds similarities with the study, giving an example of what he sees on the streets.
“The weapon of choice for criminals is the nine-millimetre handgun. Recently, we have been coming into the mix high powered weapons, the AK 47 and other rifles. When persons are armed with such weapons, they have a big advantage on whoever the target is,” he says. He also mentions that such weapons also pose a serious danger to law enforcement officers.
“To come up against such high-power weapons will be a grave concern to us if someone is armed with such a weapon comes after us,” he says.
For these illegal guns to migrate to the streets of Barbados, they must first evade detection.
“Our ports of entry are one area where persons are exploiting another area is on boats from within the Caribbean or outside the region,” Boyce argues. “We find that persons are very smart in packing and packaging their weapons, slipping through various points of entry, even packing barrels (found) on planes or vessels.”
In the same way, Brathwaite highlights some of the ways illegal firearms get smuggled into Barbados through false compartments in container ships and even disguised in “engine compartments and blocks”. All parts are “disassembled and shipped at different stages to evade identification.”
These regional figures have an effect locally, as described by the Attorney General, Dale Marshall. One year ago, at a press conference to address the “spike” in gun violence, the AG related the role guns play in the commission of illicit activities by outlining the crime statistics from 2018 to 2021 (see chart).
Regional Security System HQ: Regional Crime Observatory – Annual Situation Report, 2020 C – E – Weapons Compass: The Caribbean Firearms Study, April 2023 – IMPACS Small Arms Survey. (5 slides)
Marshall pointed out that the young men pulling the trigger were relatively low on the food chain, often used to retaliate for a perceived injustice between rival fractions or acting as hired shooters instructed by “enablers”.
Combatting Trafficking in Arms
The response by the Attorney General’s Office was to initiate the passage of the Firearms Amendment Act on January 1, 2023. This increased fines and sentences for those convicted of an illegal firearm crime.
Together with the amended Act, Minister Corey Lane, who is responsible for crime prevention in the Attorney General’s Office, notes that Government is tackling the issue of judicial backlog and dealing with restoring order in communities.
“The Barbados Police Service and the Barbados Defence Force are working together on the streets, making sure that not only citizens feel safe, but those there with the criminal mind understand that there’s a force out there to be reckoned with,” he says.
Along with adding legislative teeth, Braithwaite points to the draft Barbados National Maritime Security Strategy sitting on his desk. The draft document outlines critical areas for dismantling illegal firearms trafficking, starting with establishing regional and international alliances.
Part of realising this goal came with the launch of the CARICOM Crime Gun Intelligence Unit established by CARICOM-IMPACS, in partnership with United States law enforcement agencies.
Then later, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced at the 45th Regular Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in July 2023 the appointment of Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor for the Caribbean.
Another area outlined in the draft is “a comprehensive data capture for arms-related crimes and activities”, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s (ATF) e-Trace and Interpol’s Illicit Arms Records and Tracing Management System (iARMS) and regional systems such as the Regional Security System (RSS) and CARICOMI-IMPACS.
Other strategies include upgrading scanning and detection methods with expanded canine units, staff training at ports of entry and “enhancing the information sharing between law enforcement agencies and financial intelligence units”.
However, the key, according to Minister Lane, to stop the flow of illegal firearms is to work on crime prevention by working with vulnerable young people.
“They have a number of them within their lifestyles, and treating them in the short, medium and long term really is to have that conversation with them, look to see how you can empower them. Then how do you empower on a long-term basis for behavioural change.”
Remember the firearm traffickers from Atlanta? The ATF uncovered their plot, and all three young men were found guilty.
Rashad Sargeant and David Johnson received three years and ten months, followed by three years of supervised release. Shunquez Stephen was handed a three-year probation.
Following the conviction, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Alicia Jones emphasised the need to eliminate the flow of illegal firearms.
“This case and ultimate conviction highlight the fact that illegal gun trafficking not only affects our local communities but has implications far beyond our borders. At a time when gun crime is on the rise, this case reinforces the need for ATF and our partners to be vigilant in investigating and prosecuting individuals.”
- Weapons Compass: The Caribbean Firearms Study, April 2023 – IMPACS Small Arms Survey
- PART IV: Crime Guns Recovered Outside the United States and Traced by Law Enforcement
- The Nature of Gun Violence in Barbados: The Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit – Office of the Attorney General
- Regional Security System HQ: Regional Crime Observatory – Annual Situation Report, 2020
- Public Opinion Survey on Crime and Related National Issues – Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit, 2021
- UNODC Regional Programme in Support of the CARICOM Crime and Security Statedg: Preventing and Countering Illicit Trafficking and Organized Crime for Improved Governance, Justice and Security, 2014 – 2016