Reader’s Letter: Murder rate

POSTED: 09/13/11 1:01 PM

The Trinidadian writer V S Naipaul wrote of the Caribbean that, “we are a danger only to ourselves”. He was right. We possess no mighty armies to sway the world our way, nor wield powerful economies that shape the destiny of human affairs. But we do murder each other in
frightening numbers.

St. Maarten has now surpassed much of the world when it comes to murder per capita. And if you don’t believe this you are a deluded fool. Some facts will set you straight. According to the World Bank, our murder rate in 2004 was an astonishing 47 per 100,000. To put things in perspective, Japan has a murder rate of around 0.83 per 100,000 people. And it has a population of 130 million people! The deluded among us may stubbornly disagree with the World Bank, but even they cannot escape the logic of mathematics.

Let me explain. So far, the island has had 12 murders for the year of 2011 and given our approximate population of about 37,000 people (give or take), that gives us a ratio of 12 murders per 37,000 people. But we need to measure this according to international standards. The ratio, then, of 12 per 37,000 is identical to 32.4 per 100,000, just as ½ is the same ratio as 2/4 or 4/8, etc. Therefore, our current murder rate as of 2011 is, by international standards, approximately
32.4 per 100,000. That is not an exaggeration. Numbers don’t lie.
Using the murder rate per 100,000 people simply makes it easy to compare data across countries. And the data for St. Maarten is disturbing.

Again, to give you perspective, the national average for the US over the past decade is about 5 murders per 100,000 people. Put another way, if the US had the same sized population as St. Maarten, its murder rate would be 1.85 murders per 37,000 people compared to our 12 so far. And we have not even considered both sides of the island…
I always laugh to myself when I hear people say that this kind of stuff happens all over the world and that St. Maarten is not as bad as other places. They are either smug fools or just bad at math. St. Maarten is indeed among the most violent. For example, Jamaica’s murder rate in 2004 was 54 per 100,000, while ours was 47 per 100,000.
In that same year St. Maarten surpassed even notorious South Africa, which recorded 40 per 100,000. And things are not getting better. The only reason St. Maarten does not show up in international rankings is because it is not a sovereign state, so its statistics remain hidden;
otherwise, we would be listed in the top ten along with Jamaica, Colombia, and South Africa.

This is not some temporary “spike” in crime. It has been our reality for years. And this small island is in real peril. Its economy is as fragile as a whisper and a gunshot away from serious,
irreversible decline. Admitting the truth is the first step in correcting a problem. All resources, all effort must be put into ending the culture of violence. Or St. Maarten will not last long.
Jason Lista

Editor’s note:
Lista’s math is not entirely correct and the situation is actually worse. The 12 murders for the year happened in 8 months, not in a whole year. Therefore, sticking to the number of 37,000 inhabitants, the actual ratio per 100,000 is 48.65.

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