World

Bahamas Wrong To Issue Travel Advisory To Black Men

| by Nik Bonopartis
A police officer points his gun at a black motoristA police officer points his gun at a black motorist

The government of the Bahamas caused quite a stir on July 8 when it issued a travel advisory to its own citizens, warning them to "exercise caution" while traveling to the U.S.

As Slate's Mike Pesca writes, if the travel advisory is "meant to warn Bahamians about the risk of getting hassled by American cops," then the advisory is reasonable.

But if the island country's government is telling its own citizens that they're safer at home than they are in the U.S., well, that would be like the U.K. government telling soccer -- excuse me, football -- fans to watch themselves if they happen to catch a baseball game in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.

Natives of the Bahamas are actually less likely to be killed -- and less likely to become a victim of any crime -- in the U.S. than they are in their home country, crime statistics from the State Department show.

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Writing in Cruise Law News, American maritime lawyer Jim Walker places the advisory in perspective, calling it "a political game of backatcha" from the Bahamian government. Like most Americans, Walker readily admits the U.S. has its share of racial strife and makes a point to note how the recent situation -- the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (both black men) at the hands of police, and the ambush that left five police officers dead in Dallas -- is far from resolved.

The videos of the Sterling and Castile murders are horrific, and they've been ubiquitous since they were uploaded online. But it's easy to forget that, in a country of more than 300 million, those incidents are exceptions instead of the rule, even if it sometimes seems like they're common.

"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," Walker writes.

The government of the Bahamas does not publicly release crime statistics, but the U.S. Department of State does, and the numbers aren't pretty -- the country has a murder rate of 38 per 100,000 residents, compared to 4.5 per 100,000 residents in the U.S., Caribbean360 reported. Put in context, that's an entire country with a crime rate worse than Detroit's.

As the State Department warned American citizens, 2015 saw a record number of homicides in the island nation, prompting American officials to issue a "critical crime warning" to American tourists considering the Bahamas as a vacation destination. The island's government also has a consistently poor record of cracking down on crime against tourists, Walker notes, including gunpoint robberies, assaults and sexual violence.

Likewise, a 2016 report from the National Task Force for Gender Based Violence found the Bahamas has the highest rates of recorded rapes and sexual assaults. While the worldwide per capita rate is 15 rapes per 100,000 women, the rate in the Bahamas is 133 rapes per 100,000 women, according to the Bahamas-based Tribune 242.

Officials in the Bahamas are well aware of their own crime problems, Walker writes, but couldn't pass on the opportunity to retaliate against the U.S. for its annual warnings about travel to the Bahamas.

"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," Walker writes. "But this warning seems designed to serve other purposes."

Or, in the words of one Bahamian, the advisory was meant to be "inflammatory."

"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," the Bahamian wrote on Tribune 242. "This was 'stick it to the U.S.' policy, and it's not wise."

Approximately 80 percent of tourists who visit the Bahamas annually are Americans, according to the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Stories about American tourists getting robbed in broad daylight and travel reports calling the country's crime problem "critical" are enough to do real damage to the country's tourism-dependent economy.

So while we've got plenty of our own problems to worry about, and racial strife isn't going to disappear in the U.S. any time soon, it's probably best to take the Bahamian travel warning with a grain of salt -- what we're seeing is more schadenfreude than genuine concern for the safety of visitors to the U.S.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Slate, U.S. Department of State (2), Cruise Law News (2), Tribune 242 (2), Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Caribbean360 / Photo credit: Cleveland Police Department via Cleveland.com

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