“ Over the past several years, we have seen a shift in our community, from an idyllic paradise where individuals could move freely from one end of the island to another and reports of violent incidents were few and far between, to a place where our youth are afraid of leaving the
parishes where they reside, and we are experiencing increased violent incidents that have included stabbings, gun violence and even murders.”
This is how PLP Senator Rev Dr. Emily Gail Dill opened the Town Hall on Community Violence last night at Bailey’s Bay Cricket Club, which she moderated. The town hall had dozens in
attendance in-person and hundreds watching online. National Security Minister the Honorable Michael Weeks and Pastor Leroy Bean, coordinator of
the Gang Violence Reduction Team, gave speeches about community violence and how to begin to address it.
“ The very next day after I was appointed Minister of National Security, a young man was murdered down by Clearwater Beach,” Minister Weeks reminded the public. “ There have been two other murders since then and I have only been Minister for about eight weeks.”
Since the first gang-related murder in 2001, Minister Weeks said, 71 people have lost their lives to senseless murder. In addition to that, there have been over 300 attempted murders.
“ In respect to gang membership, the Bermuda Police Service estimates that there are 200 to 250 people actively involved with gangs in Bermuda,” he said. “ In addition to gang members
and their families, there is a larger layer with looser associations to gangs. Our reality is that in this small community, we are all connected . . . It seems that there is a disconnect in the community which rationalizes that, as long as it is them, gang members killing each other and in those neighborhoods, that they do not need to worry about it. But now, we’ve had two incidents in public restaurants during the day and it could have been any one of us and our families.”
According to the Minister, the BPS’ gang violence reduction strategy has three pillars: prevention, catch and convict and resettlement/rehabilitation.
“ If our goal is to eliminate violence and antisocial behavior, all the talks, programs and our million-dollar spending will not fix it,” he warned. “ In this battle [to tackle gang violence], we
have to make everyone uncomfortable. We have to call out neighbors, friends and family. We know who knows, that’s the kind of community we are in Bermuda.”
In the Minister’s opinion, the 250 gang members are holding the rest of the community hostage, as many people are now afraid to go out because of what might happen, especially at night.
One possible solution to the issue, according to him, is tackling the drug issue in the community, including alcohol.
“ Our objectives are to develop a multi-agency national strategic plan to mitigate violence, drug trafficking and drug-related activities, particularly targeting the high-crime neighborhoods,” he
explained. “ No one will be immune from fixing the problem.”
The Minister also intends to close the border to drugs and weapons which might come in through the creation and enforcement of a new task force, consisting of Customs, Police and
the Coast Guard which will monitor Bermuda’s ports of entry as often as possible and maybe even 24/7.
“ We’re not going to stop everything, but we’re going to close the holes that we see and when
we make people uncomfortable, even the law-abiding ones, they will have to feel uncomfortable
for a time.”
The Ministry of National Security will also ensure that at-risk vulnerable youth and family are
equipped with enough resources so that they can have a viable alternative to criminal activity.
Following the Minister’s speech, Pastor Bean outlined some of the programs that are currently
in place to attempt to tackle gang violence.
According to Pastor Bean, the number of gangs has dwindled out within the past few years,
when there were 13 or 14 major gangs. With that being said, however, some gangs are now
linking together and becoming even more powerful.
“ Certain groups are becoming one in the east and west as far as certain things taking place,”
he said. “ There is almost a three-to-four way split in town, so they are fighting against each
other in many areas of the city.”
Pastor Bean said that the Gang Violence Reduction Team has several programs in the public
schools and the community.
According to Pastor Bean, the Gang Violence reduction team, through their case management
and outreach services, supported 85 at-risk youth last year. On average, the service sees 35-40
“ We also have a community service program for people who may not be able to afford to pay
court fines or go to jail,” he said. “ This causes a relationship [between us and them] to be built,
because they start to trust us. One of the important factors in dealing with gang violence is trust,
as many of these young men have never trusted anyone before.”
The team also hosts 40 to 60 small group educational and employment sessions, Pastor Bean
continued. They also host 10 to 15 meetings a month with outside agencies, such as Workforce
Development and Financial Assistance.
“ A total of 147 job coaching sessions were held with the high school students and 85 percent of
the business partners indicated they would participate in the work program again,” he said. “
100 percent of the students involved would recommend this program to others and 100 percent
of the parents saw the personal growth in their children over the eight-week period. Eight
students were offered additional two weeks paid work based on weekly performance reports
and supervisors’ evaluations and 100 percent of students involved in the program stayed clear
of antisocial behavior or criminal activity for the length that they were in the program.”
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