FRIDAY, JUNE 29: Bermuda’s culture of gangs and guns can be fixed, American experts from a Boston programme aimed at making the city’s streets safer said on Thursday.
But they warned that ending gang warfare in Bermuda would take time — and needs investment as well as an effort by the community as well as by police and Government.
A team of three from the successful StreetSafe programme in Boston are nearing the end of a week on the island, helping to train mediators who will try to take the heat out of gangland rivalry.
StreetSafe Boston executive director Ed Powell said: “I just don’t think it’s an insurmountable problem, I just don’t, when I look at the numbers.
“You have to give it the right resources and the public has to have the desire to address it — I see no reason why it can’t be solved.”
Mr Powell was joined in Bermuda by Conan Harris, StreetSafe’s street worker coordinator and Tara Small, the organisation’s director of operations.
Mr Harris said: “When you’re talking about human capital, you have to invest in that. It won’t be solved in one month – you have to go back to the issues and address the problems.
“You have to be diligent in trying to fix the situation. That means giving the people involved alternatives and investing in them.”
He added: I don’t want to get into the politics of the country other than to say if there are people of means, it’s in their best interests to invest in this.
“Where people feel safe, they thrive and where people are positive contributors to society, the economy is better. In communities where that’s not happening, it tends to take away from the economy.”
All three praised National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief, a former top police officer, and Commissioner of Police Michael DeSilva for recognizing that they can’t “arrest their way out of this.”
Mr Powell said that although Boston and other cities in the US where they had worked were very different from Bermuda, there were common factors to an upswing in violence and gang culture.
He added that risk factors included poverty and a lack of educational and job opportunities, as well as single-parent families and a lack of parental direction.
Mr Powell said all of these — added to access to guns — added up to a potentially dangerous mix primed to explode into violence.
But Ms Small added that, if schools, community organisations and other groups were properly mobilised and united to share knowledge, a difference could be made.
Mr Pernichief, who introduced the three publicly for the first time at the Coco Reefs Hotel in Paget yesterday, said that there was now a “trained cadre of volunteers” ready to take the battle against gun crime on to the streets.
He added that he had visited Boston and seen StreetSafe in action and that he had been impressed by their dedication and success. Mr Perinchief said: “We are mobilised for action now. Our next steps are to build those community relationships required to present alternatives to our target population.
“Churches, community activists and ordinary citizens must now be pressed in service in support of our street-level initiatives.
“Additionally, we will be looking to affected stakeholders for support. That support might be ‘in kind’ or financial.” But he added: “Every ounce of such support is an investment in Bermuda’s future.”