FRIDAY, MAY 6: So much of what we have been trying to do these last 10 years — no, make that 30, or 100, or 200 years — is to learn how to properly value our fellow humans as real, fellow, human beings.

The problem with shooting people is that they end up dead. It is the ultimate act of devaluing someone.

Even the worst gangster feud isn’t worth the killing, of course. More often than not, though, the death is over something that sane people would consider completely trivial.

Which isn’t just insane: It’s devaluing the victim even further.

Even more lunatic is when people get killed by mistake — either because they were not the intended target, or the trivial “offence” that motivated the gunman had actually never occurred or was done by somebody else entirely.

Which is devaluing the victim even more, like a penny that accidentally fell on the ground and isn’t worth picking up.

When people came first to our island, most of them were pretty much scruffy nobodies, completely beholden to chain of “more important” people stretching all the way up to the Kings and Queens of England.

Then slavery was added to the mix and most of us – or most of Bermudians’ ancestors, anyway — were treated as even less human than that, and bought and traded like furniture.

Since 1833 we’ve been trying to push our way forward, in fits and starts to be sure, but generally increasing human equality and increasing human value.

It’s not just about having the same things — the same wealth and the same jobs, or at least the same opportunities and the same rights.

It’s about valuing and respecting each other as human beings, with an innate human worth that is no greater or less than anybody else’s.

The cry of the slave, after all, wasn’t just for freedom. Or rather, freedom wasn’t just being free from shackles: It was the burning need to be treated with respected as a full and worthy human being.

But here we are, in 2011 Bermuda, after all these decades and centuries of difficult progress, wantonly treating other people as something far less than slaves.

It is not the lash of the master that belittles us, but the gun of the gangster.

It is not the bonds of slavery that prevent some people from travelling to Somerset or Pembroke, but the fear of gang violence.

Five times so far this year, we have been left to bury the remains of a shooting victim.

But the snuffing out of the human life began before the trigger was pulled.

This dehumanization of fellow Bermudians began the moment one group determined it was superior, or had the right to control people and territory.

Equality

The shooting death is only the conclusion.

The next day’s news invariably portrays the dead man as a human being, with children, and a mother, and hopes and dreams, and a childhood, and everything except the long happy adulthood he deserved.

But he is dead precisely because he has entered, accidentally or willfully, a world in which human beings are not regarded as full and equal human beings.

We have to do most of the things that everybody says we need to do.

We have to catch and successfully prosecute the killers.

We have to have the guts to turn them in and testify against them. We need unity, and prayer, and solidarity, and determination.

But most of all we need to insist, from the moment a child is born to the moment he dies peacefully in old age, that he is treated and respected as a full and equal human being.

The absolute insistence on the full humanity of our fellow citizens needs to be part of all we say and all we do to each other.

It needs to be part of our education system, and our political system, our prison system and our health system. It needs to be part of the way each of us acts and speaks each day of the year.

And so, each of us in our own way can contribute to the solution.

We must not yield any of the progress we have made over the decades and the centuries.

 

Special report: Gun crime, the human toll