WEDNESDAY, JULY 18: A few weeks ago, I was talking with a senior Police officer about Bermuda’s gang problem.
The Police feel they are doing their job – getting more on top of the situation by exerting a continuing and targeted presence in gang territories and getting convictions.
And, more than before, they are getting help from a worried public providing tips and testimony.
Statistics at the time supported some of what the officer was saying: Of 25 cases that had come before the courts, the Police had achieved 21 convictions.
But here’s the catch: Police success does not mean Bermuda’s success. It does not mean the end of gangs and the ruthless elements at their core.
Gangs are a Bermuda problem. Police are simply dealing with what society sends their way. And in doing their job, they can rightfully ask the rest of Bermuda: What are you doing?
It’s a good question.
As I wrote last week, the gang situation is the tip of the iceberg, below which are a host of problems – education failures, family dysfunction, economic dislocation; even peer pressure – causing young Bermudians to become alienated and drift into negative lifestyles and habits. The problems are deep and we have to face up to them. How deep are they?
At the Peppercorn Ceremony in June, a newsman took photographs of young girls dressed up for the ceremony — maybe 5 to 7 years old — and just as the photos were taken the girls flashed gang signs with their fingers and hands. So troubling were the shots that they were later taken off the photographer’s news site.
The problems run deep and we have to start dealing with them in a deliberate, committed and coordinated way. Until we do, the Police will be dealing with something that never ends, like a mouse on a treadmill going round and round.
The good news is that Bermuda is in reasonably good position to address our social problems. There are many excellent community groups and social agencies operating today.
As things stand, their work is fragmented, and the fragmentation is reflected in the Cabinet itself, where there is no clear responsibility for social policy. There is lip service about “cross-ministry initiatives”, but for whatever reason — lack of will, lack of cash — they’re not happening. The Government, in short, is not doing its part. There is no unifying effort to bring to bear the work of social agencies, community groups and Police in a coordinated fashion.
We need to change this.
A One Bermuda Alliance Government would set up a Cabinet-level gang task force chaired by the Premier and including Ministers with social responsibilities. The mandate of the task force would be to mobilize, coordinate and direct a Bermuda-wide effort to diminish the conditions that feed and perpetuate gang life.
The task force would be supported operationally by a special executive officer, who could be drawn from the civil service or the private sector. The officer would be empowered to direct government resources wherever they can have the best effect. This can mean providing helping agencies and community groups with strategic guidance and financial, manpower and moral support.
The Government needs to set the focus, set the agenda and set the example that the rest of Bermuda can follow. It is essential we start working together with more cohesion, teamwork and commitment on what is without doubt a huge national challenge.
The OBA understands this. The Police alone cannot do it. But Bermudians, working together, can. This is the challenge of our time.
• Craig Cannonier is the Opposition Leader.