WEDNESDAY, JULY 11: Bermuda will only truly succeed if we do our best to leave no one behind.
Embracing our people, understanding them, giving them a leg up, educating them, providing them with opportunity is how we will achieve collective success.
We must be a nurturing society.
We cannot afford to allow our young people to become alienated and drift into negative lifestyles and habits.
Unfortunately, that is what has happened to many. As I said in the House of Assembly recently, the rise of gangs is the tip of the iceberg. For every gangster, there are a larger number of young men and women who don’t see the future in a positive light, but who have, for any number of good reasons, not taken that fateful step.
Restoring hope, opportunity and confidence is the biggest challenge facing Bermuda.
Last Friday, the House of Assembly debated the Criminal Code Amendment Act. This Bill would make it easier to convict the gang leaders and to keep them in jail longer.
We supported the Bill because we have to be as tough as possible with these criminals and because it creates a new power to penetrate their system of command and control.
After a long and unfortunate period in which gang shootings threatened to unravel the fabric of our society, the Government began putting forward a series of punitive measures — increasing the powers to police to prosecute and jail offenders. The Criminal Code Amendment Act is one example of that.
But what has been missing are curative measures — measures that provide young people with a better path. The Government can say all it wants to counter that statement but the realities of life reveal grim truths.
Last winter, for example, the Joint Select Committee on the Causes of Violent Crime and Gun Violence issued a report that shed light beneath the tip of the iceberg. What it revealed was a web of deeply entrenched, interconnecting problems that are producing young men willing to shoot down rivals in front of families flying kites or as they sit in a barber’s chair.
• More kids taking the wrong path at younger ages; with criminal behaviour, gang relationships and drug use often beginning at Middle School level;
• Neighbourhoods troubled by drugs and gang culture making it very difficult for young children to see a positive future;
• Dysfunctional families producing angry, violent, disruptive behaviour in children;
• “Negative child outcomes” in single parent homes; usually a mother, struggling because the absent father is not sending child maintenance payments; homes where conditions make it more likely a child will walk the path to crime and drug addiction;
• A prison system with a 50 per cent recidivism rate, where 85 per cent of inmates have addiction problems or committed drug-related crimes; and where employment after prison is extremely difficult, creating a cycle of poverty, anger, frustration.
The Joint Select Committee reported a society in trouble; a society producing new generations of gangsters.
As Parliamentarians, we have to pass the punitive measures because these people need to know that Bermuda has no tolerance for their actions.
But without a comprehensive plan that deals with the totality of the gang problem, our Police will be doing nothing more than putting band aids on a social problem that will not heal.
Without focusing on the curative side of the problem, measures like the Criminal Code Amendment Act are just one more step in a race without a finish line.
Bermuda has got to get to grips with the conditions that feed and perpetuate criminal life.
The Government’s reaction to date has been almost totally linear — seeing the problem of gang violence only as a law enforcement challenge. But it is so much more than that.
We have a society-wide challenge on our hands and until we address the gang problem as a society problem, we will always have a gang problem and the violence that comes with it.
We can’t give up on our people. Ever.
That is the OBA’s starting point. Next week, I will write about how we intend to meet that challenge.
Craig Cannonier is the Leader of the Opposition.