Familiar scene: Are blacks stopped too often? <em>*File photo</em>
Familiar scene: Are blacks stopped too often? *File photo

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 15: I read with interest the detailed information provided by Jonathan Smith in his Bermuda Sun article on gang violence on Friday, and was impressed by the number of initiatives underway.

I understand the intent behind Operation Ceasefire, which use deterrence strategies and focus criminal justice attention on a small number of chronically offending gang-involved youth responsible for much of the murder in Bermuda.

I would particularly like to know more about how it is being adapted to be Bermuda-specific, as circumstances here are just not the same as in a big city.

I agree that the community needs to be focusing attention on those few involved in gang violence, and I understand from the police that we are talking about 100 to 150 people who are seriously involved.

But we also need to be cognizant that young people are on the periphery of these gangs, not yet in trouble, but trapped by fear and their immature decisions.

How are we to respond to these young people? We need to help them extricate themselves and find ways to put them on a new path; we must not criminalize them because of their immaturity.

Of concern is the blanket Stop and Searches which have been going on in the community for the past three years.

As stated by Jonathan Smith, police statistics have shown that Stop and Searches have increased exponentially since the Stop and Search amendment was passed in Section 315F of the Criminal Code in 2005.

In 2009 there were 3,174 Stop & Searches; in 2010 9,537 and in the first nine months of 2011 14,477 Stop and Searches were carried out.

Although the police 4th quarter 2011 statistics have not yet been released, based on current statistics it is estimated that close to 19,000 Stops and Searches will have been carried out in total in 2011.

Of those stopped, 85 per cent were black, five per cent were mixed race and 10 per cent were white with 85 per cent being male and more than 55 per cent between the ages of 18 and 35.

This means that close to 33,000 Stop and Searches will have been carried out in just three years, of which almost 30,000 have been black/mixed; and 55 per cent between the ages of 18 and 35.

Bermuda’s total population is 64,000 of which 54 per cent are black, 31 per cent white, 12 per cent mixed/other and four per cent Asian, which already means that the Stop and Search process over the past three years has substantially focused on young, black males in our community. Many were stopped multiple times in a year.

Section 315F of the Criminal Code is particularly onerous, that is, people can be stopped and searched for “no probable cause”.

Lawyer Peter Martin, at the recent Centre for Justice forum, advised attendees that this type of legislation is only used when imminent terrorism is suspect, or a country is about to go to war.

Why were we introducing this type of extreme legislation in 2005 before the increase in gang violence which began in 2008?

Numerous studies have shown that drug use is as prevalent in white communities as it is in black communities; however, when a certain segment of the population and/or area of Bermuda is targeted under extreme Stop and Search measures for “no probable cause”, then by default an increasing number of our young black males will be stopped, a number will be searched, and of those some will be arrested, and end up in the criminal justice system.

Concerns must be raised around the increasing alienation of an entire generation of our young black males, at a time when the police are desperately trying to create trust in the community. Being stopped multiple times creates anger and a feeling of persecution; unfortunately the majority of those being stopped are perfectly innocent of any crime.

Understandably we need tough legislation but it must be focused/targeted on those relatively few hard core individuals who are heavily involved in the gang lifestyle. We need to avoid a repeat of the racial profiling outcome, which is occurring under the existing Stop and Search legislation, and this can only be achieved through the use of Equality Impact Assessments prior to legislation going to the House to ensure a similar problem does not arise.

The Police are trying hard to contain the gang violence, but blanket Stop and Search is not the solution to gang violence.

The police say they know who the main culprits are, and using intelligence and investigation their attention should be focused on them and not the entire black community. Blanket stop and searches predominantly focused on the black youth of Bermuda must stop before it creates even more social problems in our community.

This type of legislation is a violation of the public’s civil liberties, and it is just not worth the economic, social and human cost.

 

Lynne Winfield is a past president of the advocacy group CURB (Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda).