The Premier, David Burt, was quoted as making the following comment in the House of Assembly on July 12: “I don’t think economic reasons are the main reasons that people leave Bermuda. The main [reasons] revolve around education and issues inside our community around violence and gang violence.”
My One Bermuda Alliance colleague, senator Dwayne Robinson, recently shared his views about the Premier’s comments, highlighting that he is clearly out of touch with both reality and the community.
I, too, have concerns about the Premier’s detachment from the economic struggles and issues that many in our community find themselves facing daily. But beyond that struggle, which is very real, the Government put in place a Violence Reduction Team to combat the risk factors that can set our young people, particularly our young men, on a path towards gang involvement.
In July 2017, the Ministry of National Security’s Violence Reduction Team was formed and the Government promised the people of Bermuda that it would “give reducing gang violence the priority it deserves”.
Wayne Caines, the minister, said so in a ministerial statement to the House of Assembly in November 2017. In that same statement, he also provided the House with some statistics. He said that since 2009 “35 young black men have been shot and killed; 92 people have been injured by illegal firearms; and over 400 of our young people are deemed at risk of falling prey to the gang lifestyle”.
Nowhere in that statement did the minister include the number of people who are leaving Bermuda because of gang violence.
The VR Team’s core goals and objectives are to:
• Change the pattern of behaviour of individuals involved in group and gang violence, and reintegrate them into mainstream society
• Prevent young people from joining gangs and engaging in antisocial behaviour
• Connect at-risk youth, men and women with the necessary helping agencies that will aid in addressing mental and social health issues
• Create opportunities of employment for those who may have been previously deemed “unemployable” because of their past
None of the above-listed core goals and objectives include stopping or minimising gang violence so people will not leave Bermuda. One would expect that if gang violence was indeed the cause of people leaving Bermuda, stopping or reducing such an exodus would have to be stated as a core goal, or objective of, the VR Team. On November 23, 2018, Mr Caines, delivered a further statement updating the House on the activities that the VR Team had been engaged in.
Specifically, he noted that the VR Team is supported administratively by the Ministry of National Security headquarters staff, and that it works in conjunction with the Inter-Agency Gang Enforcement Team.
The VR Team also works with the administration and student services teams at both CedarBridge Academy and the Berkeley Institute, in conjunction with the Bermuda Police Service, to provide much needed support services for at-risk students.
Mr Caines stated that the VR team worked with the Department of Public Transportation to develop plans to get students home safely, and has been in the schools to co-ordinate mediation sessions between students involved in rival gangs.
The VR Team also supports a wide range of community groups that align with its goals and objectives, such as Mothers on a Mission Bermuda, the Clergy Working Group and Living Legends Community Group.
In addition, according to the minister, these interventions by the VR Team have resulted in a marked decrease in gang-related conflicts at the schools and during after-school hours. So, there are several people and agencies who are working diligently to address and alleviate our gang culture and gang violence, not the least of whom is the Gang Reduction Co-ordinator, Leroy Bean, who is tireless in his efforts working with gang members and their families. Contrary to what people may think or believe, his role is not limited to the hours of 9 to 5.
This man gets up and out at any hour of the day or night. He sacrifices his personal family time to address the needs of the members of our community. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the most important remark in Mr Caines’s November 2018 statement was this: “The work of the Gang Violence Reduction Team is important and should not be understated. The ongoing, gang-related tensions in the community have not been ignored.
“Rather, this government and the Gang Violence Reduction Team have been steadily working to co-ordinate resources to best address the issues and we are seeing results.”
I will repeat what Mr Caines said in his statement: “We are seeing results.”
So what is the basis for the Premier’s remarks about Bermudians leaving Bermuda because of gang violence? I am sure the Premier is updated at Cabinet about the successes that the VR Team is achieving. I am sure that, aside from Cabinet, the Premier must have meetings with his minister to discuss whether the goals and objectives of the VR Team are being achieved.
And if they are not being achieved, what is the strategy to ensure that they are achieved?
Quite frankly, if I were Mr Bean, or the minister, a gang member, a member of any of the VR Team, a member of the organisations assisting the VR Team, or a person leaving Bermuda because I just can no longer economically survive here in my own country, I would be deeply disturbed and offended by the Premier’s remarks.
Mr Burt effectively said that the VR Team, led by Mr Bean, under the auspices of the Minister of National Security, has not been effective, and their efforts to tackle gang violence have come to naught.
Essentially, the Government is wasting its money and the gang reduction efforts, and all those associated with those efforts are failing. Because, surely, if the efforts were coming to fruition, then people would not be leaving the island.
Now, to be clear, there are persons who are gang-affiliated who do leave Bermuda to start over elsewhere, anonymously. However, the number of persons who do so certainly do not make up the bulk of emigration.
In the November 2017 ministerial statement referred to earlier, Mr Caines said that “the systemic devaluation of black men in this country is so pervasive that we must start by shifting how we raise our sons in this Bermuda. When we value them more and show it by ensuring that there is a place for them to execute their aims and aspirations for life, then they will value themselves”.
The minister consistently highlights and acknowledges the important work done by the Ministry of National Security’s Gang Reduction Team, under the leadership of Leroy Bean. He believes in and supports the VR Team, and he believes in our young men and their value to our community. I believe in the VR Team, the efforts of Mr Bean, the affiliated support groups and the Minister of National Security.
Unfortunately, Mr Burt’s remarks reflect that he does not believe that the efforts expended by Mr Bean and Mr Caines in respect of addressing gang violence and antisocial behaviour have brought about significant results. He has also vocalised what he thinks about gang members and their impact on our country and community.
So, the Premier makes these disparaging remarks in the House on July 12, and then, it is reported that the Premier gave the first eight young men to participate in the government-funded Redemption Farm support and encouragement. Isn’t there some level of hypocrisy here?
I mean, it’s fine if the Premier believes that gang violence is responsible for the hike in Bermudians emigrating from Bermuda; and, if he believes that, then he must substantiate his comments.
The Premier admitted that there is no empirical evidence to support his statement about gang violence being a main driver of emigration.
But, if he cannot substantiate his comments, and the aggregated data proves his statement is disingenuous and unfounded, then don’t you think that the people of Bermuda are owed a sincere and genuine apology?
In my mind, it’s either an apology to Bermuda for making such an erroneous statement, which he himself noted is not supported by any empirical evidence, or, it’s an acknowledgement by the Premier that his Progressive Labour Party government, with its imposition of taxes on the small man, the lack of job creation, the abysmally slow evolution of fintech as a business line, the lack of direct foreign investment, absolutely no capital projects waiting in the wings, the exorbitantly high cost of living, and the lack of a viable plan to address, mitigate or change any of these issues, are the real reasons that people are leaving Bermuda.
• Leah Scott is the Deputy Leader of the One Bermuda Alliance and the Opposition MP for Southampton East Central (Constituency 30)