Responding to criticism of the recent appointment of Pastor Leroy Bean as the new Gang Violence Reduction Coordinator, National Security Minister Wayne Caines has challenged the Opposition to consider how much saving lives is worth to this community.
Speaking on the floor of the House of Assembly on Friday, the Minister told MPs: “I am determined that this work within the Ministry will not be defined by deliberate distractions created by criticisms of the salary paid to Pastor Bean or long settled issues around previous projects.
“We were elected to tackle the systemic racial and economic issues that have created the conditions for gangs, violence and anti-social behaviour in this country. For too long the narrative has been dictated by those whose interest are more aligned with the sport of character assassination and not with achieving social justice and economic equality,” said Mr Caines.
“The message of July 18th is that business as usual is unacceptable. The loud voice of the people demands that we make transformative change to this society and this starts with how we approach this issue of violence in this community. The electoral mandate of this Government compels us to discard petty politics, to urgently address root causes and to support every genuine attempt to do so.
“Understandably,” he conceded that “in recent years the Ministry has become defined by the work of the Police and policies related to gun violence”.
“This does occupy a tremendous amount of time and focus but the Ministry is more than that,” he said, while updating the House and the public “on the varied policy initiatives in train” since his appointment as the new Minister on July 20th.
“In addition to introductory meetings with department heads and staff, I have taken the opportunity to initiate detailed discussions to determine how each department can more effectively serve the people of Bermuda,” said Mr Caines.
“This government promised the people of Bermuda that we would ‘give reducing gang violence the priority it deserves’. Since July, I have been focused on that goal. Every morning at 9am I chair a meeting of the Ministry team engaged in the programmes around gang violence reduction and every day we focus on a portion of the strategy that can be better developed and isolate those areas that need greater attention,” said the Minister.
In just 11 weeks, he said his Ministry team has “responded well to the challenge”. “It was necessary to build on the work that had been done and in some cases sharpen the focus of existing programmes and resources to produce measurable outcomes.”
In his Ministerial Statement, he noted that “Pastor Bean has 14 years’ experience working with gangs in Bermuda and has been a Residential Care Officer within the former Department of Social Services”.
“He holds degrees in family and addiction counselling and has committed himself to working within the communities affected by gang violence. Through his efforts many young men have chosen better paths for their lives and he will make an important addition to the Ministry’s team,” he added.
“As we promised in the First 100 Days Platform, Pastor Bean’s singular focus will be on implementing programmes to reduce gang violence and anti-social behaviour. he will be the lead in those areas designed to engage various aspects of the community including clergy and local employers, all with the goal of transitioning young men and women away from the gang lifestyle with viable social and economic alternatives.”
When asked during the Parliamentary Question period by Opposition MP Dr Grant Gibbons what guarantees Pastor Bean’s “singular focus” will bring in terms of reducing gun and gang violence in Bermuda for $92,000 a year, Mr Caines said even if only one life is saved it will be money well spent.
Then he cited the sobering statistics:
- 53 Homicides
- 34 Shot & Killed
- 90 Firearm Injuries
- 57 Incarcerated
- 149 Gun & Ammunition Seizures
- Over 50 children left behind 400 at risk youth in schools
- Gang members are getting younger and more chaotic
- 2nd or 3rd evolution of disenfranchised youth
- More/different factions within groups
- Motivated by the three R’s – Respect, Revenge and Revenue
The Minister also cited a list of initiatives achieved in the new administration’s first 60 days:
- Commenced an internal review of current programmes and initiatives
- Relaunched the Inter-agency Gang Task Force (GTF)
- Stabilized Team StreetSafe with much needed financial support
- Relaunched the Coordinated Crisis Response (CCR) to ensure a clear response to any incident
- Implemented the Inter-Faith Working Group – launched with a multi-denominational meeting last month; and
- Supported the implementation of Moms on a Mission (MOM), a support group for mothers directly affected by gun violence
“This is just the beginning,” said Mr Caines. “As a team we have determined the core goals and objectives of our work in this area. We intend to measure ourselves by these goals and have committed to delivering on them for the people of Bermuda.”
The plan moving forward includes:
- We aim to change the pattern of behaviour of individuals involved in group and gang violence and reintegrate them back into mainstream society
- We are determined to prevent young people from joining gangs and engaging in anti-social behaviour
- We will connect at-risk youth, men and women with the necessary helping agencies that will aid in addressing mental and social health issues; and
- We must create opportunities of employment for young people and others who have previously been deemed “unemployable” because of their past
“The team I found in place was essentially a two-man operation who have devoted enormous time and talent to the task at hand,” said the Minister.
He concluded: “In keeping with the promise we made in our First 100 Days Platform, I have determined to strengthen that team and broaden the reach of our initiatives by engaging Pastor Leroy Bean as the promised Gang Violence Reduction Coordinator.”
- Photos Courtesy of DCI