Remarks by Minister of National Security, Michael Weeks at the town hall meeting on July 19, 2022 on community violence and anti-social behaviour in Bermuda…

We are here to discuss with you the very serious issue of community violence and antisocial behavior that has become all too prevalent in our community.

The fact that you are here is testament to the concern you rightfully have over this crisis. We want to hear from you on your experiences, your concerns and what you believe should be done.

We are all aware of the violence and anti-social behaviour that is plaguing our community. I have been the Minister of National Security since April of this year.

A few days after my appointment, a young man was murdered. In fact there have been three murders since I have taken office. This generation have grown up thinking this is normal.

When did this all start?

The first identified gang related murder occurred in 2001.

Two years later, in 2003, Bermuda had the first gang related murder that involved the use of a firearm. Since 2001 we have had 71 murders in Bermuda where a weapon has been used.

I will pause here for a moment to allow that number to sink in 71 murders in just over 20 years. Have we become desensitized to it? These are our family members, not just statistics.

This included 43 murders involving a firearm and 20 involving a knife. During this period we have had 294 confirmed firearm incidents.

It is easy to label this as a gang issue but the reality is it is not just gangs. We are seeing more and more incidents where violence and weapons are used to settle disputes and children are carrying knives purportedly for protection.

We have to recognize that these are our sons, our cousins, our neighbours, our nephews that are being murdered. What are we going to do to eradicate this scourge of violence in our community?

In respect of gang membership, the Bermuda Police Service estimate that there are two hundred [200] to two hundred and fifty (250) persons actively involved with gangs in Bermuda. In addition to the gang members and their families, there is a larger layer with looser associations to gangs. Some feel as many as one thousand (1,000) . Our reality, is that in this small community we are all connected.

Children are actively recruited from as early as eight (8) years old, including girls. We have children showing allegiances to gangs and committing violent acts whilst in school.

It is easy to label this as a gang issue but the reality is it is not just gangs. We are seeing more and more incidents where violence and weapons are used to settle disputes and children are carrying knives purportedly for protection.

It seems like there is a disconnect in the community that rationalizes it in the terms that as long as it is them, gang members killing each other, and in those neighbourhoods then I don’t need to worry about it.

Now we have had three (3) incidents in public restaurants and it could have been anyone of us sitting there with our family. It is not just them, and in their neighbourhoods, it is our community and we must take our community back.

How did we as a community get here in just over 20 years? Where did we go so wrong?

We have songs, movies and videos that promote guns, knives, violence, disrespect of women and the gangster lifestyle. We have a generation who believe the level of violence today is normal, news of a murder is not shocking, where a gunman can walk into a family restaurant during the day and execute two people in cold blood.

We have children and adults who cannot leave their parish because of the real fear of being attacked or murdered. Hence, that’s why we will be talking this forum to different parts of the Island.

We have those that benefit from and protect the perpetrators and those too afraid to speak up.

This is our reality today …But it does not have to be our future. So what are we doing today?

The BPS has a Gang Violence Reduction Strategy with a core focus on partnership. It consists of three pillars;

  • Prevention (Education & Awareness)
  • Catch & Convict – Police focused (Targeting/Suppression)
  • Resettlement/Rehabilitation – collaboration

The Police cannot do this alone and neither can the Gang Violence reduction team. We need the support of the Community To be clear, we will not police our way out of this. We have to tackle the roots of the community issues as well.

Within the Ministry we have the Ministry’s Gang Violence Reduction team under the leadership of Bishop Bean who is here with us tonight. It is important to note that the team is a part of the Ministry of National Security Headquarters and they have a very different role from the Police. The mission of the team is to aid in the transition of at risk individuals away from delinquent peer groups and toxic environments with the aim of reducing violent crime in Bermuda. The team focus is on Prevention, Outreach, Intervention, Community Engagement and Collaboration. Relationship building is a key component of the team.

It is not just the Ministry of National Security that is engaged with this and there is no one size fits all approach and to ensure that our goals are achieved. We are taking a multi-ministry approach that includes the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Seniors, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Youth Culture and Sports, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Public Works. Together, the mentioned ministries will each make concerted efforts within their domain to improve the quality of life for our youth and their families by providing opportunities for positive growth.

Let’s be honest here and I am going to be frank which may offend and trigger some.

If our goal is to eliminate violence and anti-social behaviour all the talk, programs and millions spent aren’t doing it. The restaurant incidents, community indifference and numbers of murders show that it’s getting worse.

That’s not to say that they are not having some effect and that things would be significantly worse if we were doing nothing. I believe they are important and things would be worse. However, the trajectory is going in the wrong direction and our current economic situation and headwinds will work against us so we need to do more.

Bermuda is not unique in this challenge. It’s a worldwide issue.

I have set out the statistics and what we are doing and will now address what we will do.

This is a community problem and whilst a robust police and judicial system is part of the solution it is not the solution. We all have a part to play and if we do nothing then we are complicit.

We have to recognize that in this battle we have to make everyone uncomfortable. We have to call out some neighbours, friends and family. We know who knows, who is benefiting and covering up for the perpetrators. Enough is enough, it’s time to stand up and stop this madness. How bad does it have to get before right minded Bermudians have had enough and will stand up?

We have options to address this scourge. I know what options don’t work:

  • Doing nothing
  • Sitting back and hoping that someone else will fix the problem
  • Thinking that Government alone will fix this problem
  • Hoping the Police and judicial system alone will fix the problem
  • Hoping that it is just them, in their neighbourhoods killing each other
  • Believing that it is a gang problem alone

There is a long string of reports and strategies on violence in Bermuda penned over a number of years.

So what will I do that’s different?

Let’s first remove the politics from this.

Successive Governments have struggled with this issue. It’s a community problem and I will call out anyone who tries to score cheap political points off the murders of our sons.

I have reached out to MPs who represent their communities to step up and work with me on solving this crisis. The community must be on board and our response must be proportionate and not alienate the very communities we are trying to protect.

My goal is “Operation Take Back” which is to:

  • 1 Eliminate violent behaviour, drug trafficking and gang-related activity.
  • 2 Provide a safe environment, free of crime, so law abiding citizens can live, work and enjoy a decent standard of living.

I have met with stakeholders, reviewed the reports, strategies and views of those in the field.

We clearly need to do something different and the question is how far do we want to go?

We cannot allow the 250 – 1,000 gang members to hold the community hostage and continue their behaviour. It has to stop.

We have to provide viable options to those in the next generation who are vulnerable to following the path of a life of crime and antisocial behaviour.

We have to tackle the scourge of drugs and the effects they have on our community. This includes alcohol.

I have a team working on a strategy to meet my goals and by September will begin workshops on the proposed strategy with key stakeholders.

The objective is to:

  • Introduce a comprehensive, multi-agency National Strategic Plan to mitigate violence, drug trafficking and drug related activities particularly in targeted high crime neighborhoods.
  • The Ministry will take the lead in implementing the National Strategic Plan. The Plan provides the blueprint to meeting my goals.
  • Coordinate and integrate existing as well as new Government, local community-based organizations and private sector resources and concentrate them in the targeted areas to maximize their impact on reducing and preventing violent crime, drug trafficking and gang related activity.
  • Mobilize community residents in the targeted areas to assist law enforcement in identifying and removing violent offenders and drug trafficking from their neighborhoods.

This is my highest priority. I want the community to feel and be safe again. I don’t just want a strategy, I want results.

I will close the borders to drugs and weapons.

This will involve a multi-agency approach with the Police, Coast Guard and Customs to ensure that there are sufficient resources including dogs and officers at all points of entry to the Island.

I will cut off the supply of both drugs and weapons. At the same time we will do all in our power to seize the weapons already on Island and bring those in possession of firearms to justice.

I will target the high crime neighbourhoods where residents live in fear.

This will be done one neighbourhood at a time. I will turn the tables on gangs, criminal and those who engage in antisocial behaviour in those neighbourhoods. We will provide police community support to ensure that those neighbourhoods have an active police community presence and that those that engage in criminal activity face the full force of law.

We will not stop until those negative elements have been eradicated from the neighbourhood and will continue to provide support to the neighbourhood to ensure that those negative elements do not return.

I will turn the table on Gangs

Again, I will not allow 250 or so people hold this Island hostage. Gang members who are involved in criminal activities will have two options: remediation or incarceration.

Family Support

I will ensure that Government agencies provide the support to those vulnerable youth and families who are most at risk so that they can have a viable alternative to criminal activity. We will provide them with the support and incentives to be law abiding and productive members of society.

Resources

I will review the resource needs of the Government agencies including Customs, Police and the Royal Bermuda Regiment and do what I can to ensure that they have the resources they need to meet my goals.

There are a number of other consequential matters that I am reviewing including the banning of tinted visors and options to eradicate drink/drug driving in Bermuda.

Again this is not just an enforcement issue. You all have a role to play and must actively do so.

This includes Clubs, ensuring that members drink responsibly and don’t drive. That trouble makers are identified and face consequences for their behaviour. That they provide a safe family environment for their members and the community.

Individually we all have a role to play to save a life. If you know something say something. If you have ideas, step up and speak. We cannot do this without your support. If you do nothing the murders will continue.

We will all face some discomfort from the measures I propose to introduce. However, this is a small price to pay to save a life.

You will see that the Ministry of National Security Gang Violence Reduction Coordinator, Bishop Leroy Bean and the Commissioner of Police are here with me tonight. They will each share with you some details of the programmes, policies and initiatives that are currently in place to combat violence in Bermuda. I am optimistic that our discussions tonight will be candid and productive. I encourage those of you here tonight to be forthcoming with your thoughts and suggestions. That is the only way that we can begin to move toward healing and restoration in the community. It is my hope that when this town hall meeting concludes tonight, we will all be convicted to act, as simply continuing to talk about the problem will not suffice.