Income at the core of violence – Commissiong

  • Canary in the coalmine: Rolfe Commissiong (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Canary in the coalmine: Rolfe Commissiong (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Income inequality and its connection to racial disparities must be addressed to help combat gun crime, a government MP claimed yesterday.

Rolfe Commissiong, whose Pembroke South East constituency has been hit by violence over the past decade, feared that black men from poorer households were too often deemed to be “surplus to requirements”.

The Progressive Labour Party backbencher, said: “We have to ensure that the seven, eight, nine and ten-year-olds of today are not going to take their place in the ranks in ten years’ time.”

The 2016 Population and Housing Census Report showed that blacks represented about 52 per cent of the population compared to 31 per cent for whites.

However, Mr Commissiong said: “Well over 95 per cent of the victims and perpetrators of this violence are young black men and has been for the last two decades. The devastation brought to their families has been incalculable.

“This has been the canary in the coalmine for our society. Have we learnt the proper lessons from this? I am not sure.

“What I do know is that these men from black low-income households are viewed too often as surplus to requirements in this society and so there is a resignation around what is happening, a fatalism about this that is not healthy.”

The MP spoke out after one of his constituents, Nicole Fox, appealed for help last week in the wake of a shooting at her home that left her 22-year-old son injured.

It was the second time her house had been targeted in less than 18 months and came seven years after another of her children, Ricco Furbert, was shot dead, aged 25, inside the Belvin’s Variety store on Happy Valley Road in a double murder in January 2013.

The Bermuda Police Service recorded four shootings in the space of 24 hours on February 3, three in two different parts of Warwick and one on North Shore Road, Devonshire, where a 26-year-old man was shot several times near a bus stop in the middle of the afternoon.

In a sixth incident this month, bullets were fired at an apartment in Pembroke shortly before 8am on Sunday.

A number of people, at least one as young as 17, were arrested in connection with the shootings.

Mr Commissiong said yesterday: “My heart goes out to Ms Fox and all the mothers and fathers that have been affected by this type of violence in my constituency and beyond.”

He explained: “What we have seen is another cycle take root.

“But I want people to understand that a decade ago these young men would have been between the ages of 7 and 12.

“Unless we begin to tackle this at the front end of the problem, in addition to the back end, we are going to continue to see these cycles continue.”

Mr Commissiong said that Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, and Leroy Bean, the gang violence reduction co-ordinator, were doing “yeoman service” in their efforts to maintain safety.

He added: “But, we need to have a country where we put both Mr Caines and Pastor Bean out of business; that has to be the ultimate goal, where we don’t need programmes to deal with gang intervention.”

Mr Commissiong said: “It’s not rocket science to say that it’s due to the exacerbation of poverty in Bermuda that we are seeing successive generations of young men get involved with the drug trade and with the growing violence that has accompanied it over the past 20 years.”

He said: “I think that the impact of living in a country with extremely high levels of income inequality is one of the key causal factors here.”

Mr Commissiong said it was important to “materially improve” the lives of struggling Bermudians.

He added: “The white community has higher levels of income and multigenerational wealth to better insulate them from the most egregious impacts of living in a country with such a high level of income inequality.

“That’s the only conclusion I can make.”

The MP cited the 2009 Mincy Report, which examined the lives of Bermuda’s at-risk young black men and the underlying social factors that led them into gangs.

Mr Commissiong believed that at the time of the publication there was not enough awareness of the level of income inequality.

He said he was pleased to see, in its Pre-Budget report, that the Government was “considering reducing or eliminating the lowest band of payroll tax”.

Mr Commissiong added: “Even if it’s not 0, if it’s 1, 2 or 3 per cent, it’s welcome.”

He said the implementation of statutory wage regimes and reducing the cost of living could also make a difference.

Mr Commissiong explained: “One of the things about the Government today, the Premier David Burt gets this.

“Our efforts towards addressing these issues such as the living wage, the cost of living ... we understand that, with our efforts being effective and successful over time, will reduce the incidences of what we are seeing.

“To me, it’s clear that this is where our efforts have to be to make sustainable change and make lives better for our people.”

Desmond Crockwell, a community activist, said it was unsurprising that violence was found among black boys or young men “particularly in Bermuda, many of whom are ‘products of their environment’, which in many cases include young men who were identified as ‘at risk’ at an early age”.

He hoped that current and future politicians would help to “encourage our young black men to not look at themselves as a part of societal failures, but rather future leaders within their own right”.

The chief editor of anti-violence magazine Visionz added: “It is also up to us as a community to understand the objectives of uniting and integrating, as the problem has been recognised, but not conquered yet.”

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Published Feb 21, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 21, 2020 at 8:45 am)

Income at the core of violence – Commissiong

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