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Gangs becoming hardened– expert

Bermuda's gangs are in the process of reshuffling and will re-emerge a “more organised, robust force”, according to community activist Carlton Simmons.

He told the joint parliamentary select committee on violent crime and gun violence yesterday that gangs had suffered due to increased police enforcement but would adapt and inevitably resurface.

“As we continue to apply pressure and particularly police pressure they will learn more sophisticated techniques,” he said.

“They are organised but they will get more organised. They will get more determined, they will get more desperate.”

Mr Simmons, president of the Youth on the Move charity, described the gangs as hierarchical and “like a moving organism”.

He told MPs that Bermuda was broadly divided into about four or five territories controlled by separate gangs.

“As leaders are taken down or imprisoned, more emerge,” he said. “Factions develop within the gangs.”

Mr Simmons who helped broker a brief ceasefire between Parkside and 42 last Christmas said many neighbourhoods were run by gangs, rather than police, and if a leader decided he wanted you dead, there was little that could be done.

Many people were too afraid to speak out, he added, because they lived with “the fear that comes from knowing that the Police Service at best could only catch your killer but can't prevent you being killed”.

He said just being in a given area could cause a person to get shot.

“I'm not a gang member but I think what is not understood by a lot of people in the community is that you do not have to be a gang member to be affected.”

Some young men were unable to move freely around the Island due to safety concerns, Mr Simmons said.

“We get calls from people in Somerset and Warwick. They want to take advantage of our programmes but they can't come into town. We struggle [with how] to offer it to the people who can't come into town.

“Until travel is not restricted, we are going to need satellite offices to assist these young men.”

Mr Simmons argued that gangs needed to be tackled “from a more human point of view, rather than just a punitive or police view”.

He said one gang leader told him that for every 20 members of a gang, 17 were there “just to be there”, two were there because of a poor home life and one was involved because he wanted to be.

“It shows you the solution is not punitive,” he argued. “Give the 17 young men something better to do with their time.”

He said there was a need for more community organisations “on the front line and in the trenches” and that such non-Government agencies could do much to help, so long as they received adequate funding.

Youth on the Move needs $600,000 a year to carry out its work, which involves helping young people find jobs, opening bank accounts and assisting Hustle Truck workers. The charity was also asked to set up interviews for last year's Mincy Report on young black males.

“Right now, we are fully funded by the private sector,” Mr Simmons said. “We have been approached by Government on a number of instances for assistance. I think it's strange that we are often referred to as a resource in the community but not enough to fund.”

He suggested a system similar to the one in the US could work here, whereby charities receive state funding.

Committee chairman Randy Horton suggested it would be useful to have a gang member give evidence to the committee behind closed doors and Mr Simmons said: “It could certainly be arranged.”

Carlton Simmons

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Published December 10, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm)

Gangs becoming hardened– expert

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