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Parents grooming young people to join gangs

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From left, Camily Lovell, Dany Pen and Pc Khalid Pitcher (Photograph supplied)

Parents are grooming their own children to join gangs so family members can retain positions of power within Bermuda’s crime structure.

The shocking revelation was discussed during a community event entitled Drugs, Gangs and Corner Boys. Is my Child Being Recruited?, which took place at Warwick Seventh Day Adventist Church on Sunday evening.

Dany Pen, former commissioner of human rights and current executive director for youth charity Raleigh Bermuda, said that her charity’s research, which included interviews with young people involved in gang activity, had shown that much of Bermuda’s gang culture revolved around the family unit.

Ms Pen told The Royal Gazette: “Recruitment is coming from within the family structure.

“Fathers are passing down their positions to their sons, mothers are grooming their sons to take on positions and older cousins are recruiting younger cousins. It is based on legacy factors, mainly historical.

“When fathers get locked up, someone needs to take over their territory and turf. Who do they go to? Their children. Mothers are grooming sons because if they get into a position of power they, in turn, get into a position of power.

“Older cousins are grooming their younger cousins to become runners and corner boys as it’s an opportunity to give them employment and growth within the gang structure.”

Billed as “a community partnership between Raleigh Bermuda, Pathways Bermuda and the Bermuda Police Service”, the forum addressed issues such as violence and antisocial behaviour among Bermuda’s young people, grooming methods used by gangs to recruit and drugs that are being used.

About 100 people turned up to the event initiated by Raleigh Bermuda, twice the number the charity had estimated.

There were presentations by Ms Pen as well as Pc Khalid Pitcher, of the police Gang Targeting Unit and Camily Lovell, an internationally certified alcohol and drug counsellor at Pathways Bermuda.

Justin Cann, a behavioural therapist and Raleigh Bermuda project manager, who has more than a decade’s worth of experience working within youth development, served as moderator for the presentation.

Raleigh Bermuda’s findings come from ongoing work within its Brave programme launched in 2020 which is aimed at giving young people a safe space to thrive outside of gang life.

Ms Pen said that Raleigh Bermuda was organising a forum specifically for parents to help address the cycle.

From left, Camily Lovell, Dany Pen, Pc Khalid Pitcher and Justin Cann (Photograph supplied)

She said: “What makes all three organisations in this partnership credible is we are all foot soldiers working on the front line – we are getting first-hand accounts from our young people.”

Ms Pen said that girls and women were playing a more active role in gangs than before and are involved in more “passive” activities such as money transfers, safeguarding funds and communication.

She added: “They are also involved in luring victims. If they want to get rid of someone who is interfering with their territory, they will use women to lure the victim to a space where they can do that hit – usually an execution.”

She said that gangs were also seeking out academically inclined students, including those at both private and public schools, to take on certain responsibilities.

“The older ones are looking to recruit new members to maintain the legacy of the gang – that’s not just kids from broken homes but also honour roll students and straight-A students as they need them to be accountants and bankers in their well organised crime. They need them for money laundering and drug trafficking.”

Red flags for gang membership in young people

Are they coming home with large sums of money or expensive items?

Do they have older friends or acquaintances who are not in their peer group?

Do they have any unexplained injuries?

Are they carrying weapons?

Are they experimenting with drugs?

Do you notice a change in their mental wellness and behaviour?


Do not play the blame and shame game – try to have a calm conversation about your concerns.

Have the conversation in a safe space – home is not always the safest place.

Raleigh Bermuda provides training in using the appropriate language with young people and being aware of triggers and traumas.

The charity also tells parents to take responsibility and be accountable for their own actions.

The partnership between Raleigh International, the BPS and Pathways Bermuda is to continue, Ms Pen said.

Mr Pitcher, who provided some crime statistics as well as information on educational work being done by the BPS in the schools, said: “It was a positive engagement with the public. With the police working with Raleigh and Pathways, we have the support to help the vulnerable. It is a great example of working together for a greater cause.”

Ms Pen said Raleigh Bermuda’s goal was to make sure the charity could provide the appropriate resources and tools for those who are underserved, and to give them a safe space in which to thrive.

She said this could be done through education and “by providing more attractive packages and benefits that will deter them from choosing packages that gang members are offering them”.

2021 police crime statistics

12 murders

13 firearm offences

34 other weapons offences, including knives

722 antisocial behaviour crimes

233 residential burglaries

529 motor vehicle thefts

She added: “All three organisations in this partnership work with those who have already been recruited as runners and corner boys. Some of the gang members want to leave the lifestyle but the parents are telling them they have to maintain it to be loyal to family. This is where we have to mediate and support the families and shift the mindset of what power and status looks like.”

For more information visit Raleigh, BPS and Pathways Bermuda.