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Gang violence a ‘health and safety crisis and a matter of national security’ – minister

Straight talking: Michael Weeks, the minister for national security (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The island is facing a “crisis” in gang violence and “candid discussions” need to be held with stakeholders to resolve the problem, according to Michael Weeks, the Minister for National Security.

Mr Weeks added that the issue of violence “is the proverbial 800lb elephant in the room that poses a threat to us all”.

In an impassioned speech at a two-day community workshop, involving 100 stakeholders representing charities, government agencies and helping organisations, on gang violence held at the Hamilton Princess earlier this week, Mr Weeks did not hold back.

The minister stressed: “I believe that it poses a grave threat to our young people, our peace of mind, our schools, our societal expectations of normal behaviour, and the very fabric of our Bermudian culture.

“Colleagues, friends, make no mistake – this is a health and safety crisis and a matter of national security.”

Mr Weeks went on to say that the problem could only be solved by community action.

He added: “Before we immerse ourselves into this day, let me first state that no one person, entity or agency is to blame for today's crisis. You may have heard me publicly state over and over that this problem is a community problem, not a police problem. I meant it then, and I mean it now.

“The sooner each of us on the island comes to terms with this concept, the faster we will solve this issue.”

Mr Weeks went on to say that he had been minister for national security for five months – but that it had felt like five years.

“During this time, the country has seen numerous incidents of physical violence, domestic violence, stabbings, shootings and murders,” he said.

“This issue is personally heart-wrenching. I constantly receive frantic phone calls from worried parents fearful for their sons who are involved in or affected by the violence in some way, and I have the unpleasant task of offering sympathies to murder victims' families when tragedy strikes.

“I also find myself consoling and giving counsel to those who have been impacted by physical violence and guiding them to agencies that can help.”

Mr Weeks revealed that around 1,000 people were actively involved in gangs.

He added: “I find it utterly unconscionable that around 1,000 people can cause this much disruption and devastation to a population of just over 60,000 people on a 21 square-mile/four square-mile wide island.

“I ask each of you here today, how long are we going to allow these about one thousand people to hold our community hostage? How long? We cannot allow these actions to become the norm. It's clear that these approximately 1,000 individuals feel that they are the ones with the power – and we need to change that false narrative immediately.”

“Now is the time to come together, but not just to have a discussion, for real action. Everyone in this room today has seen the consequences up close and personal. If you are a helping agency, a person in some form of leadership or working with our youth, let’s put our money where our mouths are! Roll up our sleeves and get busy.”

Mr Weeks implored others with know how to assist the Government in tackling the problem.

He said: “If there is something that we as a government could do better, I want to hear about it so we can change course and do better.

“Now is not the time to hold back. And equally, if there is something that collectively as organisations we can do better, then here is where we brainstorm and discuss, without criticism or blame, so that we can arrive at real solutions.

“Additionally, if there are things that are working well, then we also want to know about it, so that we can build upon it and share with our fellow organisations.

“We are losing too many young Black men. This is an existential threat, and I want to know the ‘whys’ and the ‘whats’ – why are we losing these young men and what can be done to stop this crisis.

“So today, I am asking you, to check any egos we may have brought here at the door. Speak among each other frankly and honestly, with a sense of purpose and problem-solving.

“Let’s use our intelligence and experience to make relevant contributions and in full transparency assist in making inroads as we attempt to turn this crisis on its head.”

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Published October 03, 2022 at 7:10 pm (Updated October 03, 2022 at 7:10 pm)

Gang violence a ‘health and safety crisis and a matter of national security’ – minister

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