It is time to look in the mirror
“This is not who we are, this is not what we want to be known for, this is not the way of life we want for ourselves or for our children.”
So said Darrin Simons, the Acting Commissioner of Police, in the wake of Tuesday’s mass shooting in the Robin Hood pub, which left two people dead and two wounded in what is unquestionably the worst act of violence Bermuda has seen in many years. He was not alone in asserting this belief.
Mr Simons and others are certainly right that this is not what the vast majority of Bermuda residents want Bermuda to be, but he is wrong to say “this is not who we are”.
This is exactly who we are. Perhaps not individually, but collectively we are a country where two young men can go to a popular bar, brazenly murder two people in cold blood and walk out unapprehended.
If Bermuda wants to end the bloody trail of violence that has swept through the island this year, it first needs to accept this. The time for wishful thinking, if there was ever a time for it, is over.
There have been seven major shooting incidents this year, and eight in 11 months if a shooting on Angle Street late last December is included.
That is eight too many.
There may have been some in the community who felt that because the majority of the crimes occurred on Court Street and not on Front Street that they were unaffected by these brutal acts.
That misguided sense of comfort — a fallacy to begin with — has now been eradicated. When masked armed gunmen can walk into a popular pub where quiz night participants and football fans usually gather, it should tell the whole population that no one and nowhere is safe.
That this shooting is considered to be gang-related is irrelevant. It appears at least two people were innocents caught in the crossfire. One, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, is now dead. The other, an off-duty policeman who had joined friends to watch football, was wounded. In any event, all lives have value. Brutal murders cannot be dismissed or ignored because some of the victims were in gangs or had criminal records.
There are two things to do now. First, the culprits must be caught. There have been eight shootings in the past 11 months. Three people are dead as a result. But in only one case have people been arrested and charged. This is nowhere near good enough.
The Bermuda Police Service say they know who the main players in a gang civil war responsible for most of these shootings are. But it is one thing to know who they are and another to gather the hard evidence and bring the culprits to justice. What is the point of knowing if you do not act?
The police need to redouble their efforts to catch these offenders. This is their job and they need to apply all the necessary tools at their disposal to do so. It is not entirely clear that this has been done in the past. Regardless, the time to act is now.
Nonetheless, it is true that the police cannot do this alone. Without information and co-operation from the community, it is much harder to gather the evidence and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Just as there are people who thought they could ignore this crime wave, there are others who somehow think that they are being disloyal if they provide information to the police. But if the shootings this week prove anything, it is that no one is safe. Today’s person who refuses to provide evidence could be tomorrow’s victim.
This should be self-evident, but clearly it is not. If Bermuda wants to end the bloodshed and to prevent a repeat of this week’s tragedy, everyone must step up and do their part.
Solving this crime is one thing. Solving the causes of this and other crimes is another and cannot be left to the police, the Government or any single organisation or person. The whole community needs to come together to create the conditions in which gangs die on the vine and people turn from crime to more worthwhile pursuits.
The first step is to take the politics out of gang violence reduction. Whatever its other faults, the One Bermuda Alliance government enjoyed some success in reducing violent crime and gang activity during its term of office, but much of this work was ignored when the Progressive Labour Party returned to power.
The recent evidence suggests that the present government policies are not working.
There needs to be a return to what criminologist David M. Kennedy, the main force behind the highly successful Operation Ceasefire approach in the United States, has described as focused deterrence. This brings a combination of methods to breaking up gangs and giving their members opportunities to turn to more productive pursuits.
It does not necessarily mean harsher sentences. In fact, it can mean offering opportunities to those who have joined gangs. But it works.
At the same time, Bermuda continues to fail too many young Bermudians, especially Black males. Failures in education, starting with early years education, remove hope for too many young people before they get started.
Bermuda still suffers from too many dysfunctional families. It must provide support to at-risk young people and their parents. This would prevent people from joining gangs and not only avoid horrific tragedies such as the Robin Hood shootings, but reduce youth unemployment and the general atmosphere of hopelessness that afflicts too many young people today.
All of Bermuda must recognise that this problem belongs to all of us, and the community needs to act together to bring it to an end. The scene at the Robin Hood is who we are now. It does not have to be, but only we can change it.