Tackling community violence requires innovation, collaboration and investment
The recent rise in incidents of community violence is horrific and saddening. Gun and knife crime at the hands of increasingly younger individuals should have everyone paying attention. However, it should not be surprising, given the socioeconomic conditions long existing in our community, exacerbated by the pandemic.
When someone is killed, they are not a matter of research or statistics. That person’s life lost leaves families and the entire community in mourning. But criminality and antisocial behaviour are well-researched. We know what causes crime to happen. We know what can prevent crime.
Cumulative risk factors add up over the life of a child and across a community. These include poverty, undiagnosed mental-health problems, drug availability, lack of parental supervision, academic problems and child abuse, and many other factors. When these are not buffered with sufficient supports, services, interventions and healthy adult relationships that build resilience, the outcomes are far more likely to involve paths of crime, including violent crime.
Research specific to youth risk shows that criminality and antisocial behaviours are largely predicted as young as 8 years. This means that local agencies working with vulnerable families could likely have identified many of our community members now linked to violent crime ten years ago. It also means that these service providers could likely predict the children who may be linked to violent crime ten years from now. This prediction can be debunked with increased prevention and intervention.
The Bermuda Police Service estimate that there are 200 people involved in gangs. Whether the focus is existing gang members, the families of at-risk youth, or both, something more transformative needs to be done. We spend $80,000 a year to incarcerate individuals who are convicted of crimes. Can we make similar investments in prevention and intervention?
Our community leaders are calling for more to be done, and asking us what can we do. Everyone should be thinking that. Many are already working hard to address the issues, in both government and non-profit helping services. Others are volunteering or donating to support helping services and programmes. This is all having an impact, but not at a scale needed fundamentally to address the root causes.
Any real solution would require all aspects of our community working together. Bermuda needs collaboratively to design pathways towards productive and prosocial livelihoods. This is not easy, but highly complex. It requires resolving root causes of persistent racial, social and economic disparities, disadvantages and inequities. No single policy, programme, government department or non-profit can solve this level of complexity on its own.
However, the incredible opportunity that Bermuda faces is that it is small and it is wealthy as a country, even if it that wealth is inequitably distributed — and even if the Government itself may be in a dire financial state.
Recently, a new non-profit was started to address homelessness in Bermuda, and demonstrated the quick action that is possible when those with access to private-sector resources are passionate enough to get involved in not just the cause but the solution.
What could it really look like for the public, private and third sectors to work together to make a dent in root causes to prevent the consequences that play out as community violence?
The Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families’ 2014 Children’s Agenda of Priorities maps out a broad range of policy solutions to address and reverse disadvantage, vulnerability and inequity and build safety, wellbeing and permanency. All of these social-policy areas require more investment and attention, and would have a positive effect on the community.
However, a more innovative starting point could be for a collaborative effort to research, test and fund new but evidence-informed solutions to provide employment and employability support, access to homeownership and household cashflow supports to an entire segment of our community that is experiencing high levels of vulnerability and disadvantage.
When you speak with service providers who work with the individuals involved in violence, most say they just want a job. Employability skills, job training and employment opportunities are a critical part of any possible solution. There is also growing interest internationally in the role of direct cash transfers and guaranteed income schemes, in helping to address poverty and inequality, and to build household stability and wealth. This is in part out of recognition that many working families continue to struggle to afford their basic cost of living — even when in steady, full-time employment. Finally, homeownership is a fundamental building block for establishing long-term household security and wellbeing, but something inaccessible to many in Bermuda.
Elements of a basic social safety net and wraparound support do exist in Bermuda, delivered by government departments, and substantially augmented by non-profits. But what could it look like to really double down and wrap around the 200 families to change their trajectories? Who is willing to be involved?
You cannot comment on community violence without talking about race. Most of our young people involved with crime are Black. Most of those in the community with high-net levels of wealth are White. What is the wealthy White community willing to invest to solve the problem?
The scale of this type of solution would be expensive and would require innovative thinking, collaboration and prioritisation by all in the community, and investment specifically by those with the wealth and resources. But it would be worth it because this is people’s lives.
What is the cost of a life?
• Nicola Paugh, PhD is Executive Director of the Inter-Agency Committee for Children, Families and the Community
• Shana Williams, Programme Manager for the Inter-Agency Committee for Children, Families and the Community, has an honours degree in sociology and spent more than ten years in senior management in the local financial industry before joining the social sector in 2020