One part of Black history often dismissed or overlooked is the good old fighting days. Yes, Bermudians took pride once in street fighting. Perhaps before my father’s time, fighting was an unheralded right of passage. My dad, who was born in 1907, and his two brothers — the noted saxophonist Al and Samuel Davis, who were born and raised on Princess Street — would board a train and, as they put it, get off at every stop where there would be a crowd of boys waiting for a quick “match”.
I recall in my very young days, my older cousins gripping me by the scruff of my neck and throwing me up against neighbourhood boys on Cobbs Hill. The arguments they had was, I bet so and so could beat so and so, and who could beat whom. They did this as routine and for their own sport. Fortunately, I never lost and became known as the kid to beat, which became a rolling dilemma — too often challenged everywhere I went.
This behaviour carried over throughout school and it simply had to be known in each community and neighbourhood who was the toughest. The contests were relentless, similar to elephants, buffaloes and many animals that determine the alpha-male hierarchy through combat.
People of my age would have to admit that at a Cup Match, it was added excitement when two known bullies — or men known to be able “handle themselves” — went at each other during the match. To see two men tumble from the bleachers and rumble on the field always drew a crowd of onlookers, who would run from one side of the field to the other to watch. It was entertaining. Legends such as Allan “Forty” Rego and John “Beaver” Burrows took pride in telling their stories of duels without ever admitting to defeat.
No, it was not gentlemanly behaviour, but it in some fashion held a glimmer of chivalry. One would know if they went to a bar at the Warwick Workmen’s Club or Southampton Rangers to stand clear of an argument with “Timbuck”. Or on Court Street with “Daffy” Bernard.
Today, sadly, what we see of our young men — and, sad to say, also of young women — bears no resemblance to chivalry. Yesterday, the loser just simply lost and, at times upon submission, the fight was over. Today, the fight never ends: the loser finds accomplices and others to help effect revenge, which could in fact take the form of an ambush. The issue of fair fighting does not exist when one person may be brandishing a weapon or may be ganging up because the prize now is to conquer or even kill.
Scientifically, it is true that testosterone is the culprit and young men are full of it, and it is they who exhibit all of its nastiest traits. Older men tend not to be as territorial and aggressive. However, this radical shift in culture cannot be attributed to testosterone alone because scientists will also say that the levels of it over the past several decades has lowered in men.
Our Western society is largely “other-directed”, meaning people gain their identity from what is fashionable. This shift in culture is more likely attributable to the attitudes of larger groups such as in the United States and Jamaica, where there is indeed a gang culture. Our young are mirroring the cultural trends of violence in those countries.
Now we have admittedly what is termed as gang warfare where young men are bound to regions and fear treading outside their zone. This type of restriction is a great reason why parents have taken their families overseas to broader areas. Living in Bermuda, the young become unemployable and untrainable when they are not free to work anywhere on the island. One cannot be employed as a plumber apprentice if he can work only in Somerset.
So is there a cure for this new psychic phenomenon of violent cultural impressionism only aggravated by testosterone? If it were just testosterone, we could mitigate that with sport, gyms and lots of physical activity, which does not prevent fights and aggression but reduces them significantly.
What do we do when it is psychological, when the problem occurs because the involved individuals’ image of what they want to be is exemplified by a cruel, heartless gangster? When another’s life is considered less than the value of a gold chain? Or the glance at a girlfriend can lead to the other’s death?
Somehow it means ultimately altering the image of what it means to be a strong person — in other words, a new role model has to be erected in these young minds. Yet still, what are the layers of work needed to get to the point where that option can even be presented?
At the moment we have “intervention theory”. Mirrors is one example and a very expensive failure. We also have the Government’s initiative with the pastor Leroy Bean. Although the Government cares not to admit it, this has not stopped the killing. We had Louis Farrakhan visit in 2009. His verbal message as a stated goal was to prevent Bermuda from becoming a “killing field”. However, the deaths continue to mount. In summary, intervention is a temporal measure. What happens when the interventionist no longer intervenes? The best form of intervention will always be individual self-restraint, and that needs to be cultivated. In fact, a society that is self-disciplined requires less policing, so that should always be the aim.
In 2008, I stumbled upon a situation with some youth in my neighbourhood who became a notorious gang. The idea emanating from the thought “if these were my own sons, what would I do” caused me to think deeply. And with that came the realisation that no small idea would work. Sixteenth-century Europe had a problem with its young men, and the new frontiers of the Americas and even Australia became the answer to their problem.
I, therefore, thought the answer would be similar. So I named the answer Operation Green Light in 2008 and made a trip to Senegal with nine of these young men. Unfortunately, the Government led by Ewart Brown did not see the approach and came up with Mirrors, and all of Bermuda’s philanthropy followed its lead because it targeted the youth. I even presented it to the Serious Crime Commission led by Randy Horton in 2011.
In essence, what it means is attaching our problem to a significant development in any emerging economy. Creating economic opportunity for those who have missed the boat can be achieved, much as has been done in Third World countries — turning a problem into a solution. As an example, Costa Rica took poachers who were destroying the turtle population’s nesting spots by stealing turtle eggs and instead made them tour guides. An essential part of the Central American country’s eco-tourism is now facilitated by former poachers who otherwise would be criminals.
We must somehow do the same by turning the lives of these at-risk persons into useful agents and productive global citizens. England did it in the 16th century by turning hoodlums into adventurers, and it can be done here in Bermuda. In fact, it must be done; otherwise, we will be stuck perpetually with this failed idea of intervention.
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