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Valuing young black life is key to fixing gun crime

A little more than a year-and-a-half ago, a reporter asked me and other political and community leaders whether the abatement, or lull, in gun violence in Bermuda then signalled that that horrific trend had come to its long overdue end.

I essentially said no. Realising then that one season does not a year make, and that it was a cyclical phenomenon and has been that way for the past decade-and-a-half or more.

As we contemplate another wanton and callous shooting, this time in the Middletown Road area, which I represent in Parliament, the reality is that until the One Bermuda Alliance government, or a future Progressive Labour Party government, for that matter, and Bermudians in general accept that we have a continuing multigenerational issue with our young and not-so-young black men, we will never be prepared to fix the problem.

Some weeks ago, it was Curving Avenue and Southampton. And more recently another life of promise was taken in the person of young Patrick Dill. This time the victim was spared, but just barely, as he recuperates in the hospital.

Until we are prepared to tackle the underlying causes rather than being fixated on the symptoms, we will never halt this trend at all. Let us stop being in denial.

Maybe we need to stop indulging in self-righteous, middle-class moralising with respect to this issue and view it as an issue were the socioeconomic and racial realities in Bermuda meet head-on with disastrous consequences for us all.

These types of outcomes are not new to Bermuda; nor are they unique to this generation of black men, as I know all too well. I watched an earlier generation, many of whom fought for progressive change on the streets of Bermuda during the 1960s, succumb to heroin addiction during the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, too many were dying as a result of having contracted Aids.

No one talks about this now, but close to 200 young black men had died by the late 1990s. Some families lost two sons. I know other families who lost three sons to the scourge of the disease. All because they shared needles while injecting a drug that allowed them to medicate themselves from Bermuda's reality. But, again, that was a symptom, not a cause of the underlying challenge that Bermuda has always presented to too many working-class and middle-class black men in this country. I know because I have been there. I am from that community and I am old enough to remember. I am haunted by them now when I see their mothers or siblings, as I did only a few days ago. I listened intently as she related how her son had a chance to meet Muhammad Ali during one of his visits here. She spoke as if the boy was still here — and in her heart, he was. Some of those who died were my relatives.

I often wonder how many of these young men who are out there now seeking comfort and a false security in gang life, or the drug trade itself, are the children and grandchildren of those men.

That is why I strongly advocated on behalf of getting a study done over six years ago to get to some of the aforementioned, underlying causes that were in so deadly a way informing these outcomes as it relates to our young black men.

The professor Ronald Mincy led a study from Columbia University that was commissioned by Ewart Brown. It was not designed to be the be-all and end-all, but it was then and remains now an invaluable resource in assisting us. It profoundly broadens our understanding of what is afflicting this society in this regard and sets the table for us to have the right kind of conversation on this issue, as opposed to the moralising that I alluded to earlier.

After all, we will never prosecute or incarcerate ourselves out of this mess, and we could do a lot worse by ignoring it. The question is, do we value young black life enough in Bermuda to accept the challenge? I continue to hope that the answer is yes.

Disastrous consequences: police at Middletown, where a man was injured in a shooting this week (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 10, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 10, 2016 at 12:26 am)

Valuing young black life is key to fixing gun crime

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