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Address the root causes, say community groups

Violent crime in Bermuda will continue until we resolve the social problems that cause it, according to community groups.

The Family Centre and the Coalition for the Protection of Children (CPC) both said that while police are working hard to tackle gang violence, the root social causes have yet to be addressed.

Family Centre executive director Martha Dismont said Friday's murder of 22-year-old Steven Jireh Iris, together with a shooting just 12 hours later, are stark reminders the gang situation is not yet under control.

“The conditions that have led to the violence and the gang involvement didn't happen overnight, and will not be resolved overnight,” she said.

“The question is whether we have put enough resource in place to serve as ‘interim measures' while the country's economic environment gets back on its feet, and we reverse the conditions causing the problems.”

She said the situation now facing the Island has been caused in part because a significant portion of the population lacks GEDs, are unable to find work, unable to contribute to their household income and do not feel valued in their family.

“Families, and in particular, our young people without support, have sought other means for survival and belonging,” she said. “The economic recession has simply exacerbated an already vulnerable environment.”

While Ms Dismont said the police have focused their resources to combat the violence and the Ministry of Public Safety has continued to push forward with its Inter-Agency Gang Task Force initiative, more must be done both in Government and out.

“Other Ministries must focus on providing support to families and individuals with greater intensity in order to stem this tide of violence,” she said. “Families need help with the basic necessities to reduce the emotional stress that lead to violence.

“Our education system must connect with agencies to support the student and his family to ensure that ‘Johnny' has no barrier to getting his degree. Parents who are seeking work to survive must be provided with support while they are looking for work.

“I believe all resources must be brought to bear on individuals and families that are struggling. Otherwise, we have still only seen the ‘tip of the iceberg'.”

While Ms Dismont expressed her condolences to the family of Mr Iris, she added: “It is a sadness that must be healed by right response and action.”

Nicola Feldman of the CPC said: “Until our young people are growing up in healthy and nurturing environments and getting education that enables them to compete in Bermuda's economy, and until we address the gross inequality of lifestyles that exist in Bermuda, antisocial behaviour and worse violent crime are not going to disappear.”

She said the Island must be proactive and focus on preventive strategies to combat the issue of violence, and young people need to be provided with effective intervention and offered services to help them make less destructive choices.

“These deaths are the responsibility of every Bermudian, and every person living on our Island,” she said. “We judge these young men and label them as monsters who join gangs, yet we rarely take the time to listen to their stories and to their past. No one wants to live a life of violence and fear and no one is more impacted by this violence that those directly involved.

“Until Bermuda changes its punitive culture, until it provides effective services that allow young people to gain better coping skills, and until we believe in the value and worth of all individuals despite what we may perceive them to be, the violence will not stop.”

Family Centre executive director Martha Dismont

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Published August 27, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 27, 2013 at 1:09 am)

Address the root causes, say community groups

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